April Reflections ~ 2019

Hard to believe this is the last day of April and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge some watershed moments that happen in April. Seventeen years ago I moved into my current home on April 26th. I purposely picked this neighborhood for its close proximity to downtown where I worked plus the fact it was a long-established neighborhood in the city. I loved the community feel that has been woven into my very soul. Safe to say, I am deeply connected here with the location and its inhabitants.

April is also the month when I first began publishing this blog some five years ago, although WordPress counts March as the birth month which is technically correct, yet the first post didn’t publish until the end of April when I finally took a deep breath and pushed the ‘publish’ button. What a terrifying moment that was and life hasn’t been quite the same since ever since.

Posing Sam

Twelve years ago this month I began the process of adopting a certain (sub)Standard Poodle who was being rehomed, though he became a member of the Ranch household the first week in May. Who’d have known at that time what a fortuitous adoption that would be and resulted in us embarking upon a pet therapy odyssey a few years later after it was very clear he was a very special dog. Six years ago this month, Sam and I began volunteering at the hospital. I wanted a way to share our pet therapy moments since it was clear my first blogging idea of sharing home design/DIY had no chance to launch due to lack of abilities on that front. Luckily Sam does all the work and I just drive him to the hospital, I knew I could document this Knucklehead’s ability to connect with people. It’s been a ‘pawsome’ collaboration ever since. We’ve had many highs and known a few lows but it has been one of the most rewarding journeys ever. Sam is now two visits shy of making 200 visits brightening the lives of patients, staff and visitors. We expect to continue as long as possible but at 13 1/2 years old, I hold no illusions. My baby is slowing down and while he still loves the adventure, visiting sick people wears him out too much. We may look into a reader program or a senior living situation but for now, things are full speed ahead with hospital pet therapy.

I would be remiss not to mention how much we value your part in this journey. I swear you guys are some of the smartest, funniest, kindest people I’ve ever known. Your clever posts and comments have made me laugh and in some cases cry. Your ability to convey deeply personal experiences inspires and moves me to do better, write better and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

AnniversaryOver the weekend, my family celebrated my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary. Yes, 70. freaking. years! All the siblings and their spouses  enjoyed a lovely celebratory get-together. Just thinking about the smiles across my parents’ faces as they looked around and saw their children, a couple of grandchildren and a great-grand and a half (one niece is expecting any day now) was beyond heartwarming. Congrats Mom and Dad!

Last week was a difficult week for both me and Sam with a number of personal loses. Two of our pet therapy dogs passed away, which is always sad, but particularly one…Truffles, a big chocolate Newfie who was especially beloved by Sam, will be felt for a long time. A dear friend who was a mere 42 years of age was laid to rest. A kinder, gentler, more generous human you’d be hard-pressed to find. Tony brought joy to all who knew him and while his physical body is not with us, his spirit will live on within each of us. Sam adored Tony and my one regret was not being able to bring Sam to his bedside at the end. I know his tail would have wagged furiously and no doubt he’d have hogged Tony’s bed while Tony happily provided plenty of ear rubs.

We visited an even younger woman at hospice last week. Probably in her 30’s, Shauna was conscious enough and very insistent on visiting with Sam. The pain on her face as she readjusted herself to be able to pet him told me how important his visit was for her. Her best friend (and visibly pregnant) since the 7th grade was with her in her final moments, a true friend right to the end. While visiting with them, I noticed a large tattoo on Shauna’s forearm. It read, “The girl who lived life” and it told me about the core of this brave woman. As her body was failing her, I knew she had made a special mark with her passion and spirit much like my friend Tony did. Recalling both of them her, more tears stream down my face. I know both are free of earthly bonds, no longer held hostage by unbearable pain but they will remain in the hearts of those who cared about them. They may no longer be with us physically, but will always guide us toward our own final path. I only hope I have as much grace and dignity as they both did.

So yeah, April is a big deal around the Ranch. I look upon it and celebrate the accomplishments, the anniversaries and share the losses because they all add up to a community I cherish and which allows me to share it with you. I plan to explore more reflections on the death and dying aspect of life in the future but for now thank you for coming along with me.

