Reach for Hand, Lend a Paw

Today is National Love Your Pet Day and I find it particularly fitting in that in a mere two weeks, I’ll be celebrating 15 years of pet ownership, or more specifically, when Oliver, my bichon frise, joined my family. Ever since the early years of my childhood, I’ve been a fan of dogs, enthralled with their pleasant, spunky nature, their ability to comfort, inspire a smile and simply maintain a calming and joyful presence.

oliver-after-eating            dog-quote

Several weeks prior to my 14th birthday, my mom announced she found an ad in the newspaper for bichon frise puppies, just having been born. Once the phone call was made, my mom, sister and I ventured to the short distance to the woman’s home whose dog had recently birthed several bichon puppies. The puppies fit in the palms of our hands, their white fur just starting to take on their signature curl. Too small to leave their mother, we waited several weeks until we ventured back to choose our new family member.

oliver-alone

From the moment I spotted him, I knew he was the one. The smallest of the bunch, he was a bit timid, but inquisitive, and I knew, there was something special about him. At first, my family questioned why I was so set on him when his other siblings happily frolicked about. For me, though, perhaps there was something about Oliver that resonated so deeply within me. From that moment on, I knew it was him; my co-pilot, my friend, my companion, the one constant in my life, who would be there through it all, always waiting for me at the end of the day.

oliver-busy-bone

So today, a day when we commemorate the love our pets, I’d like to share a montage of photos I’ve accumulated through the years, showcasing Oliver in his happiest moments, adding joy and light to my life and my family, showering us with love and care. He is truly loved and that love has persisted through his 15 years and will always continue. Here’s to you, Oliver, thank you for being you, thank you for your love, your presence and your guidance. Thank you for teaching me the meaning of resilience and strength and that sometimes, love is the best medicine we could ever give.

oliver-busy-treats              Oliver in his shirt.png     oliver-tongue

A Supportive Paw

Good Morning! I hope your weekend has been a pleasant and relaxing one, thus far! On Friday, the temperatures ended up being extremely oppressive and uncomfortable with the humidity soaring, making it nearly impossible to be outside for more than a short period of time. Also, I made the poor decision of leaving my flip flops in a closed, sweltering car, which almost melted them! Lesson learned, for sure. Thankfully, they were able to be salvaged after taking some time to cool off in my air-conditioned house!

Therapy Dogs 3

Anyhow, given I follow several local television news stations in the area, I recently noticed my local ABC News affiliate, 6ABC Action News of Philadelphia, shared an article via social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) and since having stumbled across it on Thursday evening, it’s been on my mind. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of animals, in particular dogs, assisting in the most unique ways and providing a source of comfort, encouragement and companionship to people, even those they just met; (To preview the article/story I’m speaking of, here is a link, if you’d like to check it out: http://6abc.com/pets/newest-court-employee-dog-providing-comfort-to-kids-on-the-stand/778441/)

Therapy Dogs

In the city of Poughkeepsie, NY, specially-trained service dogs, will now be a permanent presence in the courthouse with the ability to provide children with support and comfort, as they take the stand, a task which can be anxiety-ridden and overwhelming for anyone, let alone children. Dogs such as Bosch, the canine featured in the article, will be trained by nonprofit organizations, such as the East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD), which, according to the article, has trained over 250 canines thus far and has been able to assist in an array of situations for over 20 years.

Employees of ECAD stated that the dogs provide children with the feeling that they can “tell their stories in a safe way.” The dogs are trained to sense anxiety and stress and perhaps already harbor an innate sense of recognizing these signs of distress. I was more than intrigued after reading this article and seeing how helpful and significant a dog’s presence can truly be. It’s not the first time I’ve read about an initiative such as this and in fact, I have experienced something relatively similar myself.

Years ago and fairly recently, as well, while waiting in my local hospital’s emergency room (both for myself and family members, at one point), a man walked through with a golden retriever on a leash. Instantly, I noticed the faces on many of the people’s faces light up. They were instantly taken with the sight of the friendly dog, who casually and happily walked over to many of them, greeting them and sending friendly and relaxed vibes through the otherwise, tense room. It was hard to be sad when in the presence of this dog and for a short while, he provided the room (and most definitely, me) with a pleasant distraction.

Therapy Dogs 2

In another instance, I also learned of a program where children read to dogs, as a form of therapy, comfort and a source of reassurance. One organization in particular, Therapy Dogs International (http://www.tdi-dog.org/OurPrograms.aspx?Page=Children+Reading+to+Dogs), state that their mission in providing the program is:

“To provide a relaxed and “dog-friendly” atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.

