Therapy dog.

therapy dog_audio

My therapist reminds me that life is a process and requires patience. I need a lot of reminding because developing patience takes too damn long. So every week, I sit on her couch and talk, she listens and guides, then I pay.

Therapy has brought me a long way, but Daisy helped me reach a breakthrough. You’ll remember Daisy was one of my dog walking clients: the 14-year-old black Lab who was put to sleep recently. She was a master teacher of patience. Five days a week, Daisy helped me apply the lessons of the couch to my life.

My training began the day I arrived for our first midday walk. I had hit it off with Daisy and her sibling dog Duke at my getting-to-know-you interview with their owner. The dogs had exposed their bellies to me for rubbing, but I know not to assume any dog will roll over for me when I show up for the first appointment. That’s the moment when I’m a stranger entering their turf unexpectedly, and I need the dogs to decide I’m friend, not foe.

I found Daisy and Duke’s leashes right at the doorway. I jingled them and sing-songed their names in my don’t-bite-me voice. Duke is mostly deaf and a sound sleeper, so he didn’t appear immediately. Daisy shuffled as quickly as her stiff legs allowed. She wasn’t expecting to see anybody standing in her doorway. At that moment, I wasn’t her buddy from the other day. I was an intruder.

Daisy stood her ground and growled. I wondered what the hell the Dog Whisperer would do. Maybe I had to just walk in and show her I was the big dog. I looked at Daisy, who continued to growl. It wasn’t a good situation from her point of view: She was old, arthritic, and her bigger, younger brother was snoring, his face webbed with strands of his own drool. Daisy’s bark was pinched, and her grey face showed she knew it wasn’t intimidating me. I wondered if I’d add Daisy to the list of dogs who’d denied me entrance into their home, a foyer confrontation lost.

We faced off, and I saw both of us as we were: two females, both a little worn and kicked around by life and age. We needed each other. Many days, my rock-star dog walker status is my only source of pride. I can’t handle rejection, human or canine. Daisy’s bladder had lost the holding power of her youth, and she needed to be walked. We needed to trust each other and that can’t be rushed.

I knelt at the doorway, and called softly, “Daisy, here good girl.” I offered my open palms and waited. Daisy took one careful step. Then another. She approached me, and the hesitant clicks of her nails on the wood floor undermined her growl. Daisy sniffed my palms, and gave my fingers a little lick. I wondered if it was a taste test before biting me. I touched her jowly neck. Our eyes met. Slowly, I scratched. Gradually, she pressed against my hand. We had a good walk that first day.

***

I realized there was no need to rush things, as our relationship would be built one walk at a time. It’s all a process. That Daisy was a wise woman. She was almost 100 in human years and her health was failing, but she approached the process of life as if she had all the time in the world.

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