Tuesday, May 29, 2012


"The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why." ~ Mark Twain

A couple of weeks ago I received an email that threw me into an emotional tailspin.  One so turbulent that I have not been able to regain my balance.  This was a letter from someone who, for all intents and purposes, should know me better than anyone else on earth, but apparently has not a clue who I am.

The sentence simply said, "You are a soul that will never heal, that is why you do so much."  This comes from a person who has never, nor ever will, walk in my shoes. This person could not possibly know me because the ability to feel what I feel is quite simply not a part of who they are. I have wanted to place some time between reading those words and actually trying to put my feelings to paper.  But it seemed apparent that there has not been enough time.

Until last night!  Memorial Day at the Warrior Family Support Center.  Hundreds of wounded warriors came in the front door, some with young wives pushing their wheel chairs and children hanging on,  to share a meal with their 'brothers'.  Hamburgers and hot dogs were the fare.  My therapy dog, Kelsie, and I stood proudly at the large wooden doors to welcome the warriors and to thank them for their sacrifices.  Some of their faces were telling stories. Some expressionless and blank, some smiles, some grim, some angry, some I wanted to remember forever, and some whose pain cut me to the core.  While the expressions showed me who they were at that moment they didn't tell me who they were as a person. 

As many times as I have been in that building over the past many years, visiting severe burn survivors, multiple amputees, and warriors with such deep internal scars you wonder if they will ever survive them, I find each visit more explanatory as to why I do what I do. I do what I do, not because I am a 'lost soul' but because I have a passion, a God given passion to do what I do.  It feeds my soul more than anything I have ever, or will ever do. What I give, I give from my heart, from a place deep inside.  What I give, I give because I am a human being and that is why we have all been placed on this earth...to ease the pain of others.  Not to nurture our own.

"A soul that will never heal."  It keeps reverberating in my head.  I can't get it to go away.

As I watched literally dozens and dozens of warriors, wheelchair bound, with no legs, some with no arms and several with no legs and only one arm or partial arm, I felt a pride and a gratitude for being able to be there for them, as they were there for me, for us.  A pride and yet a sadness that I had to be there at all.  What is this thing called war all about? 

There were several warriors there with terrific injuries from Georgia...just below Russia.  Here they were in the United States, with no knowledge whatsoever of the language, armed solely with an interpreter, totally befuddled as to why there were dogs there.  They came quietly to eat and leave...and as the interpreter and his warriors were leaving he said with a smile to find 'Jack'...meaning a wee bit of bourbon!

As Mark Twain said in the quote above one of the most important days in your life is the day you find out why you were born.  I know why I was and why my soul runneth over.

 Yesterday and all the days before with my warriors and all the days to come with them are why I was born.  I have spent 35+ years doing animal assisted therapy with my beloved pets, founding four different animal therapy organizations.  Each visit with each patient is a gift I bring to them in the form of a furry friend.  There are smiles, there are tears, there are memories of the past, there are moments of great sadness and joy for the patients.  And in the process this feeds my soul.  So to that person that says my soul will never heal....they don't have a clue what having a soul that is so full of gratitude and joy and love is like. 

My soul flows over daily with my patients and warriors.  To be able to do what I do is a blessing I shall cherish the rest of my life. This is why I do what I do.  To make a difference in people's lives, to change moments of misery into moments of hopefulness. It just can't get any better.  I have been given a special gift by God to do what I do, to endure the stories of war or courage and bravery from warriors with no ears or faces, to hold the hand of a woman whose son just died from severe burn injuries, to hold a woman I have never seen or will never see again, as she goes to her daughter's funeral holding her grandbabies by their hands, to sit and listen to a medic tell me of what he witnessed and actions he had to take, to hear a military working dog handler tell me of the pain he holds in his heart when his dog was killed when an IED hit their vehicle, to read a story to a little girl with my Kelsie's head in her lap when she tells me how her daddy killed her mommy, to see the sparkle return, if only for a moment in a warrior's eye when he reaches from his wheelchair to pet my Kelsie with such love and tenderness, all the while holding back the tears, to receive daily letters from warriors on the brink of suicide. 

