Thursday, December 27, 2012


Dreaming is free. You will never know what can happen if you do dream! And you certainly won't know, if you don't dream at all.
Okay I agree, sometimes dreams don't come true.  Sometimes they just get lost and stuck and unrealized. But then sometimes they do come true and you find out without even realizing it, you have become your dream!
What does that mean you might ask.  It means you have a dream, a wish, a goal, a brass ring you are reaching for.  You fuss and fume that nothing ever goes your way, that nothing turns out right and nothing you can do will change that.  But that is where you are wrong.  A negative mind breeds nothing positive.  Except perhaps you are convinced that you are positive that you are negative and life is not going the way you want it to!! You become what you think!!
We are all survivors of a sort. We will survive either way.  And yes sometimes our dreams are not all realized.  We don't get the car in the driveway we have always wanted.  The house isn't big enough or fancy enough or expensive enough.  You know the drill.  But think about what really matters.  What really is important.  What really makes a difference in our lives. What really brings our dreams alive.
It is my fervent and deepest possible belief that the reason we're on this earth is to help ease the pain of others.  And in so doing, we help ourselves.  Try it.  Really try it.  I guarantee you if you do so with an open heart and a genuine spirit of giving, you will become your own dream. 
It isn't easy, if you are stuck in the midst of a negative mindset.  Or if you decide there are hundreds of things more important than helping someone else, least of all someone who is a stranger.  It takes time away from your stuff, your things, your goals. After all your time is valuable. And goodness knows how important you are.
I have observed people from various community and church groups who are volunteering at various wounded warrior functions.  They are simply there.  Their mind and heart is elsewhere.  They are doing this to fulfill an obligation or get another notch in their belt, or their girl friend made them go, or they get another line on their resume.  Watching their watches and standing on first one leg and then the other, they can't wait to get out the door. And then out the door they go.  Their heart was definitely not in it. 
But what if, what if they took the time to look at these warriors and think about what they endured, suffered and witnessed and sacrificed for their freedom.  What if they took the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of them. What if they really and truly cared. 
But there is the rub....they don't really and truly care.  And this is where their dream dies. For if they are not able to care about another human being in need, in pain, in heartbreak, in misery then they themselves are the most miserable of all creatures.
This is all too prevalent.  Most people take life for granted. With what I do, I don't have that opportunity or ability.  Life is precious. For my warriors, courage is sometimes holding on a minute longer.
One warrior took 16 bullets to save the life of his friend.  The friend escaped uninjured.  But his battle buddy has been hospitalized in horrible pain and multiple surgeries, and more debilitating pain, for months. He has not complained once! And you know what?  He said he would do it all over again. But in the process of his life saving gift, the guy whose life he saved is being transferred to Hawaii and is giving M. his dog and this dog in now in training to become M's TADSAW service dog.
Why am I telling you this?  It is by giving to others that you receive. You give because it is the right thing to do.  You give because for you it is the only thing to do.  And then you find that you give because it makes your dreams come true.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