By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Reading improves because the child is practicing the skill of reading, building self-esteem, and associating reading with something pleasant.”

Tail Waggin Tutors Logo copy

Ever since I was first made abreast of this program, it’s always been on my mind and I am in full support of it. Having worked with a vast array of children in school settings throughout the course of my life and having weathered through a host of self-esteem issues myself, there is nothing better than providing children with an alternative way to foster a love of reading and a boost of confidence.

My reason for this post today, is my desire to share with you, whomever may be reading, of the many ways dogs can often offer us something well-beyond what traditional therapies and “scientifically” proven methodologies can. It is proof that sometimes, the only “medicine” or “treatment” a child, or anyone, for that matter, truly needs, is unconditional love and unwavering support. A supportive presence, helping hand (or paw) and listening ear can make all the difference.

Therapy Dog Quote

Bark Around the World

Good morning! I hope your week has been a pleasant one and that your weekend will be filled with fun, sunshine and relaxation! Originally, I had intended to compose this very post yesterday, after first reading the to-be mentioned article, but honestly felt too overwhelmed with emotion to do so. I figured this morning would be best, after I gave myself a chance to digest all I read.

If you’re a social media follower (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc) of news organizations/TV stations, such as ABC News, or a follower of various magazines, such as Health or others, then it’s very likely you’ve already seen, read, or heard about the heart wrenching story of New York City resident, Thomas Neil Rodriguez and the trip around the world he recently took with his terminally-ill, 15-year-old mixed-breed dog, Poh and his fiance.

Poh 2

Together since Rodriguez adopted him in December 1999, Rodriguez described Poh in an interview with ABC News (via http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/york-man-takes-dying-dog-bucket-list-adventure/story?id=31338158) as, ”

“My life is kind of hectic,” Rodriguez said. “I’m always traveling, but Poh is my home, my child. I think this resonated with a lot of dog owners. They wish they could do stuff like this with their dog and spend these moments, but sometimes life gets in the way.”

“I am super blessed that I have actually gotten to do this,” he added. “People think I take care of Poh, but Poh takes care of me.”

Back in March, the 12,000 mile journey throughout the United States commenced and was documented on an Instagram account he created to show others of their experiences. Several of the photos were shared on the aforementioned ABC News article and one in particular brought tears to my eyes. Though the story in general left me in tears for a good portion of the day, the photo of Poh in a wagon, with the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge as backdrop, touched a part of me that hasn’t been that moved since my own dog, Oliver had a recent host of health issues. What I felt when looking at the photo and simply reading through the article is something that is truly difficult and near impossible to place into words.

Poh

In thinking about it, I suppose what really got to me, is the notion of me being a dog owner since a couple days before my 14th birthday. As a child, I begged and begged my parents for a dog, always finding comfort and solace in them. Beginning from when I was 9 years old, I was enthralled with dogs. Towards the end of May, as a 9-year-old, my sister and I took comfort and comradeship with the dog belonging to the family who lived behind us. Our grandmother had recently passed away after an intense, 6-month battle with Leukemia and being able to play with Darby, the friendly Golden Retriever in our backyard, was the best therapy that could have ever been offered to me. He stayed by my side, licking my hand, taking delight in my playful nature. He offered a distraction from the sadness and loneliness I felt.

From that moment on, I desperately longed for a dog and for my 14th birthday, my wishes were finally answered. Seeing an ad for Bichon Frise puppies in the newspaper, my mom took my sister and I one Sunday afternoon to choose the puppy we wanted and having tied a blue bandana around him, Oliver was chosen. It’s hard for me to remember what life was like without Oliver. Of course, it’s not to say life has been easy with him, because it hasn’t. It has been a challenge, both physically and emotionally. Throughout the years, we’ve watched him battle through infections, surgeries, surgical errors, and a host of other issues, but his resilience has always shone through. Throughout all of it, no matter the obstacles thrown his way, he’s always risen above, maintaining his strength, sometimes sobbing, but still making it through, his tail wagging each day, greeting me when I walk through the door.

