Thursday, Jun 05,2014

I have been visiting at Upland Rehabilitation & Care Center for the past two years with my therapy dogs Logan and Sofie, both of which I adopted from German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County. The patients have come to come to know them well and look forward to their weekly visits. Many of the long-term residents have the dogs’ pictures on their personal bulletin boards in their rooms.

There are many stories about the benefits of interacting with dogs, and the positive effect it can have for those who are confined to a facility, either short or long term. But this is about a different kind of help. This is a story about Grace.

Grace is on the nursing staff at Upland Rehab. When I was visiting there, she would quickly get out of the way when we came down the hall. She explained to me that she was terribly afraid of dogs, having been bitten by one when she was a small child. Logan and Sofie, sweet as they are, can be quite scary looking under those circumstances!

One day, after I had been visiting there for more than a year, Grace approached me and asked if I would take a picture of her with the dogs. She was still afraid, but she must have been watching them, seeing how gentle they are with the patients and other staff members. She told me she was determined to stand close to them and wanted to send the picture to her boyfriend to prove she had done it. Of course I was glad to do that, and took a photo with her phone. It was not a great shot of the dogs, but it would prove to her boyfriend how brave Grace had been. “He will never believe I actually did this”, she told me.

I did not think anything more about it. Six months or so went by, and then last week when we were there for our weekly visit, Grace approached me again. She asked me if I remembered that photo of her with the dogs. Of course I did, and she went on to tell me how much it had impacted her. She actually called it a life changing experience for her, to have been that close to two large dogs. Then she told me that she now has two dogs of her own that she rescued, and was really happy to have them in her life. She said that was something she had never thought was possible.

Those of us who share our beloved dogs through pet therapy visits, know how much the sick or aged or lonely people appreciate them. How rewarding though, to learn that other kinds of pet therapy can also occur unexpectedly. Like for Grace, once terrified of all dogs, now well on her way to being comfortable around them. And for two homeless little dogs, to find forever homes with someone like Grace, who will, with their help, grow in her appreciation of the special love and friendship our canine companions have to offer.