Live, love, bark! 🐾

Meme Monday ~ April 22, 2019

Sam

While you’re waiting for us to get back from making rounds, sniff around the newly updated e-shop. We’ve added a couple of items in the Hand Crafted category and finally have a new payment platform (Stripe). With your order, we’ll include a hand-painted watercolor greeting card (blank) with envelope as a token of appreciation for being a valued customer. As always, there’s free shipping, too. Have a ‘pawsome’ week.

Live, love, bark! 🐾

Therapy Thursday ~ April 18, 2019

A couple of weeks ago Dogtor Sam and I did our regular monthly stint at hospital and hospice. But there was nothing ‘regular’ about them. All our visits are special in my mind, but these were extra special and, I’d like to think, we made more than a few peeps feel just a bit better.

Just as we were about to go to hospice, a tall, thin fella who seemed somewhat frantic come up to us and wondered if we would take the time to visit his daughter who had not seen a pet visit while she’d been in the Neuro-Critical Care ward. Not going to this area very often, I was more than happy to swing by after our assigned floor was completed (we were way-laid several times by other requests). We headed over to NCC and arrived at a room where a pale young women weakly smiled when I knocked on her door. I mentioned her dad had asked us to drop by and she said she’d love a visit. Sam knew exactly what to do. Patient “Kristy” clearly had a lot of recovery ahead of her, but her face lit up when she saw him. She and her visitor squealed out loud when she saw Sam. I knew he was probably tuckered out, but this boy knows what to do and does it. I wish I were as good as he is at the end of long visits, having people pawing at you, hugging on you and just generally being 110% “on” for hours. “Kristy” was clearly tired but enjoyed an abbreviated visit. Leaving the hospital, we then headed over to hospice.

HospiceWhile we made the rounds visiting with a new hospice doctor, all the nurses and a few visitors, we ended up spending a lot of time with a fairly young-looking woman and her daughter at hospice. It was almost an afterthought visit, as we’d seen so many people, Sam was petty tired and their room was full of family members paying their respects.  In those circumstances, I don’t generally intrude, especially when the end is so close (according to the nurse), but when “Kate” came out into the hallway and said how much she could really benefit from a visit, how could we refuse? “Of course,” I replied, “we’d be more than happy to spend some time with you.” She indicated the patient was her husband, which totally surprised me since I erroneously thought the man in the bed was her father. A daughter came out and we all convened in the middle of the hallway. Sam seemed refreshed and eager to check them out and when the woman knelt down in front of him, he patiently gazed as deeply into her eyes as I’ve ever seen. She teared up and said how much she needed him that moment. I just smiled not knowing if there’s something I should say, or even what to say.

The thing is, Sam knew exactly how to bring a smile to her face. She teared up, her daughter also smiled and they both thanked us repeatedly. Sam wagged his tail in reply.

When we visit with peeps, especially those far too young to be at hospice, it’s sometimes hard to know what to say to comfort them. Especially when the end is so close or unexpected. Thankfully, Sam knows exactly what to do and takes over. A well-timed tail wag, a soulful look, and he provides oodles of poodles of comfort. This guy knows exactly what people need and delivers it with no coaching from me. I stand there like a lump, my mind racing as to what I can do to provide loving comfort as the patient transitions on to the next life.

The following day at West Pines had more impactful visits. Sam really connects well with the patients who are in recovery, and seamlessly manages to bring relief to the staff as well. This knuckleheaded dog has such compassion for hurting patients and staff. As we were preparing to sign out, a staff person came by and asked if she could have a minute with Sam. Attentive and accommodating as always, he obliged. She lingered on the floor with Sam, saying it had been a really rough day, but to spend some time AND receive a kiss from him, made all the difference in her day, not to mention mine. This dog makes my heart swell. We’re going back next week and look forward to more rewarding encounters.

Sam

Live, love, bark! 🐾

New Dog in Town Wednesday

So…you know I had to get a bath and groom in order to dogtor this week. Sam here. Look what happened after mom trimmed my toes, nose and tail area. What the dog?! Seems there’s a Mini-Sam now but he seems more flexible than me. Mom even made him his own bandana. Maybe he’ll be less pesky than my Ninja sister.

