Comforting Those Who Grieve

As a therapy dog, I am sometimes asked to comfort those who are mourning and Sunday was one of those days.

A few weeks ago, Doc had received a request for me to come to an event sponsored by The Columbus Public Health Department called the Mourning Walk, to reflect on the young lives lost to gun violence. From January 1, 2021 to September 21, 2022 in Franklin County, which includes Columbus, Ohio and it’s suburbs, we lost 66 youth ages 0-19. Of course I told Doc I would love to help in any way that I could, so we accepted the invitation.

The morning of the event we were jolted out of bed by loud claps of thunder and lightening and were worried the event might be canceled, but by the time we left at 9:30am the sun was shining, so off we went.

When we arrived at the park we were greeted by the person arranging the event. As we glanced down the paved walking path, we noticed 60 tiny pairs of children’s shoes representing those lives that had been lost. A sober reminder about why we were there. We met many nice people from other organizations that were also there to help, along with the people that came to honor those precious lives that had been taken so soon. It is always my intention to offer some comfort is some small way even though I can never take away all of the pain. I have learned that sometimes the best thing you can do when someone is grieving, is to show up, be present and listen.

” There are three needs of the griever: To find the words for the loss, to say the words aloud and to know that the words have been heard.” – Victoria Alexander

The Cat Burglar Strikes Again

It’s been a minute since I updated you on my cousin Garrett that lives in that state up north. I am sorry to report that he has not changed his cat burglar ways. As a result of his continued crime spree, his mom (Doc’s niece), had to end up putting their house up for sale and move to a new town hoping for a fresh start, but that didn’t last long. As everyone knows, compulsive behavior is hard to stop and before long, Garrett started sneaking around in the dark of night looking for anything he could get his paws on.

The first month in the new house he was put on restriction and not allowed out of the house. After all, they had to put on a good front for the new neighbors. Finally, after howling and screeching every night for over a month, his human mom and his animal siblings couldn’t get any sleep with all his complaining, so they let him out of the house just to shut him up, hoping he had changed his ways. But you know what they say, a tiger doesn’t change his stripes, so it didn’t take long for him to scout the new neighborhood and bring home some loot that he found. It started innocently enough with just a sock here and there and no one suspected that their seemingly nice new neighbors were harboring a thief that prowled in the night. But over time, people became suspicious knowing they could have not misplaced so many things and the whispers started, as they wondered if there was a thief in their sleepy little town.

After giving this some thought, what I don’t understand about Garrett is why on earth would he want to prowl around at night when he could be sleeping soundly in his humans bed? Not only that, but there are some vicious critters that work the night shift and he would have to stay extra alert not to be attacked by a racoon or god forbid, a coyote. And the stuff he steels and brings home these days is nothing of value. Apparently he has lowered his standards as he has gotten older. His latest haul is nothing more than some dirty socks and deflated balloons. At least in his old neighborhood he brought home some things that were valuable. Maybe he’s loosing his edge, after all he is getting older.

Finally, after Doc’s niece saw that he was not going to stop, she did the right thing and placed a sign out in the front yard like she did at the old house, letting the neighbor’s know where to find their stolen goods. Now if that was me, I would be humiliated , seek help and repent, but not Garrett. He acts like all of this attention makes him some type of gangster celebrity like Doc’s relative Jessie James.

All I know is one thing, as the holidays get closer, I have made it very clear to Doc that I do not want Garrett to come to our house until he has reformed. I know I should be more empathetic given what I do for a living, but I don’t think you should have to pat down your cousin when they leave to make sure he hasn’t tried to “borrow ” any of our stuff. That may be acceptable behavior in Michigan, but that ain’t acceptable behavior in the Buckeye State.

The Tall Tales we Tell

When Doc answered the phone I really didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but my puppy ears perked up when I heard her talking about my two dog buddies that live next door. Apparently their humans were going to go out of town for the day and they asked if Doc could take care of them while they were gone. Of course she said yes, and I knew what that meant, a wild Saturday outside with my best friends Frankie and Norman. A day filled with play and telling wild stories was just what the doctor ordered after the tough week we had.

After much pestering, Doc went next door to get my friends at about 10am. It was kind of rainy, but since we are all water dogs, we didn’t care. The first thing I did, was to show them where I jumped on the skunk that had been feasting on the yellow jackets in our yard. I could tell they were impressed by my bravery. Doc just rolled her eyes when she heard me tell them how I had wrestled that wild skunk to the ground and chased him out of the yard to save Doc from it’s clutches When Frankie asked if I had been scared, I fibbed and told them no. The truth was I had been as surprised as the skunk had been and couldn’t wait to get away from that stinky thing, but you sure don’t want to admit that to your buddies.