Do not tell me "I" have a soul that will never heal. I too have endured misery, hate, venomous spiteful lies told about me and still do to this day.  But to hell with them.  To hell with what people think or feel about me.  What I do is the right thing.  The only thing, the God given gift I have to give. My soul is full of love for the people and the good that I do, the sacrifices I make to do what I do and for the lives that I am blessed to be able to touch.

So today, I let it go!  I let go of the words that hurt. Today I let go, because I know why I was born.  I wonder if they know why they were born.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


SAVING GRACES.... What exactly are they...these things called saving graces?  Are they people that come into our lives and won't let go of us when we fight to be free.  Are they the service dogs that are trained to read our every single fear, our panic, or our terror as they touch our lives gently, with great love and understanding. Is it a grandmother who understood and led you out of the darkness, or a friend, or a book, or a priest, or the mountains?

What I do know is that there are times in our lives when saving graces might be angels appearing out of no where to show us what we need? To drag us kicking and screaming from the brink of self destruction and unbelieveable pain, letting us know we have worth and that no matter the obstacles, we shall overcome and that everything will be alright.

 I have a manuscript written, ready for a publisher...or not.  The important point is I wrote it.  I got the words on paper directly from a heart consumed with pain. The name of the book ~  SAVING GRACES.  The topic  - a blind therapy dog who captured my heart when I needed her the most.  Her name ~ Gracie!  Her purpose on this earth, I have no doubt, was to save me.  She plopped into my life and heart at seven weeks of age when I was going through a time I choose to not remember.  She had little vision at that time, today none, but she could tell, she could always tell, exactly when I needed her the most. She would come to me and look at me with her dying eyesight and was able to read my face, my breath, or my tears.  She would then plop into my lap, turn upside down, exposing the sweetest pink belly ever, looking up at me with such pleading I could not resist.  Almost so depressed I could not lift my arms, I was able to for Gracie.  She was relentless in her pursuit of getting me to love her and forget the current pain I was enduring. It worked.  And to this day 7 years later, she still can work the same magic.

She has brought wounded warriors with severe PTSD, multiple amputations and burns back to life, as well. 

Today to look back and remember witnessing Gracie's intentional motivation of loving and being loved, it isn't difficult to understand why people respond to her as they do.  The responses of the courageous young men and women to Gracie are often overpowering.  These are guys and gals who laid their lives on the line, who took the bullets, who fought the fight and paid the price.  Yet in the presence of this twenty eight pound dog, they turn into children with their first puppy.  They hold her head gently in both of their hands and look into her eyes with love, a deep and special love and understanding.  They may never see her again, but for that moment they connected to something greater than themselves.  For that single moment, that cannot be explained, they felt loved back, totally and completely.

Gracie sees past the outward appearances of people.  She touches hearts in a way that defies all logical explanation.  And yet somehow it is explained clearly.  This intense and unconditional love, is what we should all strive for, but seldom do.

Tom Davis in "Why Dogs Do That," says, "There are no strings attached, no riders, or special stipulations; there's no fine print, no expiration date, no statute of limitations.  They (Dogs) love to a depth and degree that few of us, I fear, reciprocate." 

I find myself remembering my time with the warriors in snapshot like moments.  Struggles, tears, fears, courage, and smiles are often too powerful to fully comprehend.  They they come back to me, much like photographs.  They are forceful, strong, intense, turbulent and ardent.  Never to be forgotten or taken for granted.

None of us remember days.  What we do remember are those moments, those snapshots that cause that lump in our throats to surface and the tears to come.  The gasping moments, when we expectedly see the face, or hear the voice of a loved one or a flower blooming on the side of a cliff that literally takes our breath away.  A wise and cherished friend once told me that every one of us has that sad place deep inside of us.  It is from that place that hope and peace and grace come.  And for me, it is compassion.  For, as my friend told me me out of compassion comes passion.