Funny thing about Elsa on these days when I get a bath or groomed. She now goes MIA, the traitor. Used to be she would at keep me company when the water torture began and I used to think she would watch protect me. Now she leaves skid marks to avoid even being remotely close to me. Maybe she thinks it’s contagious. Don’t tell Elsa but I overheared mom mutter something about Elsa needing a clean up once she recovers from doing me.

Oops, gotta run get floofed up again after the water torture. Sigh. Today we’re visiting West Pines. That always makes me tail wagging happy to see the peeps there.

Mini Sam

Live, love, bark! 🐾

A Dogtoring We Will Go

For the next couple of days, we’ll be dogtoring at hospital, hospice and West Pines but first I have to practice my skills on the Ninja. After yesterday’s squirrel roundup, I think her blood pressure is a bit on the high side. I know mom’s was.

DogtoringWe probably won’t be able to respond as much as we’d like over the next few days, we will try to do our best. Thank you for all your kind comments regarding yesterday’s crazy goings on. PayPal is taking its sweet time responding to us. Mom topped off the day with a trip to the dentist to replace a crown that fell out over the weekend. Does she know how to live or what? Worse than that, I had to endure the dreaded water torture for today’s hospital rounds. Luckily I get over it when kind peeps say I’m handsome.

On a serious note, today is Purple Day, the international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. On March 26th annually, people from around the world are invited to wear purple and host events in support of epilepsy awareness. It is estimated that as many as 50 million peeps and 4% of dogs have epilepsy. By bringing awareness to this disease, those who participate with Purple Day events hope to bring much-needed info to those who desperately need it. There are many groups who can help with informational resources, like the Wally Foundation. Our good friend Olivia, from Knotty Toys for Good Dogs hosted a “silent” Auction for The Wally Foundation- canine epilepsy We hope you’ll check it out and support Olivia’s efforts to benefit The Wally Foundation. So get out there and rock your purple today, I know I will.

ELMC Sam

Live, love, bark! 🐾

Spreading the Love Thursday

Last week we visited hospice and hospital over Valentine’s Day and experienced some of our best visits. Ever. Sam was especially extra patient and loving on both days.

Sam spreading the love

We typically make a swing through the surgical waiting area before heading up to our assigned floor to visit with family and friends waiting for their loved ones and this week was no exception. Sam seemed to sense the first group needed extra attention. They included a husband, wife and another friend of the family’s. The husband’s face lit up as we came around the corner and Sam made a beeline for him. His wife squealed when she turned around, but Sam was determined to say hello first to him. His tail was wagging like a wound up metronome as he gazed into the guy’s eyes, so deeply in fact his wife commented on it. Sam turned toward her and she melted under his hypnotic spell, then he turned his gaze back to toward the man again. We spent several minutes chatting, learned he retired from being a police officer for over 40 years. Retirement wasn’t exactly his jam so he started working part-time at Home Depot for a while and shared several photos of pups who came in with their owners and said how much he appreciated it when people brought their 4-legged ‘handyman’ in to provide TLC with employees. He was totally in Sam’s paws, so much so, that he began leaning against the guy’s leg. Sam laid down next to him knowing he needed to chat and share stories of how much he enjoyed that job with those pooch encounters.

It became clear we could have spent loads of time visiting with this couple and learning more about them and their own dog at home but saw several other groups in the waiting area so we began to wrap it up. As we prepared to leave for the next family, the man asked me to say a prayer for his 91-year-old mother-in-law. Bless her heart, she was having a serious procedure done and worried about her long-term prognosis. Now I completely understood why Sam spent so much time with him. Sam knew his visit was what the doctor ordered for this family.

Sam spreading the love

We moved on to the next family whose elderly mom was the patient, Sam gave and received loads of kisses and hugs from the two sisters and aunts and uncles waiting to hear how their loved one fared in surgery. It’s always touching seeing this knucklehead spreading pure joy among people whose hearts are heavy as their family faces uncertain times. He seems to know who to visit first and for how long. Ironic considering when I try to get him to do something along our daily walks, he looks at me like I’m speaking in tongues.