After I was done regaling them with my bravery, we spent the rest of the time chasing a ball, wrestling in the yard and then it was time to go in the house for water, dog treats and a nap on the couch next to Doc while she was watching the OSU football game. After a while, Doc told Norman and Frankie that she was going to take them home as their humans would be home soon.

When Doc got back home she asked me: ” Grover, why did you tell Norman and Frankie that you weren’t scared of that skunk when I knew that you were?” “Well. I replied, you can’t admit that to your guy friends, they would think you were a big baby.” I replied with conviction. ” Where on earth did you learn that?” she asked. ” Well everybody knows that Doc, it’s bro code.” I said. Then Doc looked at me with that serious look she gets on her face when she wants to make a point and said, ” Grover, it’s ok to admit it when you are scared and talk about your feelings. That takes courage and I know you are a brave dog in so many ways.”

Of course, Doc was right as usual. It can get exhausting trying to pretend everything is ok when it isn’t. Here’s what I decided after giving it some thought. You just never know, if you are brave enough to open up and talk about your feelings, you might help someone else feel safe enough to talk about theirs as well.

Curses, Skunked Again!

Did you ever have one of those days that started out terrible and you thought that in a million years it could not get any worse but it did? Well that is what happened to Doc and I on Tuesday and it was a series of events that I hope to never repeat again.

Picture this, it’s about 5:10am Tuesday and Doc let me out the back door to use the bathroom before breakfast like she always does. I meandered out on the porch like usual. It’s still dark, so Doc put the flood lights on in the yard. She turns the lights on for two reasons, one is so any critters in the yard get a warning that I am coming out and two, so she can see me. Neither of us saw anything after she turned the lights on but just as I was ready to go down the steps, I heard something over to the left of the porch by the rose bushes and I jumped off to investigate. My first bad idea.

It was a skunk and apparently I startled it so much that it could barely get any spray out because it just wanted to get away from me. I ran away when I smelled it and when Doc saw me, I was smacking my jaw open and closed and running around the yard. Alarmed she thought I was sick to my stomach and opened the back door to see if I was ok. She smelled a slight odor of skunk but smelled after smelling me all over she let me in the house. I guess she didn’t think I had been sprayed as it was not very strong and she just thought the odor had waffled into the house and not hit me directly. I then ate my breakfast and she put me in the car and off we went to work. The second bad idea of the day.

The windows were down in the car so she didn’t smell a thing. When we got to work she asked her first patient if I smelled like skunk and the patient replied no. Now I think the patient was just trying to be nice and not hurt our feelings because before long people were asking why the place smelled like a skunk. It was so embarrassing that Doc and I did the walk of shame out of the office and to the car and drove home. She finished out the rest of her work day doing tele health. By 9am even Doc could smell me and since I did not want to be alone even though I smelled to high heaven, I slept right next to Doc the rest of the work day while Doc explained to her patients why they could not be seen in person. Even with the windows open and the fans on, the house stunk. Finally after Doc was done with work she took me outside and gave me a bath using her old skunk removal mixture of hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing soap and baking soda. I hated the bath, but boy does that potion work. Happy day! No more smell.

After the bath, Doc decided to go over to the rose bushes to see where the skunk had been and boy what a surprise she got. The first thing she noticed was a piece of a honey comb laying on the ground next to a big hole in the mulch bed. As she got closer she saw hundreds of bees down in a big hole. That little stinky Pepe Le Pew had found itself a nest full of tasty bees for a delicious end of night snack. And that’s when Doc put two and two together. She now realized that not only was I sprayed but I had been stung by bees. Well the nest was quite large and since it was uncovered and right by the porch Doc decided it needed relocated. The last bad Idea.

So what hair brain idea did Doc come up with for the bee’s relocation? She decided to get a shovel to move the hive. Now by this point in the story you are probably questioning Doc’s intelligence and you have a right to, given what she did. I probably don’t have to tell you what happened next. Yup, you got it, the bees were not happy about being evicted. After all, they were still grieving the demise of the other bees in their colony that the skunk had eaten earlier that morning. So they did what any group would do when evicted without notice, they rose up and Doc got stung, not once, but about 10 times. Then for good measure they chased her around the yard and some even followed her back in the house. I tried to protect her as best I could by jumping up and catching them in my mouth before they could sting her. Luckily I was not hurt this time.

