When I was about three months old I was given to the SPCA in Davis, California, so I could be adopted. Nobody has been able to tell me why this happened, though I have my theories: as a Walker Hound dog I am supposed to be a hunter, but I am afraid of the noise that guns make. Soon, I was adopted by a family who took good care of me. Unfortunately, the parents’ marriage ended less than a year after my adoption, and I was returned to the SPCA. I was placed in foster care with several other dogs and some cats. Since this happened just before Christmas, I remained there for about six weeks waiting for a new home. On weekends I was taken to a pet supply store where I was put in a fenced-in area with a young girl, so people could see me.
After a few weekends, I was adopted by this guy who was a chaplain in the California Youth Authority. He adopted me both to be his friend and to work with him as a therapy dog. Since I had not heard of therapy dogs back then I was not sure what that involved. It was a Saturday afternoon in January of 1998 when I went home with him to an apartment in Sacramento, California. Early the next morning he woke me up and took me for an hour’s drive to the California Youth Authority in Stockton.
Quickly, I realized that being a therapy dog means visiting with people, being petted by them, and playing with them. That is a wonderful job for a dog like me who really likes people. The guy who adopted me had taken care of a previous therapy dog, so at least he knew how to live with a dog, but I did have to give him some training. For example, soon after I started living with him, he baked some brownies, put them on the kitchen table to cool, and went and took a shower. I, of course, climbed up onto the table and ate the brownies. He is a quick learner and did not leave food unattended again.
After working for a year as a therapy dog in the California Youth Authority, I moved with my human companion to Harrison Hot Springs, BC, so the two of us could work in a federal prison nearby. The prisoners there were adults. An older man who I particularly liked was in a wheelchair. He would pet me and play with me, which was fun. He did, however, call me “Fleabag”, which I found insulting.
Before I was even born, my human companion used to live in Vancouver. Once we visited there from California, and sometimes on our days off my human companion and I would go into Vancouver. When we lived in Harrison Hot Springs we spent much time in Vancouver, where there were people to visit, along with lots of other dogs and a wonderful place called Stanley Park. Often we went hiking in the woods. Because there were bears in the woods I had to have a bell attached to my collar and my human companion carried bear spray to protect the two of us.
I can still remember the day when I was told we would be moving to Vancouver and would be working in a place called George Person Centre, as long as I passed some kind of a test to show that I was a good therapy dog. Since I had already been working for a couple of years as a therapy dog I could not understand why I would have to take a test. On November 3, 1999, our first day of work at George Person Centre, I was taken by my human companion to a room where a woman was waiting for us. During part of the test she got several other women to be in the room as well. The people there did all kinds of strange things to see how I would react. Since I knew the test was important for some strange reason, I was my usual well-behaved self, but I thought that the test was weird. Towards the end of the test a German shepherd dog came into the room so the people could see how I would react. I really wanted to play with that dog but that was not part of the test. Finally, the test ended and we were told that I had passed and was now accredited as a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog.
Next I was taken with my human companion to a room to have my picture taken for my hospital ID badge. Since not many dogs get hospital ID badges at Pearson, it was not set up well for us. I was lifted up onto a table where I had to sit still while the picture was taken. Finally that stuff was over and I got to start meeting the people who live and work at Pearson. I quickly learned that anyone in a wheelchair is a friend, so even when I am not at Pearson I try to go over and visit them. Sometimes on the street my human companion stops me from visiting them, but I don’t understand why.
At night I sleep enclosed in a dog crate, which is my den, in the bedroom with my human companion. I know when he gets up in the morning and takes a shower right away it’s going to be a good day because we will soon be going to Pearson. Often I sleep in the car on the way there. Once we stop in the parking lot I am ready to visit my friends-after I water the grass, that is. We then walk to my office, which I share with my human companion. Usually on our way there I see a few of my friends. In my office I have a blanket and a bowl of water. During the day I go there and take naps.
While I enjoy visiting my friends at Pearson, I particularly like it when people pet me. Some of the people at Pearson have dog treats for me and I love to eat treats. Unfortunately, my human companion limits how many treats I get. Sometimes I am allowed to get in bed with a resident, which is always fun. Occasionally I have to go to meetings with my human companion. When a meeting gets too boring, I snore loudly as an editorial comment on it.
I am fortunate that my human companion works in Spiritual Care since it is an area in which we therapy dogs excel. When we visit with people we accept them unconditionally, while at the same time pointing them to things beyond themselves. We are wonderful listeners who help people get closer to nature. We reach a certain part of people that some call their spiritual side.
On Monday afternoons I go with my human companion to visit people at the Dr. Peter Centre Day Program. It is near where we live so it takes only a short walk to get there. Since we have been visiting there for over five years, I have a lot of friends to see. Before we leave we go to a room with lots of crumbs on the floor, so I do my best to clean up the place and then I visit some more friends.
Sometimes I walk with my human companion from our apartment in the West End of Vancouver to a drop-in centre in the Downtown Eastside where a human friend is the director. I always enjoy sniffing around and looking for food whenever I am outside. Once on our way back to our apartment my nose got cut on a broken bottle and started bleeding. When we got home my human companion cleaned out the cut so it would not get infected. A few days later while I was at Pearson my nose started bleeding again. My human companion took me to the employee health nurse, who is one of my friends, for treatment. She took good care of me and I was her first dog patient.
When I have finished a day of visiting my friends at Pearson I sleep in the car on the way home. When we get to our apartment I get another dog treat and then sleep for a while. Being a therapy dog is a lot of fun, but it sure is tiring.