God has blessed our dogs and will guide each step of their journeys...whether bringing joy and comfort to our wounded or to protect, defend and serve our country.

On this day before Memorial Day, God Bless those who have given their lives so that we may have these 'moments' and may He also bless those dogs that also bless America ~ our Saving Graces!


Sunday, May 20, 2012


Just about 7:30 in the morning as I sat in the recliner with a hot cup of Brazilian coffee and a pumpkin empanada, surrounded by snoozing dogs, I wondered about the week ahead and the multiple tasks waiting in piles on my desk to complete~deadlines to meet and little nagging details that have been ignored for far too long.  Then it occurred to me perhaps it would behoove me to practice what I preach.  This stuff will still be there patiently waiting for me no matter what I choose to do with the next 30 minutes.

So with coffee mug in one hand a a camera in the other, I headed to my garden.  It is here in the early mornings when the doves are cooing that all seems peaceful and right with the world.  Worries disappear and my heart slows down to appreciate what really matters in this world.


Sometimes the best thing to do is not think, not obsess, not worry, not imagine.  Just breathe and have faith that all will work out as it is supposed to.

Inhaling my coffee and the freshness of a new day about to begin, I did just that.  I let go. 

Interruptions will come soon enough and the phone will begin its incessant ringing and problems will arise that will need immediate, it not sooner, attention. But for this one minute, this one moment, there is a sense of peace I all too often long for.

A friend is heading to Colorado to their cabin for two weeks.  I am envious.  I can almost feel 'my' mountains and see the wildflowers at timberline and hear the breeze as it ruffles through the trees.  It is here I would escape to find that ultimate place of rest and peace and tranquility. It is here I would pick wild red raspberries and strawberries with a sweetness like you have never tasted.  It is here I would sit and absorb the mountains and feel at rest and peace and let the rest of this crazy mixed up world do as it wishes without me for just a little while.

But daydreams aren't real and in a few minutes I will have two warriors and our service dog program director at my door for breakfast.  One a wounded dog handler back from Afghanistan where his Military Working Dog was killed in an IED blast, and the other a wounded warrior with severe PTSD wanting a dog.  Today we spend evaluating dogs for him.

So those few moments of peace and daydreams will have to suffice.  For now it is back to caring for those injured warriors with the invisible wound that I suffer with them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


"The elevator to success is out of order.  You will have to use the stairs."

Barry Cohen, said, "There is not one giant step that will make it.  It takes a lot of smaller steps to get there."

Okay I agree.  But what does this really mean? Basically we can't take the easy way there.  We take one step at a time, one lesson at a time, and often one agonizing look up at the top and wonder if we will ever get there.  Is it that important?  Is it going to be worth it, if and when we get there?  The pain, stress, and anxiety of one step at a time...is it truly worth it?

I have to say that is many cases absolutely it is worth it.  In other cases, perhaps we should take baby steps and enjoy the journey along the way. Perhaps the journey is the ending. And then again perhaps it is is in the baby steps that we learn and grow and revel. And then there are other times when we have no choice whatsoever but to take those steps that seem never ending, unnerving, and treacherous to reach our objective.

The real test comes when we find demons along the way.  We encounter simple small stumbling blocks and twists and turns and some giant leaps forward and sometimes backwards.  And then there are those times when we seem to be standing still with no movement either direction toward our goal or away from it.

But the sad and unfortunate part comes when there are people perched on those steps waiting to push you backwards with joyful abandon and a venomous grin on their faces.  This is when you prove who you are, by forging ahead no matter what or who stands in your way.  Horrible unkind words are said and written.  Voluminous slander, lies, and no shelter in which to hide.  It is then that you stand strong and tall, with enormous dignity and continue the journey and step over, around, or through those that stand between you and your goals, your ambitions, your talents, your life.  After all this is YOUR life!

