Lessons from the Barn

Often you never fully appreciate how much you have missed something until you are able to experience it again. Since COVID started there have been many regular events in our lives that were disrupted. If you are like Doc and I you ended up putting those things in the back of your mind and just tried to focus on each day. For a few years Doc had taken her patients to the horse farm for Equine Assisted Therapy almost weekly and then one day all of that stopped because of the virus. It has been over a year since we had been to the horse farm, but on Sunday we reunited with our favorite horses and oh what a joyful reunion it was!

It’s funny how the further we got away from the city you could feel the stress melting away. Soon, all you could see were fields filled with corn and cows grazing peacefully. Barns and farm houses dotted the landscape between vast acres making me want to burst out into a loud rendition of “Old McDonald Had A Farm” but I contained myself. Finally we arrived at our destination and when we turned up the long gravel driveway, I was so excited to see everyone that I almost jumped out the car window before Doc came to a stop.

Greeted with smiling faces and some yummy ice cream after our drive was icing on the proverbial cake. I slurped mine down and after a short chat, we headed straight back to the barn. As we opened the barn door, the familiar smells of hay and horse lingered in the air. Looking down the row of stalls, the first horses we saw were Doc’s favorite mother and daughter, Heidi and Joy. Even I had forgotten how gigantic these two magnificent Percheron draft horses are. Weighing in at over 2,000 pounds or more I was really careful to make sure my paws didn’t get stepped on. Heidi was the first to offer her head over the stall for a scratch on the nose and soon daughter Joy followed. We then ventured to the end of the barn toward the big indoor arena where our friends Beauty, Taco and the two miniature horses Waffles and Oatmeal were peering over the fence, waiting to see us. Doc divided her time talking to the owners and brushing the horses. I spent my time communicating with my horse buddies in the non verbal way that animals talk and boy was there a lot to catch up on.

As all good things must come to an end, before long it was time for us to leave. As we were walking out of the barn, Doc hesitated and I saw her looking up on the wall at an old familiar sign that both of us had forgotten about that said “Barn Rules”. The rules simply say “1. Breath, 2.Mosey, 3.Whisper and 4. Be aware.” Doc looked at me and said quietly, ” Grover, over the last year I had forgotten these simple rules that can apply anywhere she said. It’s the respectful way to be around horses but if you think about it, it’s also the respectful way to be around humans as well. I nodded my head in agreement happy to be reminded of something important that we had forgotten. Driving home both Doc and I felt thankful for our wonderful day and the old lessons we needed to be reminded of again.

Helping to Heal

For every person in the United States that dies from a drug overdose there are family and friends that continue to mourn their loss. Tuesday was International Drug Overdose Awareness Day and Doc and I were honored to be asked to participate in an event that focused not only on the staggering amount of overdoses but to bring comfort to their loved ones.

Last year, overdose deaths in the United States increased 30% as 93,000 people lost their lives. Death by overdose is now the number one cause of death by those under fifty years of age. It is a shocking statistic and each year it gets worse. The pandemic has only compounded the problem. Luckily there are agencies like the one we work for and the other many wonderful agencies that were present today that focus on helping those that feel broken and just need a lift up to get better.

Today I knew that it was very important for me to stay focused as Doc told me I had an important job to do. As people approached me I comforted them in the best way I knew how. When they wrote their deceased loved ones names on flags or pinwheels that were displayed on the lawn, I could feel their grief as the memories flooded back. I also took the time to comfort the many people that are helpers, like the sheriff that told us how many times he has given Narcan to try and save a life, all the counselors, doctors, nurses, prevention specialists and those that work at the coroners office that see the cold reality of this other pandemic we are facing.

As for Doc, she told me about the client’s she has lost to overdose. No matter how many years have gone by there are days like this that bring the loss back to her leaving her feeling sad. This is when I act as Doc’s therapy dog and remind her of all the people our treatment center has helped to heal from the disease of addiction and lead healthy lives again. This is always the blessing of what we do every day and what we stay focused on. One person at a time.

