Learning to be Grateful

Every Wednesday morning, Doc and I meet with a few patients for group therapy. Doc is the brains of the operation and I am there to provide comfort and comic relief. In other words, Doc and I know our roles and work well together for the good of those that we serve. We often go over different topics related to managing stress and this week I told Doc that with all the angry noise in our world, that maybe a good topic for this week would be about gratitude. She agreed.

Part of being a good group therapist is understanding yourself first, so I took some time to ponder the topic. I had to get honest with myself. Was I really grateful for what I have, or am I always looking for something more? It led me to the realization that I have a Milk Bone obsession. I also had to admit that I really never enjoy the one in my mouth because I am always scheming about how I can get Doc to give me another one. Even as a puppy, it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I went outside to use the bathroom, Doc would give me a Milk Bone as a reward. Now don’t tell Doc, but sometimes I act like I have to go out even when I don’t just to get a treat. Because I know Doc is watching me, I will even go so far as to pretend like I am doing my business. Now does that sound like grateful behavior? I think not.

When I finally confessed my sin to Doc after having this revelation she just looked at me and said,” Part of being grateful is learning to savor things in the moment Grover. How can you be fully grateful when you are going through all that drama just to get the one thing you want and then you don’t even enjoy it? ” she said thoughtfully. ” Good point.” I said, So what do you suggest?” ” Lets both start by slowing down, we both move too fast from one thing to another. Starting today, lets make a real effort to stop, notice, enjoy and prolong the positive experiences we are blessed with. There are opportunities every day to be thankful, even when we are going through challenging life events. It’s easy for us to get stuck in the trap of thinking that our happiness lies around the corner when in fact you can find happiness in everyday events.”

Doc was right, we both needed to regroup and refocus so we could pass this on to the people in our group. Doc has always taught me to try and lead by example so I will end with this affirmation “I am thankful for learning new life lessons with Doc by my side.”

Happy Fall, a Time of Change!

We sure didn’t need a calendar to know that today is the first day of fall. Nature has been giving us hints for weeks that it was coming and some of the hints were not very subtle.

The first sign of fall began with all the frantic squirrel activity. They started by remodeling their nests and and now they are hording and burying nuts for winter. I get tired just watching them. There is a plethora of nuts for them choose from on our street that include Walnuts, Acorns and even our state nut the Buckeye. Did you know that squirrels can hide about 9,000 nuts and even remember where they buried them? Yup, I was surprised when Doc told me that but I Googled it and she was right. That’s impressive considering I can’t even keep track of the few toys and bones that I own.

Speaking of squirrels, Doc and I were taking our evening walk and you will never guess what happened. We were strolling down the sidewalk minding our own business when some young squirrel that must have been woozy from eating too many nuts ran right up to us. Doc about freaked out thinking the poor thing was going to run up her leg and she let out a holler so loud that the neighbors came out of their houses to see what all the commotion was about. Luckily I came to the rescue. Just as the squirrel was headed towards Doc foot, I was able to bend down and gently grab it by the tale, move it to the side and then let it go unharmed. The poor thing was so scared I had to chuckle. It took no time to scamper up the nearest tree to get as far away from us as possible.

Now that the days are getting shorter and it cools down faster at night, Doc and I like to stretch out on the back porch and commune with nature. Usually Doc lounges out on the long couch reading a book and I spend time watching the boys next door play soccer in the yard. When the boys go inside for supper, I sometimes get bored and find things to amuse myself. The only problem is that Doc has rules about this. Sometimes I get busy digging a hole because frankly, it’s fun and I like to eat dirt, but as soon as her super sonic ears hear me digging, she gets up, looks at me and tells me “No!” in that stern voice of hers. Frankly, that ticks me off and I let her know it by having a little hissy fit. I bark and growl to show my displeasure. She just stares at me in disbelief until I wear myself out and then she has me come up and lay by her side where she can keep an eye on me. I know it sounds silly, but soon it will be too cold to be outside at the end of the day and I am going to miss our evening ritual.

There is always both a sense of anticipation about the new season and a feeling of melancholy letting go of the old one. I know it’s a cliche, but it really does feel like the days slip away so quickly. So I guess this dog will try to keep focused on enjoying the moment and all the seasons that Doc and I have left to experience together.

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.