The Challenge of Aging Gracefully

On Monday, Doc took me to see Dr. Balazs for my yearly wellness check to see if I am in good enough shape to continue working as a therapy dog. Turns out I am. Since I will be turning 10 in July and considered a senior dog, she really gave me the once over. I was there for well over an hour before all the tests, procedures and the consultation was done and to tell you the truth it wore me out. It was also kind of annoying when the doctor kept talking to Doc about helping me stay healthy now that I am a getting older and that it would; entail some changes I don’t like.

It started with the physical exam, you know the normal stuff, like listening to my heart, lungs, looking at my teeth, how shiny my coat is and she even looked in my eyes. They then drew blood to test for heart worm and gave me two shots that I did not like, but I tolerated it. After all, they gave me treats for being such a good boy. Then Dr. Balazs came back in to talk about the importance of keeping my weight healthy. She told Doc without even asking me, to substitute some healthier snacks for the Milkbones. Although I do like strawberries and blueberries, lets face it, nothing is much better than a Milkbone, so I didn’t like hearing that. She said keeping my weight down will help to keep my hips from hurting as I age. The she and Doc talked about the large mass on my chest.

You see, certain dog breeds get fatty masses called lipoma’s. I have a few here and there but one on my chest just keeps growing and now it is about as large as a tennis ball. It doesn’t hurt, it’s not cancerous, but because it continues to grow, the doctor thinks its time to have it surgically removed. Doc agreed and then asked so many questions about the surgery and recovery time I could hardly keep track. It’s always good to have someone you love advocating for you and I am lucky to have her by my side. The doctor also said they will do a dental cleaning during the procedure to keep my teeth white just like all the celebrities you see on TV. So they scheduled my surgery and then we got in the car to go home.

To say I was exhausted after all of that poking, prodding and talking was an understatement. Doc must have felt sorry for me because on the way home she turned into my favorite drive through at Dairy Queen and got me pup cup. I didn’t dare remind her that the doctor had just talked to us about keeping my weight down. Sometimes you need a treat after a tough day.

Moving forward, I will continue working up until my surgery date at the end of June and really try to change the things that the doctor talked to Doc about. After all, it really is about quality of life, even for this pup.

Planting Seeds, One at a Time

In the spring, Doc loves to get out in the yard and work in the flower beds planting, cleaning and mulching. Doc has an understanding of what plants will help to nourish the birds, the bees and all the little critters in the environment. With that in mind, the other day when I was sitting on the back porch taking in the glorious scent of our lilac bush, I noticed the bees pollinating the flowers and it dawned on me the importance of planting seeds. When we plant seeds we not only end up nourishing what is in our own yard, but it ends up spreading to the gardens around us as well because we are all connected. I think this applies to the seeds we plant in our own lives as well.

As a therapy dog I have observed that humans either choose a path of planting good seeds by living and doing things that are a blessing to others, or they plant seeds trying only to reap the harvest for themselves. If you reap everything for yourself, it may lead to a temporary feeling of happiness, but in the end you have a bounty and no one to share it with and you are left feeling empty. Then you get caught in the rut of trying to fill that void with more and more stuff, but it never works. What a sad life.

You know it’s funny, most of the good humans I know aren’t even aware of all the seeds that they plant and the ripple affect that they have on others. They just go through life with the daily intention of being kind and helpful and remain humble about the many seeds they plant through out their lives. They never win any awards, they aren’t rich, you don’t read about them in social media or in the press but they make an impact in others lives and they are rich beyond belief because being kind and giving always leaves you feeling full. Doc often tells people struggling with emptiness, ” If you want to be happy in life, be of service to others.”

So go forth today and plant your seeds. Don’t let others try to discourage you or tell you that one person can’t make that big of a difference in the world. You never know until you try. Remember, out of one small oak seedling a forest grew.

” They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” Dinos Christianopoulos

It’s Ok To Ask for Help

In case you weren’t aware, May is Mental Health awareness month. This is the month put aside to raise awareness about mental illness, fight the stigma and advocate for more services. Since the pandemic, there has been a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. The pandemic was tough on all of us, even this pooch, because everything that had been normal in our daily lives suddenly changed and we are still adapting to change.

