Sweet Encounters of a Golden Kind

Here are two of several stories gleaned from the volunteers of Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, who visit weekly with their pets at 16 major health care centers in Scottsdale, Arizona. There's something about the non-threatening presence of a dog which brings people out.

Teddy's Victories –
     Teddy was a beautiful 4-year-old Golden Retriever, a breed Champion and holder of an obedience title, Companion Dog Excellent (CDX). While his show and obedience career continued, he became a visitation-therapy dog with Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, whose member volunteer-pet teams made weekly visits to some 1,700 residents and patients of Scottsdale's nursing homes and hospitals. 
     Teddy's greatest moments came during two visits at the Meridian Point Rehabilitation Hospital in North Scottsdale. On one occasion, Teddy and DeEtte, his companion, sometimes called owner, were asked to visit a young boy who had been in a coma for some time. This was the first time Teddy had visited with such little response. He was used to a lot of enthusiastic petting, hugging, and thanks for coming talk. He was in the  usual spot with his front paws on top of the metal rail at the side of the comatose boy's bed. But, all his tail wagging and paw padding brought no pat on the head. The boy remained totally still, out of touch with world around him. 
     After a few moments of this, DeEtte got an idea. Teddy was trained to bark on command, and the boy was reported to have had a Golden-like dog some time in the past. When DeEtte said, "speak," Teddy barked three times, always a no-no in the hospital. He was just a few feet from the boy's ear. To everyone's surprise the boy's head turned a couple of inches in Teddy's direction, a slow but definite response. The boy's eyes fluttered, but did not open. The exercise was repeated twice, without further response.
     Although there was not an immediate awakening, everyone was happy about the happening. It was apparent that Teddy's bark, sounding much like that of his former dog, put the boy on the track to final recovery, which came about gradually during the next few days. 
     Not too long after, Teddy made his second most important therapy-dog visit. He was asked to visit a very special lady, and professed dog lover, at the same rehabilitation hospital. The lady had refused to leave her room during the three weeks she had been there. And, she could hardly be blamed – for her eyes had been gouged from their sockets by her drug-crazed son. She was suffering both physically and psychologically.  Her son had turned on her, she could no longer see, and she still ached from the attack. Teddy's task was to get her to make those first few steps out of her self-made prison. The lady was told she had a visitor, a beautiful big dog she could pet and hug. "Just come out in the hall to meet him," the nurse said. The lady's only reply was, "Bring him in here." At that, the nurse decided to fib, just a little. "Hospital rules won't allow the dog in the rooms. You'll have to come out here to meet him," she said. "His name is Teddy and he's a wonderful Golden Retriever."  
     After some weeping, the lady slowly moved toward the door. Teddy walked over and gave her hand a wet lick and then was pulled back. The poor soul, longing for some attention and interaction from someone not on the usual paid staff, took a few more desperate steps, this time totally out of her room and up to where Teddy was sitting, with his tail gyrating joyfully. When the nurse put the woman's hand on Teddy's head, she immediately moved to the floor, petting, hugging, and talking to Teddy, warmly and with no inhibitions for the next 15 minutes. It was a heartening sight, with lots of wet eyes around the scene. The nurses were quick to relate the event to the staff downstairs. They could hardly believe that this patient, so frightened and disturbed, would finally have the courage to venture outside her room – and all because of a dog. Some dog, Teddy was. During these two visits, Teddy's greatest achievements were as a therapy dog, not as a breed Champion and holder of obedience titles.

Entry written by Neal C. Jennings of Scottsdale, AZ
* Honorable Mention Award Recipient

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