A dog's nose in the palm of your hand can cure almost anything!
You can almost feel the peace.  A feeling where you can fix, repair and mend those many things that might need attention.
I like to think that our dogs have a license to  'practice medicine.' And as for me, when I need their messages and medicine more than anything else, it is almost as if my dogs are telling me to .' 'get busy living or get busy dying.' And then there are those times when even their silence has a sound.  A simple sound of their presence ~ a sound of grace.
"Sometimes we know that without silence, words lose their meaning.  Without listening, speaking no longer heals.  That without distance, closeness cannot cure." ~ Henri Nouwen
For our warriors who are processing pain, I find it difficult to explain the plain and simple abilities of a dog to break into that silence, that processing, and offer something almost magical or mystical. Even after witnessing it time and time again, I am unable to string the words together to explain it.
From combat to crisis to celebration of life, the power and spirit of a dog is all encompassing. Can it be explained?  Sure, I suppose.  It may depend upon credentials or perhaps just witnessing and becoming aware of the moments where a dog enters an equation and brings solace, truth, reality, comfort and peace.
I have been blessed to have witnessed that, without a doubt, life changes often happen with a little thing.  Sitting with a dog on a hillside on a warm summer day or snuggling on the sofa in silence for long enough, we just might find that small whisper of grace that has been there all along.  My dogs have a special intuition as to when a warrior needs them the most.  With me, I can understand how they decipher my moods and attitudes, but how can they do so with a total stranger? 
Dogs are without a doubt the most glorious of creatures. 
Kelsie, my golden lab, and Matt are best friends.  From the first day they met, just an hour after he entered his room at the VA Polytrauma, she knew it.  She just knew it.  There was no magic or secret button to punch, Kelsie just knew.  She walked up to Matt's wheelchair and didn't even notice that he had no legs.  She sniffed and ever so gently nudged and then laid her head as close as she could to the stump.  He reached down and began stroking the top of her head, then with one finger he traced a line down her muzzle to her nose, then under her jaw, then began scratching.  She gently moved a little closer and simply stared up into his eyes and was encouraged by the slightest smile that came to his face. His mom looked at me with tears beginning to glisten in her eyes, as a slight smile began to brush her lips.  There had been a break through for both of them.
Sitting in silence and holding the leash, I backed up as far as I could and watched something most powerful taking place.  Something inexplicable and probably unnoticed by anyone else, but nonetheless amazing.  They were speaking a language known only to them. Afghanistan disappeared.  Pain disappeared. The blast of an IED that took his legs vanished, at least for a while. And in its place a friendship began and trust had opened the door. 
Does it matter? Absolutely!  Can we explain it?  Perhaps by attempting to stumble through several sets of words.  But can we understand it?  Most likely not.  Does it matter that we can't? Not to me.  It is enough that it happens.
For me and for the wounded and severely injured warriors that I work with, it is easy to surmise that spilled on this earth are all the joys of Heaven.
"Teach us to care and to not care - teach us to be still."
~ T.S. Elliott
So for today, look for and find the stillness within yourself.  You might just be surprised at what you find.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Placing flashlights in places where we can find them. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this that at first glance. 

I like to think that when a warrior meets a therapy dog or is blessed with a service dog he is given a flashlight.  A flashlight that will light the way to a new and better life.  With the severely wounded warriors I see time and time again, something changes when Kelsie is snuggled up closely.  Sometimes they simply sit in silence.  And if this is the case, they may or may no realize it at the time, but there is a small whisper of grace that has been there all along.  It just took a dog who does not judge, does not place expectations or demands on them.

There was a time when I wanted to change the world.  Don't we all at one time or another?  Well we grow up and find that that just isn't possible.  Life doesn't work that way.  But what we can do is provide a light to one person, one patient, one wounded warrior at a time.  And in so doing we change the world one person at a time.  It isn't difficult to find a need and meet it.  What is is the actual doing it.  This takes time and energy and patience.  Something many do not want to expend.

As pain and grief and anxiety is processed, life takes on a new meaning.  For me I am convinced unless one has experienced these things, one cannot possibly understand it.


A day or so ago, I wrote about a warrior telling me an angel entered his hospital room when Gracie had walked in. Today I do so again. 

A different warrior, a double amputee, quietly whispered...."Gracie walked in with angel wings." He brushed tears away from his eyes and they snuggled.  They just snuggled.  No words were said.  They were not needed.  A simple connection, a moment of understanding each for the other.  One of those moments where words are not needed, only the peace found in that place and time, as it filled the room.
There is a great deal being asked of our therapy dogs...they must remain comfortable in awkward and uncomfortable situations. Perhaps even more so with a blind therapy dog. Gracie is a gift from above for so many.  I am her eyes. She quite simply trusts me to not lead her into harm's way. But there is something far beyond that. She as a more keen sense of feelings with patients than I have ever witnessed in my 40 + years of being active in Animal Assisted Therapy. She knows when a patient is about to or has given up on themselves. She never gives up on them. Perhaps just another mystery. A mystery of the heart. She quite simply will not allow it.

In unspoken words, messages are conveyed and the tremendous burden carried by a wounded warrior suddenly is lightened.  She puts her coal black nose into their necks and nuzzles and then quietly rests her head on their chest or shoulder.  There is an understanding...a connection...a message transferred each to the other.  Almost as if she is telling them, 'if you choose the negative it will take your life, whether you are breathing or not.' 