Doc is left with some pain and swelling on her body and a stinky house. A tough lesson learned for someone that usually make good choices. Today, I am letting Doc go it alone to face our co-workers that had to smell skunk all day. Doc did get some de-skunker at the pet store to take to work, so hopefully that will get rid of the smell. But for today, I will hide out at home. I can’t bare to see the stares and listen to the whispers about the odor we brought to work, it’s just too embarrassing.

Bee hive

Scandals and Stories from the Lake

As soon as we finished breakfast on Saturday morning, I was surprised when Doc told me to pack my dog bed and my tennis ball as we were going up to Lake Erie for an overnight. I was so excited I almost tripped over my own paws trying to get ready. “Yippy skippy!” I said out loud. There is nothing better than a surprise road trip and this road trip ended up being filled with both fun and some scandalous surprises.

Doc must have packed last night after I was asleep because when I got in the car, her bag was already in there along with my food, treats and dog bowls. She can be the sly one sometimes when she’s trying to surprise me. It’s a little over a two hour drive and the traffic was heavy on the way. I guess lots of people were going to the lake. I like to lay in the back and look out the window at the scenery. After we get out of the city its very rural and I like to see all the corn and soybeans planted in neat rows. I also like passing through the small little towns along the way and imagine how my life would be different living in one of those places. It appears that life goes at a much slower pace and everyone looks so friendly, but I was about to find out that how things appear and how they really are can be two very different things.

I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I heard was Doc saying we had stopped for a bathroom break and to get a snack. It just so happened that the place we stopped was a town called Bucyrus. The population is about 11,000 people compared to where we live, with a population of 1 million. Lets just say it’s still small enough for people to know each others business. Now Doc and I were just sitting outside at a table minding our own business when we could not help but overhear the people at the table next to us talking loudly and debating about some town scandal involving the Bratwurst Queen. Apparently she had been forced to turn in her crown. Well that perked up our ears. Who doesn’t like a good tale about royalty and their troubles? In a nutshell from what we overheard, the 2021 Bratwurst Festival Queen engaged in some behavior that were deemed to be unfitting and she was removed from her throne 10 days before the start of the 2022 Festival. Quite the scandal according to the conversation we overheard. Now everyone in town has their dirndl in a bunch with their own opinion on the matter. The conversation was getting heated, so Doc and I decided to finish our snack and take off down the road.

In about an hour we arrived at the lake and it was nothing but pure peace. We got to spend some time with Doc’s friends, I met some nice dogs to play with and we slept in late. In the afternoon we went down to the lakefront Pavilion and listened to live musicians perform as we watched the boats go by. We stayed long enough to see the rays of a beautiful sunset shimmer across the water. The time went by so fast, that before we knew it, it was Sunday afternoon and time to go home. Doc and I always feel a bit melancholy to leave this special place.

On the ride home I mentioned to Doc that although I had had fun, this had also been a learning experience for me. ” How so? ” Doc asked. “Well you think big cities are the only ones where people have problems but I guess it can happen anywhere. Humans certainly have strong opinion’s about all types of subjects. ” I said. ” Ya think? ” Doc responded. We were so relaxed from the lake that on the way home we decided the only place we would stop was the fruit stand to buy some fresh peaches. We drove right through Bucyrus without stopping to avoid hearing any more angry debates. But I do admit that I am curious as to how this whole Bratwurst Queen scandal will play out. Even a dog likes in on the gossip every once in awhile.

Are Dogs Smarter than Humans?

Photo by Angela Kirk

Dogs are not known to be deep thinkers by the human race, but you might be surprised by what we observe and comprehend. After all, we have learned to evolve, adapt and get humans to take care of us for over 30,000 years. The biggest difference that I have observed between humans and all other species on earth, is that humans are the only ones that will follow an unstable and unbalanced leader. Now if that doesn’t get you to start questioning dogs good instincts, I don’t know what will.

In the dog pack, if we followed an unstable pack leader, it could place us in harms way. We also don’t like the energy of instability. Mother Nature has blessed us with instinct and we are not fooled by angry, frustrated, jealous or unstable energy. If you have ever observed how dogs react to an unstable dog you would see our instant reaction. We will first try to correct the instability and if that doesn’t work we will move away. If you ever observed a group of dogs at a dog park and how they react when a dog with unstable energy enters their space you will know just what I am talking about. Doc told me that even she has observed how dogs react. One day we were at the park and a dog and it’s human entered the space. The human had brought a ball and when she threw it to her dog of course all of us tried to join in on the fun. The only problem is that the human got mad because other dogs were chasing “her” dogs ball and she started yelling at the other dogs to stop. Her dog, mirroring back the human’s energy, started growling at the other dogs. Well the rest of us decided in a hot minute to move away from the instability of both the human and her dog. Doc said it was fascinating for her to watch how they were shunned by the pack.