Following the hospital visits, we went over to hospice where the nurses in particular needed Sam’s loving presence. Overnight, 5 patients had passed away, something that’s extremely rare for one day, and the staff needed some puppy love from a sweet loving therapy dog. While we were there, the last body was removed and as noted before they perform a Tibetan bowl ceremony while the body is removed. It’s a beautiful ceremony and Sam sat solemnly next to the line of nurses lined up watching as the body is removed from the building. Once the body was removed and everyone went back to work, he spent extra time with each one of the nurses on the floor. They needed his special attention and tail wags and they all expressed gratitude for his visit. While we’d just been visiting a couple of weeks earlier, I was particularly glad we answered the call to help them deal with the loss on what was a probably an extra difficult day at work.

This silly, goofy dog had the perfect touch for our Valentine’s Day visits and I couldn’t be prouder of this boy for doing what he does best. Making people smile and feel better, even if just for a few moments. While I know his days may be numbered as part of the pet therapy program, I know he will always give it his all.

Live, love, bark! 🐾

Not Even Close to Wordless Wednesday ~ Long Shadows Edition

Sam, the Dogtor, is making rounds again (today he’s at West Pines) after some incredible visits yesterday with so many nice people. We hope to share a story or two about those visits soon. For today though, we thought we’d share a photo from the recent snowstorm. Hard to believe long, winter shadows arrived shortly after 2:00 PM across the snowscape, topped by a cornflower blue sky. Those gorgeous blue skies brought a smile to my face. Colorado’s weather is nothing, if not changeable. If you don’t like 10 inches of snow, wait a bit and you’ll see something like this. The temps will be warming to 50ºF over the next few days. Ahhh. Not too shabby for being mid-winter.

Long shadows

Have a great Hump Day.

Live, love, bark! 🐾

Therapy in Action-Mexican Style

Pirate coffee hutSince returning from Mexico I have been frequently thinking about the impact of pet therapy more than usual. While visiting south of the border, I witnessed first hand the absolute power of pet therapy on a spontaneous walk I took in the vicinity of our resort. My intention was to walk up the main roadway toward where the river flowed out into the bay. I knew from walking along the beach that near the confluence, a number of egret-like birds hung out. I was also told by a local person, crocodiles could also be found upstream. I planned on avoiding the later but hoped I could get some decent shots of the former.

Pirate coffee shopWhen it became clear no good shots of the birds could be had without climbing down a step river bank (umm, no thanks, no photo of a bird was worth a potential encounter with a croc sighting, thank you very much). Instead, serendipity arrived in the form of a little coffee stand in the shape of…a pirate ship. ‘Argh,’ I groaned but quickly realized this little hut and companion playground held potential for a few photo opportunities. The proprietor greeted me (that’s him waving in the first photo) and we exchanged limited greetings, he only spoke Spanish and beyond ‘Hola,’ I could only smile. But I wandered around hoping to catch some locals taking a break when I saw a small boy playing in the playground area, but realized there was something special about this little boy. The boy was chasing and being chased by a small puppy who constantly dashed after this blur of a child, and the two rambunctious dervishes chased and played with each other with pure abandon. After several minutes of watching the scene, a thin slip of a young woman with a beautiful smile waved and came over to chat. She was the boy’s mother and we began a long chat about the two bundles of energy. The puppy was a Pit/Lab mix, about 4-months old which she had obtained for her 4-year old autistic son. She had gotten the dog in hopes of giving her son a companion that he might be aided by the fur companion. She related how owning this little ball of energy had made a significant difference with her son. When I revealed Sam was a therapy dog, she began asking me a jillion questions about training the new addition while repeatedly re-directing the pair away from the busy road.