Sorrow teaches us to be compassionate. Doubts and fears require we offer hope to  others.  Their courage, inspires us to better handle life's challenges.  Hope is provided by encouragement.  And sometimes, many times, this encouragement carries with it no words, only a very special gift of presence.

In life we have only lessons ~ no mistakes.  As these warriors have passed through my life, they are my teachers, just as my dogs have been. 

So this Christmas season, consider the possibility that the gifts you are stressing about buying in a mall with packed parking lots and unpleasant clerks and the pressure of time and getting it all done...consider that the true gift is a gift from the heart, a gift of love, of compassion, of empathy for each other.  Assist another in healing a broken heart, a broken spirit, a lost soul, hopelessness. What you receive in return is immeasurable. 

Perhaps it is that I hear a different drummer.  But I doubt it.  In the road less traveled M. Scott Peck says, "Pain in inevitable, but suffering optional."  Maybe, just maybe, this could be your gift to someone this year.  A real gift, a gift that doesn't have to be returned and is guaranteed to fit. 

Love someone back to life.  What better gift could be given?

There really is only one question ~ "How can I help?"

For me dogs are the silver lining that everyone looks for.  For me the answer is simple.  Small gestures of kindness add up to big things. In pain there is a sense of grace. 

Holiday magic comes from within....remember your indecision is your decision.  Let you decision this Christmas be one of love.  TS Elliott said, "Teach us to care, to not care.  Teach us to be still."

Spilled on this earth are all the joys of Heaven.  Look for them and offer them as your Christmas gift~


Saturday, December 15, 2012


A magnet I have has words that we should all learn to live by. The Zen saying simply says "LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR."

I try to remember this when I am uncertain as to which road to take  Many spend endless hours analyzing, analyzing and then analyzing some more.  As far as I am concerned this constitutes dilemma after dilemma.  A muddle.  And more unanswered questions.  The price is dear.

Yes I am the opposite.  I make quick decisions, except to answer the endless question where do you want to eat. 
A friend of mine, Janet Austin, just posted this on facebook...and wow she couldn't have said it better. "Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe."
So yes, the answer is take a chance, leap and the net will appear. Believe! We take chances everyday we aren't even aware of ~ getting in the car and driving, taking a walk, and all too recently sending our children to school.  But if we don't take risks what do we lose?
We lose the opportunity, the possibility, our destiny, and we lose love.  The path isn't always clear cut, but then what is.  Sometimes we know instantly if something is the right thing to do and then sometimes we struggle.  Pulling, tugging, pushing, dragging!  And the answer still does not come.  Sometimes we have to pull up our britches and say okay let's give it a try.  The worst that can happen is you will have learned a lesson.  But you would have done that either way. The best that can happen is that you will blossom like never before.  The worst...well you try another path. 
Feelings of fear all too often get in the way of living our lives.  We become stagnant and stuffy and boring and stuck!  Just plain stuck! Ultimately this is the saddest of all.  Going for the brass ring isn't necessary, but going for life is! 
This is the only one we get.  Reach out and grab it.  Pushing opportunities away, losing out on happiness, and sitting in a quagmire isn't going to be much fun.  So face life head on, say 'good morning and let's see where I am being lead today!'

Friday, December 14, 2012


Friedrich Nietzhe said, "Without music life would be a mistake." I want to expand his wisdom to include, "Without dogs life would be a mistake." This I believe with all of my heart. As far as I am concerned there is no truer truth. I see it daily. I breathe it and sleep it.  I know it in my heart, my soul.

When my warriors reach out to my Gracie and Kelsie in pain, I see the story of how they met and how someday because of this brief acquaintance something inside the warrior will awaken and begin healing with a best friend by his side. And together they will soldier onward to distant horizons more brilliant than they could have ever dreamed. Life will return.  Not the same life, but life will return.

Sometimes a simple lick of a dog on their cheeks or they hands gives them the courage and strength to carry on. And then there are times it tells them to put down the gun they have to their heads. 

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD said, "Much of life can never be explained but only witnessed." Warriors and their dogs, whether in war or peace, have an inexplicable bond which affirms that some of us get by with a little help from our friends, and then some of us are literally saved by them.