The cruelty demonstrated towards me lately has been pitched at me purposefully, intentionally, and with great forethought of malice.  For what you might ask.  Wish I had the answer. But honestly I do not care.   Having the answer wouldn't make it any different.  It wouldn't change anything.  I choose to step back and observe the pain they must be in to have to be so bitter, jealous, vindictive and hateful.  I feel sorry for them.  If they knew this and knew how much time it is taking away from their doing something wonderful, precious, beautiful, and meaningful with their time on this earth, perhaps they would tuck their heads and cease the path they are on.  But whatever they choose to do, is just that, their choice. And how I choose to respond is my choice. It will all even out in the end. All too sadly, with people of this ilk, they never quite 'get' it.  But so be it. Ultimately, they will be the ones who suffer, not I.

I believe in what I do and have no hidden agenda.  I believe that what I am doing with my life is right and rewarding and making a difference.  Why these ugly obstacles have been thrown in my pathway could just be a test.  Is this gal willing to step over, around, and through the obstacles created to stop her?  Absolutely.  Barriers, hindrances, impediments and hurdles are just that.  They are never ending.  They simply are placed there to test and yes to annoy, but not for long.  Time is up.  If it takes smaller steps, that is okay.  Perhaps each step is decorated with beautiful moments and lessons and an achievement in itself.  Perhaps there is tranquility and peace and comfort found with each step we climb.  

I will reach my objective, no matter how many steps and how many people put up barriers.  And these people...well that is their problem.  Not mine.  I wish them luck and a fervent hope that someday they will understand that being hateful and full of fury will achieve nothing. 

The people that really count in this life are those standing beside you helping you up the steps, when you are sometimes just too tired to make it to the next step.  They will be there.

Today I wish each of you this kind of friend.  They are the joy, the medicine, the hope and love that is the real achievement and goal in this life.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt.”
Thomas Moore

The cashier at the Island Food Store on Mustang Island presented a dark tan and weathered expression and demeanor.  But when he smiled, he smiled from ear to ear, as I was checking out. Some teeth were missing, but he didn't care, nor did I.
I love to engage clerks, as most customers are too busy on their cell phones to even notice there is a real live person only steps away. A person with a life, with a family, with a job and with their own problems and they might just need a smiling face and a little conversation to brighten their day.
As this clerk rang up my purchases, I told him that he seemed to be so happy and in such a good mood, and that it was nice to see a smiling face.  His response I hold close to this day, "Being angry doesn't make it any better."

He who angers you conquers you. ~Elizabeth Kenny

Sometimes we find that life comes out of dark places and angry people.  Sometimes it isn't pleasant and down right sad and ridiculous the extent to which some people will go to to 'win', to hurt, to injure.  The lies that are told, the repercussions, the way they want to hurt you.  But to indulge them is all too often, allowing them to win. And what this does is that it takes away your time, energy and passion to indulge their foolishness when you could be spending your time with the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness.

Then consider what would happen if no shadows ever fell over our lives.  Would it be as sweet?  Would the wonders be as glorious?  Would our laughter and smiles be as heartfelt? Would we love as deeply?
I doubt it.

So then what do we do when the beast comes out of the darkness to harm us?  Do we get white knuckles and wrestle it to the floor?  Or do we turn and say we want no part of their anger and foolishness and that we truly feel sorry for them and walk away?  I know what I do.  What do you do?

I cherish the days of crazy grace and go to the garden and brush against the rosemary bushes and inhale the fragrance of the blooming oregano.  I gently guide the mandavilla throught the pickets of the garden fence with the jasmine. I sit and listen to the doves cooing in the trees above my head, waiting for me to leave so they can splash joyfully in the stone bird bath.  I watch with glorious delight as a butterfly lands on my sleeve.  I thank God for the people in my life that love me, and I wish those that don't farewell.  I do not have the time to waste on superficial relationships, based on others needs, expectations, and requirements.  But I do have time to walk in my garden and find baby bird eggs shells on the ground and watch my dogs lie basking in the sun with no cares in the world. Now this is what bears my attention!

Speak when you are angry and you will make
the best speech you will ever regret.
-- Ambrose Bierce