Whole Dog Journal's Blog January 26, 2015

Therapy Dog

Posted at 08:51AM - Comments: (26)

My brother passed away a couple of weeks ago after a fairly short and intense battle against cancer. He leaves behind a wife and young daughter. It’s been a very sad, hard time for my family.

We held a memorial service for my brother last weekend. We rented a rustic building in a beautiful, wooded park in a Sierra town near where he had lived for many years. My sister who is a chef lovingly prepared much of the food. My sister in law’s many friends and co-workers helped up set up the hall, with live lavender plants on every table, and a local musician my brother had admired played the guitar. Friends and family members traveled from all over to help us remember my brother and celebrate his life.

My dog Otto and my son’s dog Cole were present for the event. Every member of my family loves dogs, not least, my brother’s five-year-old daughter. She absolutely adores Cole, and his eyes light up when he sees her; they get along like peanut butter and jelly. I thought, correctly, that she would enjoy having Cole at the event – and I knew Cole would enjoy socializing with all the guests. He’s happy and polite and well-mannered and his coat is like silk. I thought he could be a good therapy dog for the memorial.

To be honest, I brought Otto for my own therapy. I mean, he’s well-behaved, too, and I had him groomed the day before, but I didn’t think he’d ever make it in the building; it has slick floors, and Otto doesn’t really DO slippery floors. But I thought he’d be fine immediately outside the building; it has a covered deck that wrapped around two sides of the building, and we had the double doors on both sides of the building wide open all day, and I brought his mat and a bowl of water.  We worked for three hours to set up for the event, and the whole time, he mingled with all of the helpers – out on the deck. Several people tried to encourage him to enter, and each time, he politely declined, tail wagging but ears set back; nope, no thanks. Too slippery. So I stepped outside every 10 minutes or so to hold his head in my hands and compose myself. In between those moments, he lurked just outside one or the other of the doors.

People began arriving. We had distributed round tables with folding chairs all around the room, and chairs lined the walls, and at the time that we were supposed to begin, the tables and chairs were all full and dozens of people were standing in the back of the room. My sister-in-law asked me to be the first to speak, and I did, through tears. Then I sat down at the front-most table, and my sister-in-law spoke, and my tears only increased. And then I felt a dog nose nudge me, and I turned around, expecting to see goofy, happy, confident Cole, but instead it was Otto – wobbly-legged, panting with concentration, and clearly determined to comfort me. He must have heard my quavering voice, and somehow made his way through the crowd, across the entire floor, to offer himself to me. Oh, how I love this dog, and oh how he loves me, and I could not be more grateful.

He made that trip through the crowd several times during the memorial, growing a little more confident and a little less wobbly each time he did so. People reached out and petted him as he worked his way around the tables, and occasionally he would stop and allow them to pet him for several minutes before setting out again. It was really something to see, my new therapy dog.

Comments (26)

You and your family are in our prayers, and we thank you for sharing "Therapy Dog". May God always bless you...for your love of dogs.

Posted by: pj2212 | February 9, 2015 10:26 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, I am so sorry for your loss. It brought me to tears to read of what Otto did for you. When my husband died of cancer, my wonderful dog Atticus was there to comfort me every day and it made all the difference to me in my loneliest times. Dogs are truly amazing and give us so much joy and comfort when we need it most.

Posted by: Melba A. | January 28, 2015 10:17 AM    Report this comment

So sorry to read about your loss. The story is wonderful. Otto will bring you much comfort during this sad time.

Posted by: Dori4 | January 28, 2015 7:04 AM    Report this comment

Dogs are all our therapy, they know our sadness they reach our souls. God has blessed us all with the one being that loves us all without judgement or prejudice.
I thank the Lord everyday for my guy as he is always my best friend.

Posted by: jaydee | January 28, 2015 5:25 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: SundogsHawaii | January 28, 2015 1:48 AM    Report this comment

I join the many others in sending warm thoughts and my sympathies out to your family after losing your brother so prematurely. I was very moved to read your article today - and wanted to say that what always shines through your editorials is the fact that it's so clear that in your family, all of the dogs truly are full-fledged members who are given immense respect and great consideration, along with affection and training and good food, health care - their individual needs and personalities are taken into account because you value and love them so. And I feel it's so great that they can be invited to share your celebrations and gatherings , solemn ones or fun ones, to enrich the day for the humans in attendance in such very special valuable ways.
It's what they thrive on doing for us when they know we need calming physical reassurance and comfort or simple kindly distraction - such a gift they bring to those who connect with them.

Posted by: lynn sapp | January 27, 2015 7:36 PM    Report this comment

Beautiful, touching story; thank you for sharing your loss with all the readers who follow you and Otto. Loosing a sibling is very sad and you, your family & Otto remain in my heart & prayers.