Mexican therapy dog
A brief  moment of stillness

I barely was able to catch the pair still enough to capture any photos (never did get one of the boy who was either blurry or where he looked away), but in the shot above, the little ‘therapist’ was catching his breath for a few seconds before resuming the chase with his human friend. Watching the two of them and talking with the mom, it really struck me, how often dogs manage to understand their role with their humans. They instinctively seem to know what we need and provide it willingly. The mom, a transplant from Alberta Canada, mentioned that day was to be the last one with the little dog officially. The landlord said no pets and was adamant about the rule. So like mom’s everywhere, she found a solution to comply without moving by paying a nearby neighbor a few dollars a month to care for the dog at night and bring him back to play with her son during the day. I can only hope this solution works well for them, the little boy was clearly attached to his pal and the little pooch was thrilled to have his ‘2-legged puppy’ companion with whom he could romp and play during the day.

I thought about that family when Sam went to West Pines last week. We visited with a number of folks who for a brief few minutes, came out of their shells to twirl their fingers around the soft fur of a loving Knucklehead. One woman in particular sat down and had Sam sit in front of her crossed legs. Her face lit up and her soft voice shared her story about adopting a pair of Potcake dogs (you can read about the breed here) and how much she missed them. I could tell this tender-hearted woman needed a few minutes with Sam and he was more than willing to let her gaze into his eyes and stroke his ears. A fellow resident who was far chattier and extroverted then took his turn with Sam who accommodated him with a totally different energy. I couldn’t help but think of the little Pit/Lab mixed puppy a 1000 miles away chasing the pant legs of a little boy while romping together and then smiling. It was then while I typed this post that I realized Sam had his head pressed against my thigh. Without consciously thinking I reached down and twirled the fur on his ears and he leaned in and then looked up at me. Yes, therapy dogs are the same no matter where they are and I couldn’t be more pleased about that fact.

Live, love, bark! 🐾

The Dogtor Will See You Now

Sam here. I was told today is Giving Tuesday (whatever just happened to plain old Tuesday?) so I’ll be giving back by making rounds with patients and staff over the new few days. We’ll back toward the end of the week.

Live, love, bark! 🐾

It’s that time…

Last evening Sam was scheduled for his semi-annual re-evaluation to continue participation in the pet therapy program at Lutheran Hospital. Pets in the program receive a general health check as well as an evaluation as to suitability to participate. As I prepared the paperwork questionnaire, the Knucklehead could sense sometime beyond the usual evening routine was afoot. It’s always impressive to watch dogs intuition play out and he dashed from the back door to the garage in happy bounces. He sailed into the back seat and readied himself for the adventure.

We arrived at the volunteer office located on the south end of the main hospital building. This entrance is generally locked after hours which is no problem as my badge will provide access. We were greeted by a hospital volunteer who was stationed there for those who neglected to bring their badge with them. We’ve encountered Dave many times in various locations throughout the hospital. He always has a warm grin but especially when he sees the dogs coming. Sam adores him and immediately leaned in against his leg for a good ear scratch.

While we waited, a couple of volunteers came by to sign out. One was a high schooler who was super delighted to visit with Sam after his evening shift. Sam’s tail went into overdrive. Once they left, I reflected how well Sam connects with everyone he encounters and my heart swelled with pride with this sweet pup. When our number came up, we went in to visit with Dr. Diana Roberts, one of the volunteer vets who donates her time supporting our program. We hadn’t seen Dr. Roberts at our last two evals and were thrilled to see her again.

Sam adores Dr. R and not just because she provides scrumptious treats. She’s beyond kind, smiles a lot and has a soothing touch, all ‘wagnificent’ qualities for a vet. Sam passed this latest eval with flying colors and then we spent several minutes joking about his knuckleheaded-ness. Ok, maybe that was just me. They just laughed at my stories. The volunteer who coordinates all of the evaluations  ribs me when I say Sam is a knucklehead and then, naturally he does something that proves it and we all laugh; but a sweeter dog would be difficult to find. This photo, taken just before we left for the evaluation, seems to underscore that sweetness.

Sam

We’re looking forward to our visits later this month and during this month of thankfulness, I find how truly grateful I am for this amazing dog and for the pet therapy program where he can bring smiles to others.

Live, love, bark! 🐾