Is It Vanity?

Because I am a big celebrity among therapy dogs, it is important that I remain coifed and camera ready. I owe it to my fans and to the patients and staff I work with. Some may call me vain, but I prefer to think of my grooming rituals as being my most fabulous self. After all, who wants to be around a stinky, unkept dog. That’s just ridiculous. So on Tuesday afternoon, Doc was kind enough to chauffeur me over to my favorite veterinarians office for an overdo mani-pedi.

After we got to the Vet, the first thing they did was weigh me and I am proud to say that even during the pandemic I have remained a slim and trim 82 pounds of fur and muscle. I am not surprised because between doing zoomies around the yard everyday and Doc walking me a few miles, I am burning calories galore. Next, one of the technicians took me in the back where they trim my nails. My favorite part is when they tell me what a handsome and good boy I am and then they give me hugs and kisses. I don’t want to brag but the ladies do love me. When my nails were nicely trimmed they took me back out to the waiting room and Doc drove me home.

Now I could tell Doc was tired because by the time we got home, she went straight into her bedroom. After all, she had worked all day before we even went to the vets office. After she stretched out on the bed and turned on the TV to relax, I jumped up next to her to cuddle and happened to glance down at her bare feet and toenails. Oh my! I thought to myself. “Doc are you really going to work like that tomorrow with your feet and toenails looking all raggedy like that? ” I said with too much shock in my voice. And before I even got the whole sentence out of my mouth I knew that was the wrong thing to say. Boy, did she give me the look before she replied ” Grover, sometimes the wisest thing you can do is say nothing.” I have to admit, she was right. So I quickly made amends and told her I loved her even if her feet and nails looked gnarly. She just laughed, patted me on the head and fell asleep.

The Past Comes Back to Haunt Me

Everyone of us has a past, even dogs. Some memories are good and some we would rather forget. You never know when a past memory will come back to haunt you or how you will react until you are confronted with it. I was put to that very test just recently.

It was the weekend and we were looking forward to some relaxation. As we took our morning walk some of the men in the neighborhood were already firing up their cookers and grills for a block party later in the evening. It was sheer torture for this dog as the wonderful aroma’s waffled through the air knowing I would not get one tasty morsel of what they were grilling. Further down the road, someone had set up a bouncy house in the yard and even though it was early morning some of the children were already trying it out. Their laughter and exuberance was contagious and we stopped for awhile just to watch. They called me over to try it but Doc thought I might get sick to my stomach being tossed all around. After all no one I know wants a dog throwing up in their bouncy house, so we said thanks and kept walking.

Resuming our stroll, I was busy smelling the pee-mail left on the fire hydrant by another dog when Doc broke the silence. ” I wonder what that is at the end of the street that all those people are crowded around?” she asked out loud. Being nosy too, I looked up and as we got closer I could smell something that was very familiar to me but I couldn’t quite place it. As we approached there were about eight people crowed around an animal trailer hitched to the back of a truck. Although it was dark inside the trailer Doc and I could both see some movement. She was not shy about asking, ” What have you got in there a baby calf?” And before they could answer I got another whiff of the beast and remembered that smell immediately from when I was a puppy on the farm. Terrified I backed up behind Doc and tried to pull her along with me. ” No, it’s a goat!” one of the men said. “What’s wrong with your dog?” another one asked.

As some of you may recall I was born on a farm in Ohio that also bred goats. The problem is that some goats do not like puppies and one day when I was only six weeks old, I got away from my mother, slipped under the fence to the pasture and a large mother goat protecting her kids came charging at me. I froze in fear but luckily famer Black saw the trouble I was in and swept me up in his arms just in time. After Doc adopted me I thought I would never have to see another goat again, but I guess I was wrong.

