27: Canine Counselor

27: Canine Counselor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Canine Counselor

Who knew that dog saliva could mend a broken heart?

~Jennifer Neal

Adam is my three-year-old Australian Shepherd. He is my constant companion. I joke that if Adam could have his way, he would be glued to my right leg and tag along with me every minute of every day.

I met Adam when he was just seven months old. He was an abused, abandoned puppy. I requested a “meet and greet” at his foster home after looking at Adam’s profile and photo on the Austin, Texas-based Aussie Rescue organization’s website. When I arrived for the visit, Adam’s “foster mother” ticked off a list of do’s and don’ts to keep me from scaring or arousing anger in Adam. Rolling my eyes, I simply sat on the floor and waited to see if Adam would come to me. He did. After circling me closer and closer, Adam finally nudged me with his nose to cautiously ask for a touch. Without looking at him, I gently stroked his head. Within five minutes, Adam surprised his caregiver by crawling onto my lap, showing me his belly, and begging for more attention.

Shortly after Adam chose me as his “momma,” the coordinator of the rescue organization confided in me that she had been very concerned that Adam would never be adopted due to the bad treatment he received during the first several months of his life. Like a toddler’s formative first three years, dogs have formative first months where lifelong impressions are made.

Now, more than two years after he came to live with me, Adam still has issues with strangers. I take him with me whenever I can, to expose Adam to other people and other environments. Some days he is calm, other days he either barks at or cowers from strangers. He is especially afraid of children.

One day recently, I took Adam with me to the Hill Country Children’s Advocacy Center where I had a few meetings scheduled to help promote an upcoming fundraising event. The staff had met Adam before and liked him a lot. It was supposed to be a quiet afternoon at the center, but I left Adam’s leash on him in case I needed to keep him out of trouble.

As I sat in the front office working on my laptop, three people entered the lobby. A police officer and an older woman escorted a teenage girl into the room. A member of the advocacy center welcomed them and asked the teen and her grandmother to have a seat on the couch so that she could meet with the officer. From my seat in the front office I watched the young girl crumple onto the sofa. She pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her head and tugged at the long sleeves, tucking her hands into the cuffs. The girl looked very nervous and scared. Her grandmother looked worried and uncomfortable.

When the group first arrived, Adam had been laying at my feet. He quickly sat up to watch the activity. Adam moved in front of me, ready to snap into guard mode if anyone approached me. I patted his head and told him everything was okay.

Adam is usually not interested in other people if they do not seem threatening and keep their distance. But today, he sat and looked at the teen as she tried to lose herself in her oversized sweatshirt. Adam cocked his head from one side to the other as if he was trying to understand the situation. He watched as the girl waved away the staff member who wanted to take her photograph for her case record.

Suddenly, Adam stood up and walked over to the teen. I jumped up to grab his leash, but he had already made his way across the room and around the coffee table. He sat down next to the young girl and rested his head on her thigh, looking up at her with his big amber-colored eyes. I froze, stunned at Adam’s sensitive actions.

As the teen bent down to hug Adam, I quickly walked around the coffee table, afraid that Adam would suddenly snap at the young girl. Instead, Adam let the girl squeeze his neck. He even put his paw on the teen’s knee, asking to shake, and licked her hand.

“This is my dog Adam,” I said as I quietly walked around the coffee table and touched Adam’s head. “He was a badly abused and abandoned puppy before I gave him a good home. Good boy, Adam.”

In just a few minutes, the teen seemed to shed her fear of being at the advocacy center to report her abuse. She pushed the hood off her head. Soon after, she removed the sweatshirt that had been used as a form of protection, but must have been oppressive on the hot summer day.

“I see that you have met Adam,” said the advocacy center counselor as he walked into the lobby. The young counselor could have passed for a teen himself. “You know, he had a harsh life before Kelly adopted him and gave him a good home. His life is a success story. We’re going to do everything we can to enable you to have a success story, too. First, I’d like to get your photo for my case file, then are you ready to come back and talk with me?”

The teen nodded, asking if she could have her photo taken with Adam.

“Of course!” I said.

After the photo was taken and the teen gave Adam one last hug, she walked down the hall and into the comfortable interview room to tell her awful secrets and start down the road to recovery from abuse.

After the teen left the lobby, I sat down on the couch and hugged Adam. I was shocked, yet joyful and proud at the same time.

Without saying a word, the teen’s grandmother reached out and touched my arm. The tears glistening in her eyes and rolling down her cheeks signaled her unspoken gratitude for Adam’s kind and caring actions.

The incident that afternoon at the advocacy center made me a true believer that animals have a sixth sense, a sensitive intuition about the world around them that enables them to understand and react to the moment much better than we humans. I am so proud of Adam!

~Kelly Carper Polden

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