So why do you humans follow unstable leaders? Both Doc and I have some theories that include the fact that humans will rationalize other peoples behavior and dogs do not. A dog’s theory is “what you see is what you get”, we don’t make excuses for dogs irrational behaviors. We could go on and on about the why’s but lets just look at the facts. Good pack leaders promote unity rather than divide , they lead the pack by making things better and have good boundaries to help keep the pack safe. The main focus is always what are the best choices for the pack, that’s what a good leader does.

Everyday, Doc works hard at being a good pack leader. It helps to keep me safe and calm because I know the expectations. In turn I watch out for her as well, it’s why we make a good team. So now you know why dogs have evolved and survived next to humans for over 30,000 years. So what do you think, are dogs smarter than humans?

The Importance of Taking Time Off

Photo by Angela Kirk

After the Ohio State Fair closed down and the work week was completed, Doc and I decided to take some much needed vacation time. After all, life should never be just about work.

The first week we just kind of slept in and laid around like a couple of billionaires that didn’t have to do a thing for themselves but that started getting old, so one morning Doc woke up and announced that she was going to take a trip up to Lake Erie to one of the islands. Well, I thought that was a great until she told me that I would have to stay home. I can’t lie, I was a little miffed about that because I like going up to the lake but I did feel better after I found out that I would have nephew Cole as my babysitter.

The day before she left, Cole came over to go over the very important instructions on how to take care of me. Being a famous Facebook and Blogging pooch I have specific needs as you all know and I don’t like any deviation from my schedule. I knew Cole would do a good job. I have know him since he was only ten years old and now he is a huge nineteen year old man that plays football for the local college. Since I heard him tell Doc that football practice had started, I was hoping he would take me to practice and I could chase the football around but it being so hot and humid out, that idea got nixed very quickly.

Early the next morning Doc woke me up as she needed to leave the house and catch a luxury bus that would take her to the lake. It wasn’t too much longer before Cole arrived and took such good care of me while Doc was gone that I hardly even missed her. Then late one night while I was sound asleep in the middle of Doc’s bed I heard the door open from the garage. ” On no,!” I thought to myself, is it a “burglar?” I carefully peered around the corner and there was Doc looking at me and smiling. ” I brought you something Grover”, she said and there in a bag was a tasty dog treat just to prove she had not forgotten me. As we caught up on what we had done while we were apart we both agreed that the time away and pursing our own adventures was important for our mental health.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing day after day so it’s good to shake things up every once in awhile and try something new. So it was a shock on Monday morning when that alarm went off a 4:45am and Doc said ” Time to get up Grover and get ready for work, the bills aren’t going to pay themselves.” I rolled over, yawned and asked Doc ” Just five more minutes?” but to no avail, our vacation time was over.

Things That Make You Say “Moo”

Working at the Ohio State Fair last Friday was great! I met lots of nice people that gave me pats, hugs and told Doc what a good boy I am. Going to any state fair exposes you to new and interesting things that I never see in the suburbs where I live with Doc. But isn’t life suppose to be about having new experiences? Well, I packed in quite a few in just two hours of work, including meeting a new and strange looking friend named Clarissa.

Since we work across the street from the main entrance of the fair it was easy enough just to walk over to the building we were working in that day. It was already 11am by the time we were done seeing some patients and there was already a line of families waiting to go through the gates. When it was our turn we had to go through security. Luckily neither Doc nor I set off any alarms and we proceeded through without incident.

The first strange thing we passed were a bunch of squawking chickens and roosters crowing at the top of their lungs. I have to say they sure don’t smell very good and glad I don’t live next to any of them at our house. Some of them do have some magnificent looking feathers, so they have that going for them, along with supplying the eggs I like to eat on Saturday mornings. Next we walked by Mrs. Houdini’s place where she lives in a travel trailer and has a big stage she performs on. We never did see her. She must sleep late. I am sure it’s exhausting trying to free herself from the big chains they lock her in under water. I would need a lot of rest too if I had to do that for a living every day.

After walking past the fair rides on the midway and some of those food stands that have all the great smelling fried food, we finally made it to our destination. Not long after getting to our booth, people started coming over to see me. Now I don’t want to brag, but I was a big hit, especially with the children. One little girl came over and talked to Doc while she hugged me and told us all about her prize pig that she was showing in the afternoon. She was only about 8 years old and was so excited about her pig and being at the fair that she gave both Doc and I a laugh. We wished her good luck as she left with her parents.

In the time I was there I met people of all ages and from every walk of life. As always, me being there gave Doc the chance to talk to everyone about addiction and mental illness in a relaxed environment. I am always happy to help spread the message.