When the numbers for COVID rose in 2020, we were called into a meeting at work to talk about sending us home to work remotely. There would be no more in person counseling and all sessions would be done through tele health. At the time, no one could have predicted how long the virus would last. As the days drug on to weeks and then months, we soon found ourselves on lock down and only essential businesses were open. At first it was fun being home with Doc all the time but soon the fun turned to boredom and then I just fell into a funk. I didn’t know what to do with myself all day. After all, I had been training and working as a therapy dog since I was 5 months old. I missed my co-workers, the patients and as winter set in, it didn’t feel safe to spend time with family and friends indoors. We all became more and more isolated.

Doc was the first one to notice that I wasn’t acting like my regular cheerful self, and to be honest, Doc was having problems adjusting as well. Both of us trying to serve the patients the best we could by being supportive from our home was a challenge but we all did the best that we could. One day Doc sat down beside me on the couch and asked me, ” Are you ok Grover? I notice you have been sleeping more and that you haven’t even wanted any treats. Are you feeling depressed?” As I moved over and placed my head in her lap for comfort, she gently stroked my head and I admitted to her that I was feeling down. ” It’s ok Grover, she said, I know that it has been tough for you, but I am here for you.” Just feeling Doc’ s support and being able to talk about it was such a relief. I had not wanted to burden her with my sadness, but she told me it is so important to talk to someone you trust when you feel down.

After that day we decided we needed to figure out a better way to move forward, so we decided that we would take a walk everyday down to the park. And you know what, being out in nature and getting some fresh air helped and I started feeling a little better. It still wasn’t the same, but my mood improved and then when the stores opened back up in our suburb, the owners asked Doc to bring me in to visit and that gave me back my sense of purpose.

Today we are back at work seeing patients three days per week and able to visit family and friends, so things are better and I am my happy tail wagging self again. But lets face it, these are some tough times we are still working through, but I learned that sometimes even the helpers need help and that its ok to ask. I understand that people can feel embarrassed to ask for help because of the stigma attached, but mental illness, just like any other medical issue should be treated, not shamed.

If you or anyone you know needs help with a mental health issue, please contact the National Alliance of Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 or SAMHSA at for a referral in your area.

Looking Beyond the Weeds

The other night when I was in the field in back of our house, I was taken in by how pretty all the yellow dandelions and purple violets looked against the back drop of the green grass while the setting sun cast its golden glow. It reminded me of a story Doc had told me a few years back about when she was a child and how children see things so much more clearly than adults.

Doc grew up in the country on three acres and their house was surrounded on three sides by a beef cattle and horse farm. Back in those days no one put chemicals on their laws or fields, so the farm land where the animals grazed were filled with wildflowers native to Ohio. In the summer, Doc would pick the wildflowers that she found and bring them to her mother as a present. She said she especially liked the bright yellow color of the dandelions, thinking they were the most beautiful flower of them all. Her mother always acted pleased when she got the flower arrangements and then put them in a vase, placing them in the middle of the dining table like they were an expensive bouquet from the florist.

It wasn’t until years later that Doc found out the flowers she considered so beautiful were considered weeds and today are the blight of proud suburban lawn owners who spray to keep their lawns free of them. When Doc and I take our daily walks, all we see are laws of perfectly manicured green, not one wildflower in sight. The funny thing is that even though people now consider dandelions as weeds, they really are not. Dandelions are part of the daisy family, are edible, have health benefits and are a rich source of nectar for bees. It just goes to show you how negative rumors can be started and believed, not only about people, but plants as well.

This is a perfect example of why Doc always reminds me to look below the surface and get the facts before making a judgement about anything. It’s important not to believe rumors or opinions just because someone told you what they think is true, or we could miss out on the truth and the beauty below the surface. As a child, Doc only saw the beauty of the dandelions that she picked for her mother so long ago. Maybe we all need to embrace the innocence of childhood once again before we had any preconceived ideas about life.

” Childhood means simplicity. Look at the world with the child’s eye-it is very beautiful.” Kailash Satyarthi