Without a word Doc knelt down and whispered in my ear, ” Grover, you are not a puppy any more, in fact you are bigger than that goat. Do you want to confront your fear or walk away? I will support whatever choice you need to make.” So with Doc by my side I decided right then and there to walk up to that big black goat, after all it was enclosed in the trailer. And you know what, as soon as that goat saw me, he became nervous and the owner of the goat said, ” I think your dog is scaring my goat..” So out of respect, I backed away with my head held high, proud that I had confronted my fear from so long ago.

As Doc and I were walking the rest of the way home I said to her, ” Isn’t it a funny thing to find out that when you confront your fears from the past they aren’t your fears anymore? ” ” I agree, she said and I am proud of you Grover, but don’t you think it’s weird that someone had a goat in our neighborhood? ” We both had to laugh about that.

Oh The Heat ! The Dog Days of Summer Return

Although Doc and I enjoy the summertime, one thing I do not like are the sultry dog days of summer. It’s so hot and humid it makes my paws sweat and leaves my fur so frizzy that it results in a very bad hair day. Oh the horror! But I bet you don’t know where the term dog days comes from, so this smart pooch will give you a brief tutorial all about it.

During this time of year, Sirius, also known as the dog star is not only the brightest star, it is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. Sirius is so bright that the ancient Romans believed it actually gave off heat, adding to the sun’s warmth so they called this time of year dies caniculares or ” dog days.” In reality the heat this time of year is a result of the Earth’s tilt causing the sun’s rays to hit us at a more direct angle and for longer periods of time resulting in hotter days. The Romans also thought the oppressive heat led to lethargy, fever, bad luck and dogs going mad. Now I don’t know about all that but it does result in me being a miserable hot dog.

The best thing about being a member of the canine clan is that we have had to learn to adapt for centuries. So how is this black haired dog and his owner coping with the heat? Luckily Doc keeps the air conditioner on low and paddle fan on high over the bed so I can nap in comfort and stay cool during the heat of the day.. Late in the afternoon as the sun begins to set, we finally venture out on the back porch with a cool drink. If there’s a breeze, we can sit comfortably and enjoy the symphony of sounds that are performed by the creatures of the night. The one good thing about the dogs days is that it does force us to slow down and that is never a bad thing in this hectic world we live in.

So savor the last of summer while it is with us because in the middle of winter we will long for the dogs days of summer to return.

Hangin With my Bro’s

Every so often you need to take some time away from the daily grind and just hang out with the ones that you can just be yourself with. Now don’t get me wrong, I love being with Doc, but she just doesn’t get me the way my canine buddies do. Knowing that, she arranged a nice surprise for me.

First let me back up a minute and tell you what’s been going on. For the last week and a half, Doc and I have been on vacation. No matter how much you enjoy your job, it’s always good to pause and get away. To tell you the truth, Doc and I have been so worn out by everything that happened over the last year we decided not to plan anything and thought we would would just take things day by day. No schedule and no one to answer to felt like the best way to take care of ourselves and it has been wonderful. Some days we take day trips and sometimes we just rest and hang out at the community swimming pool. With that being said, Doc didn’t forget about me and last Saturday she announced that she had a special surprise. She told me that she had been asked to babysit my friends Norman and Frankie while their humans were gone for the day and she was bringing them over to our house. Yippee!

Luckily it was a gorgeous day and not too hot. Boy did we have fun. When we weren’t running around the yard chasing each other or catching the tennis ball, we spent our down time peeing on stuff and eating any strange thing we found in the yard.. It was heaven except for that little fella Frankie. Let me tell you that puppy is still kind of wild . He’s only a year old and has way too much energy for this old dog, but luckily since I am so much bigger all I have to do is gently put my paw on him and he calms down. There are strict pack rules in the dog world and we like to set boundaries to keep order. Apparently no one gave Frankie that memo. I told Norman that he has my sympathy having to deal with a little brother that is still learning the rules of the pack. Norman said he was appreciative that I could feel his pain. I told him he could come and talk to me anytime because that’s what bro’s are for. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend is to listen and keep your opinions to yourself.