After about two hours, I was zonked, so Doc said it was time to take me home, but on the way out we made one more stop. It just so happened that where we were working was next to the cow barn. I smelled her before I saw her. As we approached I saw this very large brown animal and didn’t know if it was some strange looking oversized dog or what it was. As we got closer she came over to the railing and made a quiet mooing sound to acknowledge me and as not to be rude, I responded with a very quiet bark. We just stood there for awhile staring at each other. She acted like she had never seen a dog before so I finally went into a downward dog position to let her know I came in peace. After that she looked more relaxed. Her name was Clarissa and she said she was about 5 years old and lives on a dairy farm near Mechanicsburg, Ohio. She is taking an a vacation with her family at the fair and is also enjoying meeting all the people that stop by to see her and even get a chance to milk her. I found that impressive!

So as you see, animals provide a vital service not only in life but to educate people at the fair that may never have a chance to be around farm animals or even therapy dogs like me. It was so much fun to be there, but when we got home, this puppy was pooped and I slept and slept for the rest of the day dreaming about cows and deep fried bacon on a stick. What an adventure!

Live, From The Ohio State Fair

Doc told me that this morning she received an email that invited me to make a personal appearance at The Ohio State Fair this Friday. Now this isn’t just any rinky dink county fair, this is the big one for the whole state. After getting over the shock, I was curious to find out why I was being asked to appear. Because Doc was busy seeing patients and could not talk to me about it immediately I started coming up with my own ideas.

I had heard that Willie Nelson was performing there and wondered if they needed me to sing a duet with him. He probably found out that I have perfect pitch when I howl along to his songs and thought I would be an asset to his act. Or maybe I will be assisting the ” Daredevil Escapologist, Lady Houdini” in case she gets trapped and needs me to jump in the tank of water where she is chained and drag her out to safety. Boy wouldn’t that get me on the evening news! Or I could be a judge at the pig races. Being friends all these years with Cupcake the pig would probably qualify me as an expert judge. It could be one of many reasons and I was excited to find out.

After work, Doc told me that I had been asked by our employer if I could make an appearance at the booth we will have at the fair. She said our agency will be there to promote awareness about our organization, hand out information about addiction, recovery and mental health and answer questions. Since I am the therapy dog extraordinaire I guess they figured no fair booth would be complete without me. Of course I told Doc I would be happy to oblige on one condition, that I get to try the deep fried cheese or deep fried pickles I keep hearing about. ” Absolutely not!” she said. “Don’t you remember that you just got out of the hospital a month ago because of gastrointestinal issues? I am not going through that with you again. ” Well, I said with a glint in my eye, how about you take me over to the Dairy building and let me lick the cow carved out of butter?” Even Doc had to laugh at the thought of me doing that.

So no solo with Willie, but I will be happy to cheer up some fair goers on Friday and I will let you know what happened. You never know what kind of adventure I might get into at the fair.

Getting Older and Wiser

Grover at 6 Weeks Old

This Friday will be my tenth birthday, an old man in dog years. I hear most older humans say they don’t feel as old in their head as their chronological age says they are and I agree. I still feel like I am five. Except for my recent health issues that I am now fully healed from, I am still as spry as a young puppy, as long as I take the occasional nap.

Over the past few weeks I have heard some whispers about a surprise birthday party during this morning’s group therapy session. I hope it’s true. I love a good party, don’t you? The mile stones in our lives should be celebrated with the people we care about. The favorite part of my birthday besides dog treats and new toys is when Doc and the patients that have known me since I started work as a therapy dog, tell stories about me when I started my training and coming to work as a puppy. I especially like it when Doc reminds me of the day that she picked me up from the Black’s farm and brought me home. Out of all my seven brothers and sisters in the litter, Doc chose me. I often think how lucky I am to hear that I was loved from the very beginning of my life as I am aware that is not true for everyone. It’s always good to count your blessings.

The one piece of advice that I would pass on to you in my advanced age is to keep doing the things you love no matter how old you are. I often hear people use the excuse that they are too old to do this or that. Pashaw! If you want to be happy in life, stay interested, busy, curious, keep moving, set new goals and spend time sharing what you have learned with others. I plan on working as a therapy dog for the rest of my years on earth and of course I have to watch out for Doc. I will tell you a secret, she thinks she watches over me but I actually take care of her, a full time job.

So today I will act surprised when I go into the group room this morning when everyone wishes me a Happy Birthday! Then I still have Friday to look forward to, my actual birthday. I sure hope Doc gets me a pup cup from Dairy Queen. That would make my birthday perfect.