by Lynette Endicott
Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of two of Lynette’s novels that include therapy dogs in them.
Animals know things. Long-time animal lovers and owners sometimes take this for granted. Since I came to animal ownership late in life I am awed every time it happens. How does Ollie know?
The first time I saw him he was a seven month-old puppy, with all the other rescue dogs for adoption at a local pet store. I’d gone in for cat food and there he was, not running around and yapping or playing. He was looking at me, and at my daughter who was with me–straight at us. He already knew we would take him home and that we were his people. He wiggled and waggled all over and looked us in the eye, not barking or yapping or distracted but fully focused on us. So, how did he know?
I was between jobs when he came to us, so we spent a lot of time together at the start. Calm, focused, I knew he was great with people, so as soon as he was old enough we took and passed a test for him to be a certified Therapy Dog.
We volunteer as a team at a local hospital. On one visit the patient was not conscious, but his grown kids urged us to come in. We put a sheet down and put Ollie in the bed beside the man, who had not awakened since a surgery a few days before. His children placed his hand on Ollie’s head. Ollie, who is never a licker, rolled onto his side, pressed his back up against the man and licked his hand–just once. The man started moving his hand, petting the dog. His kids’ eyes went wide; they looked at each other and then back at their dad’s hand. Then Dad opened his eyes and looked down at Ollie and spoke. I learned later that it was the last and only time he was awake and speaking before he passed away a few days later. How did Ollie know how to wake him? He knows things.
When we learned there was a program where dogs listen to children reading aloud, we jumped at it. What a great match for Ollie! He loves children, has always watched for them and when possible engaged them to come and pet him.
We volunteer most Mondays from 3:00-4:00 at the Gillis Library Branch in Fresno. We have several regular families and often some new children. His hour is packed with one child after another reading to him. I think I highest count was 23 children in an hour–one of the days we stayed late to make sure everyone got to read! When we have time, besides stamping each child’s hand with a paw print, Ollie might do a trick for the young reader. They both love that. Ollie is not the only reading tutor dog in town. A visit to the library website will give you the hours and times of the others.
Even the pre-readers “read” to Ollie, learning the important skills of how a story is constructed and how to decode clues about the story from the pictures. Some of the children started with me at age three and now are in first grade and reading away. It is amazing to watch their progress.
Ollie knows who is shy, and stands to greet them. Who can resist those big brown eyes? He knows who is insecure and pushes tight next to their leg. We have had two families that were recently displaced from home, and in both cases he stayed close and let them pet him to their hearts content. One little girl looked up at me with tears in her eyes. “We had to give our dog to the neighbor when we moved in with Grandma. I miss him.” Ollie couldn’t take the place of that dog, but he could and did offer a little comfort.
I have been so impressed with therapy dogs that I’ve worked two of them into my books. In The Return of Joy, Atlas the yellow lab (based on the real Atlas in our Fresno group) becomes a therapy dog and the young daughter reads to him. In Finding Her Voice the dog is modeled on Ollie and helps a mom figure out how to go on after the death of her daughter.
To enter to win a print copy of The Return of Joy & an e-book of Finding Her Voice, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “dogs,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 5, 2013. U.S. residents only.