Well, as all good things must come to an end, Norman and Frankie’s family came home and they needed to leave. I was all tuckered out and ready to rest any way. It had been a long day. That night as I was dozing off into dream land I remembered to count my blessings and to be thankful for the gift of my friendships. After all, nothing is better than having friends that know all about you and still accept you just the way you are.

Puppy Pandemonium

Boy oh boy, just when things are quiet and peaceful in my life, Doc scares me into thinking that a big change is coming.

It all started last Friday night. On the fourth Friday of each month, our suburb closes down the streets of the downtown area and hosts what would be best described as a big block party. There are typically lots of food trucks, street musicians, vendors selling their wares and this time there was even a person juggling fire sticks right in the main intersection. Dogs are always welcome and Doc takes me along because by now all of you know that I am always ready for a good time. We were sauntering along taking everything in when all of the sudden Doc spots something out of the corner of her eye and then exclaims loudly ” Oh! Would you look at that Grover, so sweet!” she exclaims while practically dragging me by the collar toward whatever it is she is trying to see. When I finally spy what she is cooing about I am surprised to see a whole pen full of cute, wiggly, high energy puppies vying for attention. As soon as Doc reached down into the pen they were all over her. And what made matters worse is that they were all up for adoption from the shelter that was taking care of them. ” Uh oh” I said out loud. This could be big trouble for me.

As I stood by helplessly watching Doc love on those puppies, a wave of anxiety filled my brain. What if she wants to bring one or two them home with us? Those little things have too much energy and I really don’t want to be bothered with a new baby brother or sister that will do nothing but bring havoc into my peaceful existence. Truth be said, I like being an only child. So, because I was jealous, I knew I needed to make my move to preserve my tranquil life. When I thought Doc wasn’t watching, I moved toward the pen and gave those puppies a piece of my mind in the language I knew they would understand. I looked at all of them in the eye and let out my deepest and scariest growl. It worked, they backed away immediately. ” Now who’s the big dog? I said to them proudly. My big ego moment was loudly interrupted when I head Doc’s stern voice.” Grover! What is wrong with you scaring a bunch of homeless puppies? Haven’t I taught you better than that? Now you go back over there and be nice to those little babies.”

Oh no. I was ashamed of my behavior after Doc scolded me. She was right. Those poor little puppies have been through enough and need to come to a good home like ours. I looked up at Doc and said without hesitation ” Lets adopt all five of them. I can help take care of them Doc and I will even share my toys. ” Doc looked back at me with a look of horror. ” Adopt five puppies? What are you thinking Grover, we are not even bringing one home today.” I have to admit, when she said that I breathed a sigh of relief. Then Doc being the forgiving sort, took me across the street and bought me a pup cup at the ice cream store so we could talk everything over.

So, what do I think about everything that happened on Friday night? Most importantly, this old dog learned a good life lesson . All of the drama could have been avoided if I would only have asked more questions instead of jumping to conclusions and acting on my fears. A valuable thing for this dog to remember.

Happy Birthday to Me, I Am Nine and Doing Fine!

On Thursday I will be the ripe old age of nine. Except for some more grey hairs on my back and tail I feel just fine and you would never know that I am now considered a dog in my senior years. Doc has arranged a small celebration with a few of my co-workers today and I am sure looking forward to that. I would never pass a up a good party. I sure hope some yummy dog treats are involved.

Getting older doesn’t bother dogs, we live our lives in the moment. Humans however, put great emphasis on aging. It is fascinating watching many of you try to “fight aging” with creams, dyes, injections, lifts, pills, implants and potions. The money you spend would buy enough dog treats and toys for myself and all my friends for the rest of our lives.

