Students’ squeals of joy emanate from the UC when the therapy dogs arrive. People look gloomy and sad – then the dogs bring a smile to their face. For six years, I was the lesser half of a canine therapy team. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Our rescued Labrador Retriever traveled from his native Louisiana not long after Hurricane Katrina. We named him Hooper. He was confused by the leash; we suspected he had been a yard dog who got loose and somehow survived the pelting rains and wind. He ended up in a shelter until we adopted him.
He didn’t bark. He flinched at loud noises and was terrified by thunder and lightning, which sent him scrambling into the back of a closet. But he instinctively sat and looked lovingly into the eyes of every child he met on the street or in the park.
“He should be a therapy dog,” a neighbor suggested.
Hooper and I went to a local obedience class and worked our way through a therapy training program. He was always the demo dog; he learned the skills more quickly and effortlessly than I did. Our training included a 10-week series of visits to a school for challenged children. He loved them all and sat patiently when they struggled to coordinate their petting strokes or tried (and sometimes failed) to control their impulses to pull his ears or hit him.
We protected each other in and out of school and became a team. He comforted mourners in Sandy Hook. We visited libraries, hospitals, and schools where he inspired many, but none more than me. I would never have volunteered in this capacity had he not provided the incentive. He opened my heart and filled it with deeper love.
When the work became too taxing for him, he retired to the living room sofa and enjoyed civilian life. He died and our family cried for a very long time.
We finally rescued another dog. We named him Knuckles. He has no aptitude for therapy work.
He’s just a sweet, happy-go-lucky little guy who makes us smile. He is another of the infinite kinds of love God offers us.
Visiting the therapy teams at SHU brought back many happy memories and a few sad ones. A dog’s ability to heal with love will always be a marvel to me. I was lucky to learn this first hand from Hooper.