95: Tails of a Therapy Dog

95: Tails of a Therapy Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Tails of a Therapy Dog

Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.

~Charles H. Spurgeon

“Touching Lives, Warming Hearts.” That’s the motto of the pet therapy group we are privileged to volunteer with, and these words perfectly describe Chester, my lovable, goofy, fluffy, and tenderhearted Golden Retriever.

Countless tales spring to mind when I think of our many pet therapy visits throughout the years—the many people, young and old, who have touched our hearts so deeply. We have visited hospitals, retirement communities, memory loss homes, domestic violence shelters, classrooms and cancer survivor camps, just to name a few. Wherever a caring canine can bring joy and hope, that is where we go. And my heart is forever changed.

This particular story takes place on an ordinary day in an elementary school gymnasium filled with children and teachers. I remember walking into the auditorium with Chester by my side in his bright yellow vest, and feeling the excitement that rocked the room. I delighted hearing the loud whispers—“LOOK, IT’S A DOG!”—as I soaked in the view. A sea of children sat cross-legged on the floor in their classroom groups, circled like wagons, waiting with wiggles of anticipation to meet the star of the day, Chester!

Chester and I were invited by the principal to speak at a school assembly about pet therapy and what makes Chester so dog-gone special that he gets to visit cool places like schools and hospitals and airports! While Chester worked the crowd with his smiles, wags and doggie tricks, I told the students about my furry friend and pet therapy. The students loved hearing our stories, but no doubt about it, the highlight of our time together was the meet and greet with Chester. And as often happens, an ordinary day became extraordinary.

After the talk, Chester and I made our way to each circle of students. We strolled past every single child who wanted a chance to pet the fluffy Golden Retriever. My buddy pranced with a silly grin, tail wagging, ears flopping. He gave out endless love and received a gazillion pats, ear rubs and back scratches. He was in doggie heaven. So were the children.

After a very full morning, Chester and I were in our final assembly of the day with our last group of children. As we moved around the circle, Chester paused. Then he stopped. I gave a little tug on his leash, urging him to move forward. My buddy was not moving. His big old paws were firmly planted on the shiny gymnasium floor in front of a little girl with long brown hair and downcast eyes. Her curls partially covered her face, and her tiny hand gently rested on Chester’s head.

“Looks like Chester doesn’t want to move,” I said, winking at the little girl. I have learned that if Chester speaks, I should pay attention. And so I paused. While waiting for these two brown-eyed sweethearts to have their moment, I noticed a woman standing near. Tears filled her eyes. She looked directly at me, then silently mouthed the words, “Her dog died yesterday.”

Sigh.

I leaned in closer to the tenderhearted teacher. She pointed toward Chester, then whispered in my ear, “It’s like he knows.”

Tears leaked out. “He knows. I don’t know how he knows, but he knows.” I gently squeezed her hand.

After a bit of time, we continued to move around the circle so the rest of the class could reach out to my four-legged buddy. “Touching Lives and Warming Hearts.” It is Chester’s specialty.

Because there is always time for one more hug, we strolled around the classroom circle one more time. As we approached Chester’s friend again he stopped. This time he gave her a gentle slobbery kiss right on her little cheek. She smiled.

I knelt down, “Looks like Chester has found a friend,” I said. “Would you like to give him a hug?”

She nodded, then gently wrapped her slender arms around Chester’s fluffy tummy, nestling her head into the soft golden fur of his neck.

With tears, I waited.

~Diane Rima

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