Tuesday, January 13, 2015



I had intended on taking Gracie to the rehab hospital on a beautiful October Sunday morning for her first therapy dog in training adventure. She was only twelve weeks old, and I didn’t expect much. In fact, I didn't know what to expect.  But we had to start sometime and this seemed as good a time as any.  I had intentionally selected Sunday, because it would be less crowded and distractions and stimuli for her would be less. I wanted her to just walk the halls and visit with staff and perhaps family members of patients. Many of the patients had day or weekend passes, so it seemed a perfect time. 

I prayed all the way there that she wouldn’t be stressed by being sightless in a new environment with all the strange sounds and smells. Little did we know what lay ahead.

Dressed in her pumpkin bandana, Gracie entered the recreation gym and was instantly requested by a physical therapist to come into the center of a circle of twelve patients, all in wheelchairs, doing stretching exercises. They seemed bored, uninterested, and simply doing what they were told. No one smiled or spoke.  As we walked into the circle of wheelchairs, Gracie showed no fear, no trepidation, nothing but enthusiasm, as she charmed each patient one by one.  As she went from wheelchair to wheelchair, placing her front paws on the padded arm of each chair, she got pats and snuggles and stories of their dogs at home. Smiles came to faces and conversations were started. It was clear a career had begun, a career that would end in hundreds of lives being significantly changed for the better.
Next assignment on day one, Gracie was requested to visit with a patient to assist him with focusing on manual dexterity.  She was placed, at the therapists request, on a bed with a wounded warrior with a traumatic brain injury just flown in from Iraq days before.  She loved it when he laughed at her antics.  The  staff told me it was the first time he had shown any emotion at all. She snuggled into his neck, lay quite still and in her own way told him everything was going to be okay. It was then that he moved his arm to put around her and pet her. Again a huge accomplishment, as therapists looked at each other in amazement.  He whispered and asked if she could walk beside his wheelchair to the front door of the hospital, because he wanted her to meet his wife and surprise her with Gracie and the news that he moved his arm. His only arm. He asked when she would return and kissed her nose goodbye 'until next time' !

We went back into the hospital with the intention of packing up her thing and getting ready to leave.  It was then that word had spread and Gracie had a request by a nurse to visit with a despondent cancer patient. They sat together for what seemed a very long time.  Words were not exchanged, but Gracie snuggled and snuggled into this young woman's side and silent messages were sent, each to the other.  Tears ran down the face of this patient and Gracie seemed to sense it and snuggled in even closer.  This little one who normally was vivacious and more than energetic quite simply sensed what was needed and provided it.

No one could tell that she was unable to see.  On leash, she stayed right by my side and danced and twirled on her back legs, causing everyone to laugh.  This was the best medicine possible. I kept telling her what a good girl she was and how proud I was of her.  I could tell she was getting tired, and as we were leaving a patient with Parkinson’s wanted ‘kisses.’  Gracie was more than willing to oblige.  He told us all about his puppies waiting for him at home and how anxious he was to see them again, but in the meantime asked for Gracie to return to see him. 
It was as we were leaving that the young cancer patient, who was despondent just minutes before, called us to her side and whispered softly, “I have fallen in love. I love her. I love Gracie.”
Not bad for day one of a journey of a lifetime!

“It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special.” ~ Thessalonians 1:4




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