Tuesday, March 9, 2010


“What if the Hokey-Pokey really is what it’s all about?”

Saturday in Austin, Texas I had eight therapy dog teams in attendance at one of the YELLOW RIBBON EVENTS to welcome back members of our Texas National Guard from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many had been deployed three to four times. Many had lost buddies.  Family members of troops getting ready to deploy or were currently deployed were also there.

We have been told by the specialists for the Yellow Ribbon Events that we are (by soldier and staff survey) the most popular and beneficial group in attendance.  The gorgeous Rennaissance Hotel in the Arboretum in Austin had yellow ribbons tied on huge oak trees lining the walkway to the hotel lobby. Our therapy dogs wore yellow bandanas.  The Rennaissance was transformed for the event in red, white and blue and yellow, decorated for the soldiers and their families.

About two hours into the day long event one of my team members came up and asked me if it were okay for her to go to a car in the parking lot with the mother of a little girl because she was refusing to come inside. She was mad, just plain angry, because her father was in Iraq and she would not get out of the car.  Her own personal protest.

Kay throught perhaps her beautiful soft-natured lab would be helpful in drawing the child out of the car and inside.  I said of course, fully confident that it would work.  Well the mission failed, in fact she was more angry at her mother for bringing someone else to the car and embarrassing her.  You see she is thirteen years old.

I felt we had let her down but remembered that war impacts families.  War impacts lives, and changes the dynamics of families in a myriad of ways.  Counselors were sent to the car to help.  I don't know the outcome.

This specific attempt had reminded me of a young woman named Sherry who had been thrown from a horse and was recovering from a serious head injury in the rehab hospital where I took my Penny and Gracie to work with patients. She adored both dogs  and was visibly happy and  content when either of them visited  her.

One particular Sunday morning was quite cold and damp and  dreary. It was an early 8:30 when Gracie and I entered the gym. We were told that Sherry was adamant, “she was not coming to the gym for therapy.” I asked the physical therapist to please go to her room and  let her know that Gracie had come just to see her and would be terribly disappointed if she missed her.

We went on to visit with other patients and soon, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sherry. She had gotten out of bed, dressed and came to the gym to see Gracie. Mission accomplished! We visited with her for a while and she became more and more lively and animated. She explained that she was tired of being in the hospital and wanted to go home. She missed her dogs, cats, and even the horse who threw her. “The doctors just don’t understand that my animals are the best medicine I could have.”  Her own two labs had stayed with her for hours and hours, licking fire ants off of her and keeping her warm, while she lay unconscious in her barn until help came.

I told her how proud we were of her rapid improvement and hard work. And that Gracie and Penny would take good care of her until she could be reunited with her own pets.

Gracie had been sitting patiently, waiting while we talked, but decided it was time she was appreciated. She stood up on her little short back legs and started dancing upright in circles pawing at the air, knowing full well that it would bring her attention. One of the other therapists working with a group of patients laughed and said that it looked like little blind Gracie was 'doing her version of the hokey-pokey.'

Gracie had everyone in the gym clapping, laughing, singing the hokey pokey and watching her do her special rendition of  "you put your right foot in, you put your right foot out and turn it all about, you do the hokey pokey and turn yourself about - that's what it's all about."

For Sherry, her pets are undoubtedly good medicine, but so is laughter, an indespensible commodity, brought on by a comical little dog that just wouldn't take no for an answer!

As we later packed Gracie’s bag to leave, I noticed Sherry smiling and strapping on ankle weights to begin her regimen of exercises.

Pet therapy works!

Maybe not 100% of the time, but it works. 

I ask again - 'what if the hokey pokey is what it is all about?'


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Photo Credit / Copyright - Renee Spade Photography

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