More than a few times in these passages I have mentioned how Gopher seems to be made for this work, and has an innate sense to be a therapy dog. In our actual ‘work’ time, I am extremely grateful and in awe of his own sense of putting himself in a place or behaving in just the right way for the situation. Whether it was a special boy as in 'The ‘Tail’ of Steve', or a girl who needed some extra encouragement at our ‘First Visit’, or sadly as he handled himself with an impending death of a patient in ‘Trust the Dog’. These experiences only serve as an affirmation that although we trained, and prepared Gopher for this work, that he truly enjoys this work and seem to be meant for the work. All of these experiences have been in a clinical setting but for those who have gotten to know Gopher, there are a few that have commented on him being a special dog. He has proved this time and again, in the work. He has also amazed me in that he does it again and again when we are not officially working, with strangers, friends and family alike. Gopher seems to be always ready to comfort those in need.
Over this week I will be posting four such stories, starting with the one below. I invite you to share any similar experiences and observations you have had in your own life with your own pet, or one you knew. As always the conversations are the same, names have been changed to protect privacy.
The Man on the Bench
In the fall of 2010, Gopher and I went for a good long walk to clear my head, and spend some time playing. Gopher was awaiting his Delta paperwork so we had not gone on a visit yet, but I knew he was ready, and this was a walk for me to clear my head so we did not focus on training a specific skill, we just went out so I could enjoy his company. I was not sure where I was going to end up, or how long I would be gone so I left Squirrel at home, who was only 4 months old at the time, as well as Barney our foster who could be reactive. This was just a walk to relax, and not think too hard about the environment ro distance as I would have with the pup and reactive dog. I knew what I needed and even though I felt bad I put Gopher’s fellow dogs in crates, so we could go on a walk free of worry.
With leash in hand Gopher and I took off. The leaves had just started falling and I love kicking them up and watching Gopher snap at the falling leaves in the air. We turned this way and that and eventually ended up on the trail that circles the lake. As it is a park there are several benches along the trail, and under the shade of a conifer I noticed an old man sitting on a bench. As we approached, Gopher who most of the time only acknowledges strangers on a walk with no more than a twitch of the eyebrow and a wag of the tail, pulled hard on me to approach the man on the bench. Being lost in thought at the time and not expecting this behavior from him he caught me by surprise and before I knew we were nearly on top of this poor man, where Gopher promptly sat at his feet, wagging his tail and looking up at a the man on the bench. Fortunately the man laughed and began to pet him as Gopher placed his paw around his arm.
“I am so sorry; typically he doesn’t act like this.” I said to the man
“Oh, that’s fine, sometimes a dog just has to say Hi, and he is well behaved looks how he is just sitting here.” The man replied.
We exchanged pleasantries for a moment, how we both lived in the area, him in a home to the south, Gopher and I to the north. Not to over stay are welcome, I told him to have a nice day and instructed Gopher to come. He wouldn’t budge. The man chuckled again, and said, “Looks like I got a new friend here, I haven’t had a dog in many years, and would love to pet him for a bit, if you have time.” I smiled and said, “Sure”.
Gopher always the observant listener, then decided to jump up on the bench and slide in as close to the man as possible. My fault as for months we had been using the benches around the lake to teach him, ‘Up’. “Gopher, get down, I am so sorry”, the man just chuckled and said, “Oh he is just fine, had a setter once who liked to sit beside me, and it is easier to pet him.” He slumped his arm around Gopher and began stroking his chest. I sat down on the bench, and noted the people who smiled as they walked by at the three of us on the bench. We visited some more, told him about my wife, Irene, and our other dogs at home. He told me about how he and his wife bought their first home near the park as well. Throughout the years though they had moved around leaving the area, state, but always seemed drawn to this spot. They had the opportunity to return and bought a house 10 years before they retired in 1997 and have been here ever since. He told me how his kids were in town and he had to get out of the house for a bit and walked over. The conversation trailed off, and the man, Gopher and I sat there, looking over the lake and the ever smiling passerby. The silence was broken when the man started talking to Gopher, in a hushed voice.
“You are a good boy, just like my old setter, Betsy, was quite the girl; she would follow me anywhere, and took me on a few great hunts. Drove Irene crazy, but I caught her hugging and ogling that old dog more than once. She would tell friends that stopped by when I was away that, “I was out with my girlfriend Betsy.” She was a good dog, used to walk around the lake with us too, and Irene and I kept walking around the lake after Betsy was gone. Walked here almost every day since Betsy with Irene until she got sick, haven’t been here for a few months. Had to come today needed to get out of that house for a bit. Sure glad I met you; perhaps if I see you again we can walk together, not sure when I will be back and, well, Irene left me yesterday, and don’t know how long I will stay here since she is gone. I have to go now before my daughter starts to worry, thanks for sitting with me, you are a good dog.”
He gave Gopher a good squeeze and stood up, I acted as if I had not heard the conversation as I knew he was talking with Gopher and it was meant to be heard by me. He bid me farewell, told me to take good care of Gopher, patted him on the head and walked away. Carla and I have walked the lake many times since then, but I have not seen him since.