81: Teacher in a Fur Coat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That?

By Jenny Pavlovic

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Teacher in a Fur Coat

Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.

~Orhan Pamuk

After Hurricane Katrina, I went to Louisiana to take care of lost, rescued animals. There I met Sarah, another volunteer. Even though we live 1,000 miles apart, we stayed in touch after we both returned home.

Sarah operates an animal rescue organization in a very poor area of rural Virginia. When I viewed her website, a picture of Fred, a Red Heeler mix, popped up. My dog Bandit, a red Australian Cattle Dog (a.k.a. Red Heeler), had recently lost his best canine pal and needed a buddy with whom to run and play, so I asked Sarah about Fred. She told me that she’d rescued Fred from an angry man who’d thrown him around, stuffed him into a tiny chicken crate, and had planned to shoot him for chasing sheep, which is instinctually what the breed is supposed to do. Fred had trembled on Sarah’s lap for a couple of hours while she’d assured him he was safe and promised to find him a loving home.

Sarah and I determined that Fred and Bandit likely would be compatible, and I decided to adopt Fred. A team of volunteer drivers would bring him to me in Wisconsin, and I would drive him from there to my home in Minnesota.

Fred and Bandit became best buddies, and I renamed Fred “Chase” for his love of chasing everything.

Eventually, Chase’s love for people and his gentle nature led us to earn a therapy-dog certification and start a reading program at the local library. Kids read out loud to Chase to improve their skills. Sometimes, even a kid who is struggling with reading will be comfortable reading out loud to a dog. It’s magical to watch how the kids react when Chase enters the library.

I recall watching one little girl jump up and down when she met Chase. Her joyful enthusiasm made me smile. Chase greeted her with a play bow, lowering his muzzle away from her face. She clapped her hands and said, “Look, Mommy, he’s bowing!” Chase remained calm while she jumped, then snuggled in next to her on a quilt and gave her his undivided attention while she read him a story. When her time was up, she signed up to read again the next month. She didn’t have a dog at home.

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I’m grateful for everything about Chase that made this little girl jump so happily. I hadn’t taught him to bow; he’d bowed naturally. I’d known the library visits would be about helping kids learn to read. But I hadn’t realized what a confidence-builder those visits would be for kids who were shy or had been bullied or just didn’t fit in. Chase was also a wonderful ambassador for dogs — teaching kids to be loving and kind to animals. I noticed, too, that a few adults regularly appeared at the library for Chase’s scheduled visits. He looked for them, too.

As I watched the little girl’s confidence grow, I hoped she’d always have the enthusiasm for reading and for dogs that she showed with Chase. He’s very intuitive; he knew just what she needed. He led me into this work because he knew just what I needed, too. I wondered who was getting the most from our visits: the little girl, Chase, or me.

Chase was also patient with other children, like the little boy who came along one day with his sister. While she read to Chase, her brother sat at a table six feet away, as close as he dared get to Chase. As the girl finished reading a story, Chase was watching the boy. Chase rolled over on his back, waving all four feet in the air, as if to say, “See, I’m not a threat!” We all laughed, and by the end of the session, the little boy was sitting next to Chase, telling him a story.

About six months after Chase and I began volunteering at the library, I found blood in his stool and took him to the vet. My fears were realized as he was diagnosed with colon cancer. I learned the ominous fact that not many dogs survive colon cancer, but we had caught it early, and the vet surgically removed the tumor. She couldn’t remove all of it without making a hole in his colon, so she referred us to the oncology vet. For almost a month, Chase went to radiation therapy every weekday to target the area where the tumor had been removed. This must have been very hard on him, especially since dogs have to be anesthetized for every treatment. But each morning, Chase eagerly approached the hospital as though he were making a therapy-dog visit for others.

To help cure the cancer, I put Chase on a low-sugar (no kibble), whole-foods diet and took him to the Chinese-medicine doctor. She prescribed custom-mixed herbs and advised which foods and supplements were best for him. Along with the traditional cancer treatments, I did everything I knew to promote good health, support his immune system, and help him heal. Two months after Chase finished treatment, a CAT scan showed no evidence of disease. Six months after treatment ended, a second CAT scan also indicated that the cancer was gone. The treatments had been very expensive, but well worth the cost.

It was time to get on with life. We resumed our daily walks and monthly library visits. Three and a half years later, after homeopathy treatment, Chase was still doing well.

One night, standing by my bed with his hot breath blasting at me, Chase barked loudly in my face. I rolled away and mumbled at him in my sleep. He jumped on the bed, lay down next to me, and nudged me toward the edge. I leaned back into him and pulled the pillow over my head. He grabbed the pillow and pushed it off. This wasn’t like him at all.

Soon after, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. During a sleep study, I stopped breathing in my sleep thirty-six times per hour. The doctor told me that Chase likely had awakened me insistently to save my life!

Sarah rescued Chase from a violent man. I helped Chase survive cancer. Chase, in turn, literally rescued me. This amazingly loving dog, this teacher in a fur coat, has been a lifesaver in so many ways.

~Jenny Pavlovic

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