Recovery for a warrior with PTSD/TBI just may begin with healing the inner self.  And following his heart just might be the awakening.  Pressing past the pain with a dog by their side they find their fear subsides.  Stories I have been told of going to a movie for the first time in 24 years, going to the supermarket or super store at two in the morning is a thing of the past, days of hiding in the closet barricaded with duffel bags and holding a knife in their apartment are over. 

When I asked a female warrior what words she would share with her fellow wounded warriors she said, "There is a purpose for your being here.  You must hold on." 

For the warriors we have been blessed to reach, we find their most powerful memories are from their senses. The touch and smell of war permeates their lives day and night, but the introduction of a therapy or service dog into their lives brings a very different kind of sensory stimulation.  One that awakens a part of them that they felt they had lost forever. 

Most people awaken each morning and take life for granted.  I am not afforded that luxury because of what I do, hear, see, and absorb. I would never trade my life.

I am reminded of a warrior I visited with my therapy dog Gracie.  We walked into his room where he was recovering from double leg amputations.  We had never met him before but his entire demeanor changed when he saw her.  He told me that to be fully alive is to believe that anything and everything is possible.  Then he looked at me with a sincerity that permeated the room that when walked into his room his saw wings on Gracie.  'An angel had entered his room.'  I believed him.  Little sightless Gracie has been able to open hearts and eyes to a life these warriors felt was lost. She has been a warrior's angel.
These are stories of character, patriotism and devoted love of country.  These are stories that you witness and grasp the reality of a relationship that is hard to tell, but it is real and defined by trust.
It is by seeing through the lace of these warrior's stories that I have come to know and hold and absorb another's pain and deep sorrow.  Sometimes I can't let it go.  Sometimes I can't forget.  How are they sustained through grief, loss and change? 
So for me I go back to my mantra ~ 'Little matters in this world if we have not learned how to touch the heart of another and be touched.'

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To my Wally. You were found close to death in a ditch 11 years ago. You were loved back to life. The grace of hearing in your ears is gone, the vision in your beautiful eyes is failing, but the spring in your step, as you jump into my lap and turn over onto your back, remains a moment I look forward to each day. When you can't see or hear my approach and nip at me, you are forgiven. For I love you! As you have always loved and forgiven me.  I know your time on this earth is limited, but as you curl up in the nest you have made on my sofa and gaze our the window you may not know it but it provides a peace and comfort I have deep inside of me. When I have a panic attack it is you by my side. When I had surgery and you would never leave my side and had to be carried outside to 'potty', you couldn't get back inside fast enough to snuggle up next to me and help me heal. You have been my steadfast love. Your soothing snore and precious breathing and mere presence in my bed brings me a comfort I doubt I shall experience again.

(Wally is on the bottom step.)

Friday, December 7, 2012


If you have been holding on to unnecessary people in your life, let them go.
If you have been clinging on to some old memories for too long, let the past go.
If you have been haunted and bound by past mistakes, it's time to let them go.
If you have been afraid and stopping yourself from being who you truly are for too long, let all that self-doubt go.
If you have been insecure of your abilities and afraid to take risks for too long, let go of the loser mentality.

Wise words from a wise woman! I thank her for the inspiration.

I have long subscribed to this philosophy. It has served me well. I choose to look into a kaleidoscope and see an array of beautiful colors, lights and forms than to be stuck in the muddle of chaos and drama. I think often of that kaleidoscope when I am fighting back tears. One of the most difficult moments in my life is giving someone else a hug, when I need it the most. Fighting back the tears in my eyes when I am wiping off someone elses's. Listening to someones grief when I want my own misery to be heard. Being the reason someone smiles when my own smile seems to be lost.

Being the strong one isn't always the easiest job in the world.

But you know what, eventually, you will find that your own problems don't seem quite as big, or insurmountable, or laborious when you give of yourself to someone else. Sitting and thinking endlessly about yourself is a big  waste of time, as far as I am concerned. Analyzing yourself has its place sure. But there comes a time and place where you need to get up off of your tuffet and get going!

I assume most of you have a dog and understand the beauty and joy of that. My dogs over the years have taught me greater lessons than anyone else in my life.