Oliver tongue

Though sometimes I can become frustrated with him, he is my family. It’s hard for me to imagine my house empty, without him. So perhaps this is why reading about Rodriguez’s journey with Poh hit home. Reading about their adventures together, seeing the passion and joy they experienced, is something I long for with Oliver. Looking back on old pictures of Oliver, it’s hard for me to remember when he used to move about easily, sitting perched on top of the sofa, eagerly running up and down the steps. Being 13-years-old now, it is challenging for him to move around, as the arthritis often reduces his mobility. My life with him consists of patience and understanding. It’s all I can do to repay him for his patience with me, seeing me cry as I experienced the many disappointments in life. Though I am often distracted by my own personal struggles, Oliver always seems to look at me with a certain sense of pride and understanding and he is forgiving.

Oliver in his shirt

If nothing else, Oliver teaches me what it means to be resilient, forgiving and understanding. He offers me companionship and like Rodriguez and Poh, for the past 13-years, he’s been my consistent home.

An Unlikely Teacher: Lessons From Oliver

Hello there, friends! I hope this week is going well thus far, as we’ve already made it to mid-week! A couple days ago, after I retrieved the mail, I noticed a seasonal catalog from Hallmark. Now anyone who knows me, is aware that I am quite a big fan of Hallmark stores, in general. I’ve been known to spend significant amounts of time perusing the aisles, reading cards (in particular, the sentimental, meaningful “Between You & Me” line), and simply enjoying the ambiance of the store. To me, Hallmark stores often feel like a comforting blanket, filled with trinkets, beautiful words and an aura of a homelike comfort. When I’m in Hallmark, I am at peace, similar to the sentiments I experience while in a bookstore or library.

Hallmark

Perhaps I am overly enthusiastic about Hallmark, but in particular, as I leafed through this catalog, something just so happened to catch my eye, but more importantly, heart. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fond of quotes. Many of them speak to me and I’ll often reread the quotes I’ve pinned on my Pinterest page (@Stylinstar53 is my name on there, for those of you who might have similar interests, or are curious as about what I’ve pinned). Many of them are comprised of thoughts I could never imagine conjuring myself and often provide me with hope, strength, courage and comfort, knowing that tomorrow can be filled with promise and triumph and that there is always an upside to situations which seem unsolvable. I’d like to share with you a quote I stumbled across in the catalog which is available for purchase on a large canvas:

Taken from the Hallmark Catalog:

My dog taught me everything I need to know. It’s okay sometimes to just eat and sleep. When you fall down, get back up, shake it off, forget about it and go on. Be very brave no matter your size. Make your own fun. Unleash your talents. Learn new tricks no matter your age. Make new friends. Sniff out opportunities. Chase after your dreams. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. At the end of the day, it is best to snuggle no matter what has happened. Everyday is a brand new day, just be happy!”

As I read this quote, I felt a kaleidoscope of emotions. A part of me wanted to shed a tear, while the other part of me wanted to smile and hold Oliver, my dog and friend tight and relish in his carefree nature. Reading this, I realized, I owe a lot to Oliver. He truly has taught me life lessons I know I’ll never forget, or take for granted. Saying this, I realize sometimes I do take him for granted. Too many times, I’ve taken my frustrations out on him, shooing him away when all he wanted was love, or to play. Often times, I am too distracted by my own disappointments or frustrations within myself to take the time to stop, pet him and simply enjoy his warm body snuggled against me as I watch TV or read. He has taught me resilience when all hope seems to have been lost. What he experienced just over a year ago, fighting for his life with all the courage and strength he could summon, given the surgical error on part of the veterinarian, was something many other dogs and humans could never have successfully weathered. Though, Oliver on the other hand, rebounded. He battled through the pain, discomfort, and emotions and triumphed. He shows me that anything is possible with the right mindset and willpower. Even when I feel discouraged and fixated on my appearance, believing I am inadequate, still he rushes over to greet me, tail wagging and eager to play. It doesn’t matter if my hair is knotted, my lip is cut, or if a blemish has erupted on my chin, to Oliver, I’m just me, Melissa, someone to play with and share meals, laughs and love. He teaches me to accept others for who they are, no matter their appearance, no matter if they don’t always say the things I’d like them to. Oliver has helped me understand that everybody has different ways of both giving and receiving love.

Oliver sofa

Sometimes the greatest lessons we learn are not those taught in a classroom or a book, but by the unlikeliest creatures or canines, for that matter. I’m thankful for Oliver and all that he is, all that he does. Each day upon my awakening, I look for him, trusting he will be there, silently teaching me lessons each day, letting me love him the way I can and receiving his love in countless ways.

Oliver alone

Thank you, Hallmark for reminding me of all I have to be grateful for, even when I get distracted by all that seems to be missing in my life. There is always a lesson to be learned and someone/something to be appreciated and thankful for.