Your Turn: My life as a therapy dog
When Mom says “Go see the Meemaws?” my tail goes crazy. I can’t help it. I’m going to work!
It wasn’t always like that. I used to live on a farm in Georgia. I guess I was supposed to work as a farm dog, but I never took to it. For one thing, when I got hurt, they didn’t take me to the vet. They just put a board on my broken legs and toes, wrapped them up, and sent me on my way.
I have a bad limp and had arthritis when I was only 2. I think that pain and loneliness prepared me for my work with Meemaws and Pop-Pops. Arthritis hurts!
Mom says Dog is God spelled backwards. And yes, he does work in mysterious ways. My People-Sister got really sick in college and had to have surgery. All she wanted was her dog, but she was too far away. So, Mom called a therapy dog place and they sent out a dog who came right into the hospital. It helped my sister but it also helped the nurses, doctors and other patients who couldn’t believe there was a dog in the hall walking with my sister.
When Mom finally came home, guess who wandered up on her porch? I noticed the dogs in this house got to sleep inside at night. They got their bowls filled twice a day. They had their own toys! So, I stayed. I like to think God’s grace put me right where I needed to be.
I was dirty and buggy and skinny, but Mom loved me anyway. She wanted to train me as a Therapy Dog and I wanted give back the love. So, after a bunch of pokes and a stint in “The Cone,” I started training with Mom as a Therapy Dog, International dog.
Mom went online to tdi.org, figured out the 14 tasks that I had to perform, perfectly, to be certified. At the risk of sounding full of myself, I batted it out of the park. Mom says I’m gifted.
We started working with older people who owned and loved dogs but had to give them up when they got sick or hurt. Many people had dogs who saved their lives and ran to alert family members that something was wrong. It was hard for them to not only give up their dog, but also their independence.
So, I listen. A lot.
One time Mom and I were at a Hospice place and they asked us to go visit a man who was very quiet and very sad. He took one look at me and told us his whole life story, dog by dog. Mom’s a hugger and she gave him an extra long hug and held his hand.
Another time a police officer was shot and killed where we lived and everyone was terribly sad. Mom asked if they needed a Therapy Dog and she made a big batch of “Bunsen’s Brownies” and we walked around the police station trying to spread some light in a very dark time.
One detective dropped on the floor and just hugged me. Another just swayed in Mom’s arms as she rocked him. Some people don’t want to talk to a professional, but they are willing to talk to me ... and eat Mom’s brownies.
Even though I don’t have a degree, I sometimes go to college as a Stress Puppy. Usually during exams. Having passed the TDI Test, I understand stress and am always willing to go.
A dog reminds a college student of home and they come and tell us all about the dogs that live at their house. Just talking helps them feel better so we listen.
I can’t read, but Mom says that reading is really hard and they make 5- and 6-year-olds do it. And then they make the kids read out-loud and other kids laugh at them. They are called Reluctant Readers. You would be reluctant, too, if you got laughed at.
Me? I don’t care how long it takes to pronounce a word or turn a page. I just cuddle up, and again, I listen. And I never, ever, laugh.
I am about to celebrate my 350th visit as a TDI.org therapy dog. I used to go three times a week, and then COVID came and messed up everything. I would have more than 500 visits if it wasn’t for that virus.
Even with COVID, mom would take me and we visited through the window. It was awkward, but I still knew they were happy to see me.
The hardest thing about being a Therapy Dog is when you love someone and then one day their room is empty. Sometimes I get to follow them to hospice and sometimes, I get to go to the church where everyone is dressed in black and crying. I have to be on my best behavior and even then, when my Memaw or PopPop is gone and I feel so sad, I remember that I am a Therapy dog and help the rest of the family feel better.
People ask Mom how hard is it to be a Therapy Dog. Mom says it really boils down to temperament. You have to get along with other dogs. You have to love people and not be offended if they hug too tightly or squeeze your ear by mistake. You have to be okay with strange things like crutches, wheelchairs and banging laundry carts.
And, you have to listen. With love.
And when the day comes that your favorite Meemaw or PopPop is no longer there, you still wag your tail like crazy knowing that another Meemaw or PopPop is just waiting to meet you. And tell you their life story, dog-by-dog.
Cheri Sheridan lives in Waterford.
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