The other behavior I find curious is why some of you lie about your age. I will hand it to Doc, she doesn’t lie about that but I think it’s because she wants all the discounts that come once you get to a certain age. In the state of Ohio we have a thing called a Buckeye Card that you get when you turn 55. It gives you discounts at all sorts of places. She whips that thing out and shows it to the cashier like its a darn medal. Don’t tell her I told you but she’s a frugal sort of gal. But I digress. I guess the best advice I could pass on from a dogs perspective is don’t let age define you. Did you see the 82 year old ex NASA trainee Wally Funk go up into space on Tuesday? What if she would have declined the offer saying she was too old to do that. She would have missed the time of her life. I hope Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk call me to go on one of their next flights. I would be the oldest dog to go into outer space. Wouldn’t that be something!

So as long as I am blessed to be on this earth I am going to focus on each day, have as much fun as I can have, continue to work as a therapy dog, go on long walks everyday with Doc and play with my doggie friends next door. People say your life goes by quickly and I agree, so savor every moment and stop worrying about all the sags and bags that come with aging. Instead, wear your age with pride, you earned it.

Getting Over the Hump

Wednesday is known as hump day and I can’t think of a better way to describe our first regular day back at the office as we have certainly had to overcome many humps and bumps to get here. It has been over a year since we ran a face to face support group with our patients and Doc has been so excited that she started planning for the group last week. Its just an example of how things that we use to take for granted are now so much more special since we can be together again. I for one am feeling grateful and excited.

Two years ago, before the pandemic started I bet the things you were grateful for then are probably very different than the things you are grateful for now. I know my list has changed. I think we took many things for granted. The other day Doc said to me, “Who would have thought that you would be so thankful just to be able to safely hug the people you care about again?” I agree. I missed all of my co-workers, patients and and the most precious connections both Doc and I have with friends and family.

Doc often tells me and those that she counsels that there is always a life lesson to be learned. When Doc asked me what I have learned over that last year I said with out hesitation ” If you are human always be well stocked up on toilet paper and if you are a dog have extra boxes of Milk bones in the house.” Doc looked and me and chuckled. ” Well that’s practical, now what else did you learn?” she asked with a serious look. ” That this morning I was happy to hear you yell down the hall ” Come on Grover time to get in the car and go to work!” No lovelier words have ever been spoken to me.

So here we were this morning setting up for our first group like we never missed a beat. Normal has never felt so good and so appreciated.

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” Ellen Glasgow

There was a time that I embraced change, but now that I am older I am not a big fan. Why fix things that aren’t broken? I just don’t get it. You can call me an old stick in the mud, but I don’t care. I like things the same.

Here at Doc’s house things run pretty much like clock work. I get the same dog food two times a day, I play with the same toys, sleep in the same bed and play with the same two dogs that live next door. What’s boring for some folks is heaven to me. Yes I know, change is inevitable and some change is good, especially if it means stopping self destructive behaviors. But I am not talking about the kind of change that improves our lives, I am talking about the kind that is not well thought out and is put in place just because someone has the authority to implement it or they are addicted to drama. Change for the sake of change is a risk that can end up in chaos not just for ourselves but also for those around us. I hate that, it’s so stressful. In a world where things can feel uncertain we need the security of a few things remaining the same. Having some predictability in our lives can be calming.

Since I was a young pup, Doc has tried to teach me and model the importance of balance because there are times that unforeseen situations will throw us headlong into circumstances where we either sink or swim. At those times we are forced out of our comfort zones and we must make a decision. What is calming to me during those times is that I still have some predictability at home with Doc. Its always good to know that there is someone or some place to feel safe when the constant flux becomes too much. In other words, we all need a safe harbor.

So before you make a decision or react without thinking things through or you are faced with new challenge, ask yourself this: will the change I am about to make improve my life and help me to grow? If the answer is no then come sit with me for awhile and wallow with me in the comforting sameness of my beautifully predictable life.