Blackie taught me that if you had a friend nearby to cry with that life would eventually get better. Lady taught me about death and loss and an overwhelming grief that one day lessens. Charlie taught me exuberance and playfulness and how to nag someone endlessly until you get what you want. Lulu taught me that even if you are a very large dog about 100 pounds you can still be afraid and alone, and she taught me that nothing is better than someone who loves you deep down inside. Penny taught me that life isn't all play. Life is about helping others and serving even when your own pain is crushing. Wally has taught me to not walk into a dark room for fear I step on something furry. Annie taught me never to give up even if someone is on the verge of death. Death can be beaten back. Spunky taught me unconditional love and that nothing feels better than a warm little body under the covers, snuggling close on a cold night. Molly taught me that risking crossing a freeway to save a dog you never met ultimately brings you a friendship that is incomparable. Casey taught me that letting go of a friend you have had for 21 years is acutely painful. Kelsie has taught me that if she is close by, I feel safe. Gracie has taught me to be her eyes so she has someone to trust inside her dark world. Colonel has taught me that having three legs isn't so bad. And most importantly, they have all taught me about love.

Sleep well friends. Dream about what your dogs have taught you.


How could we live without beauty?  How could any of us exist without gifts such as  this one?  
Last week I was sitting on the balcony of a beach condo at 6:45 am awaiting the sunrise accompanied by a prayer full of gratitude for the beauty I was sharing in an all too rare peaceful moment of solitude.  I clicked the shutter fast and furiously,  hoping that this one bird, a pelican, could be captured just in time, as he entered the sunrise and my life with such dignity and majesty that I could not hold back the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat. 
The simplicity of this photo reminded me that the simplification of outward life is not enough.  We must simplify our inner life as well. It is here where we find the well either empty or full or drying up horribly.  It is here that we dwell in peace and harmony with nature, with others, with ourselves.
Back at my desk, I sit with a pewter sand dollar, a cedar box with my spirit guide, the white wolf, on it as it shelters my dearest possessions, and a royal blue paperweight of of blue and white dolphins rising in crystal clear bubbles upward toward the surface.  These things center me and more importantly remind me that perhaps in our differences, we are all like this bird, flying alone with our own navigation system in varying directions.  What that direction is, is of vast importance. At least it is to me. It is a choice we all have the  gift and obligation to make. 
One pelican flying over the Gulf of Mexico did me in!  This one bird against the backdrop of the beginning of a new day.  This is why I journey to the beach to find myself once again.  To set aside the stress and anxiety and day to day chaos, frustration and angst. 
What is it that we are called upon to do, to accomplish, to complete our lives?  Who and what do we allow into our hearts and our inner lives?
I am at my most content in the early hours of the day.  When the earth is quiet and I can sit at my desk, surrounded by my most precious possession, my dogs, and write.  Most do not understand that.  I want no disturbances, no interruptions, no phone calls, no appointments.  I just want to write and explode my thoughts and heart onto paper. It is of no great importance that anyone read what I write, but should my words be helpful or constructive to others so much the better. It is here I find my true identity.  So many feel they are defined by what others think of them, their husbands, their wives, their friends.  But when all is said and done, isn't it who we know we are deep inside that really matters.  Whether we are right or wrong in others eyes is up to them.  It does not define us. Knowing ourselves is where we find who we are and what we need. 
For me I must indulge in the creative activity of writing. It is here I find who I am, and notice all too frequently the neglected me - my relationship with me. It is only by knowing who we truly are, foibles and all,  that we are able to have meaningful relationships with others. 
I would like nothing better than to fill my time with empty hours, where there is nothing on my calendar.  Time when I can write.  Sometimes this is possible.  Sometimes not.  But the times I am allowed the freedom to do this are the times that remind me who I am. 
There have been times and places and spaces in my life I am not proud of.  Times where I was definitely in the wrong place, fighting battles that I had no hope of winning.  There are times when I have had no answers to questions and no idea which way to turn.  There have been times when I have been falsely accused of many things...these times were and today remain painful.  Time can never be recovered and our destiny isn't always in our hands.  No more so than my finding the few blessed quiet hours to sit and write. But for today, for now, for these hours I will write.
For this one bird, flying into the sunrise, inspired me.  As each day, we are each flying into the sunrise with a mission and a purpose.  Whether or not we pay attention is up to us.