Posted by: Sue T. | January 27, 2015 7:32 PM    Report this comment

I am so sorry for your loss but thank you so much for sharing this story. Give dear Otto a hug for me!

Posted by: PJKutscher | January 27, 2015 5:31 PM    Report this comment

I am writing this through my tears. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother and I am so touched by Otto's love for you. To be so in tune with your emotions and to overcome his own fears to comfort you is why I love dogs. They are amazing creatures who love us unconditionally and so beautifully. I do believe your brother had a hand in guiding Otto to you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: Colleen Q. | January 27, 2015 5:24 PM    Report this comment

Tears in eyes, our canine companions are wonderful !

Posted by: Lindane | January 27, 2015 5:02 PM    Report this comment

I don't know you were able to write this article, I was barely able to read through it for the tears. My heart aches for you and your family and that includes the dogs for they too are mourning.
Otto was special from the day he came to be family, and he's proved it yet again Such a brave and loving boy

Posted by: 3grrrs | January 27, 2015 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for a deeply touching report. Losing a sibling is awful, I know. How wonderful that Otto knew how much you needed his comfort. What a beautiful bond there is between you.

Posted by: Margaret T | January 27, 2015 12:51 PM    Report this comment

So very sorry for your loss...and how very brave of Otto to travel across the room to comfort you. I firmly believe our furry babies make sacrifices every day to be there for us that we aren't even aware of. Their instincts are uncanny and their love unconditional - we are never really worthy of all that devotion but they give it anyway...a real spiritual connection. A dear friend of mine has taken her dog for special training to be a 'therapy dog' and she and her dog are welcomed in nursing homes and hospitals with open arms. God bless you, Otto and all your family mightily now and in the days to come.

Posted by: queene3 | January 27, 2015 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Everyone else has said it all beautifully. I'll chime in anyway -- so very sorry for you loss and so happy that Otto was able to offer his special comfort. I know with time you will take great pleasure and comfort from the many happy memories of your brother and Otto's heroic rising to the occasion.

Posted by: Carolyn M | January 27, 2015 11:49 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps Otto was being guided across that slippery floor by your brother to comfort those he loves because he could not be there to do it himself.

Posted by: weim mom | January 27, 2015 11:46 AM    Report this comment

I am so, so sorry to hear about your brother. I hope you will find comfort in happy memories. And I know you'll find comfort in Otto the Wonderdog!

Posted by: DeniS | January 27, 2015 11:33 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for this story. I think that dogs have an
uncanny sense for the emotional fabric of people's
situations. It is as if they are the ones who are
watching out for us: our secretly-wished for make-
believe friends who are so very very real...
Cheers from Moggie Woof

Posted by: Moggie Woof | January 27, 2015 11:26 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry for your loss, and I am so happy that you have your dog.

Posted by: Sportschick | January 27, 2015 11:16 AM    Report this comment

You and your family are in our prayers, and we thank you for sharing "Therapy Dog". May God always bless you...for your love of dogs.

Posted by: pj2212 | January 27, 2015 10:46 AM    Report this comment

So sorry for the loss of your brother. Wonderful that Otto was there with you and for you; as he will be whenever the sadness of your loss comes over you in the days to come.

Posted by: Mike's Mom | January 27, 2015 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing your emotional story. May you always remember your brother fondly. May your dogs always be a source of comfort. May you always be allowed to share the beauty with others. Thank you God for sending us dogs...

Posted by: Darcydorwart | January 27, 2015 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing such a special Otto story. It made me teary. I send my condolences on your brother's passing.

Posted by: didalpf | January 27, 2015 9:33 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing this moving story. Otto and Cole are such wonderful dogs and so lucky to be your family members. Please know that these devoted readers are sending prayers your way.

Posted by: Olivia | January 27, 2015 9:15 AM    Report this comment

What a touching tail....Like so many of us, we push hard to get through when things are tough...Otto is one special pup. His love for you stronger than his fear...what a blessing.

I am glad he is by your side during this difficult time. I am so sorry for your loss and hope the love and memories you shared bring you comfort.

Posted by: robin r | January 27, 2015 8:34 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. What a wonderful dog you have. My little Shih Tzu/Bichon is also sensitive to my emotional state and knows just what I need. Sometimes it's a lick, other times it is him just sitting next to me or on my lap.

Posted by: KimberlyO | January 27, 2015 8:27 AM    Report this comment

What a beautiful story of dog devotion. My brother died the same way, much too young. Please know you and your family will be in my prayers.

Posted by: Alice R. | January 26, 2015 11:26 AM    Report this comment

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