43: Doctor Dogs

43: Doctor Dogs

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Doctor Dogs

I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.

~Doris Day

Dogs are wise. They know things. I don’t mean things like current events, the internal workings of the space shuttle’s propulsion system, or how to recite the poems of Ogden Nash (though I have seen a dog on YouTube who could say “mama”).

No, dogs know important things. They know about unconditional love. Loyalty. Companionship. And they know something about healing the human heart.

My wife and I once had two Springer Spaniels. Arde (pronounced AR-Dee) was the older of the two. Liver and white, and a clown if there ever was one. Her sister, Corey, was black and white, a year younger, and the more solitary of the two. For the first three years neither was what you would call a lap dog. Arde would sit very close to my wife and Corey would lie at my feet, especially when I was at my desk, writing. But they couldn’t have cared less about sitting in anyone’s lap. Arde would tolerate it for a few minutes, then hop down and resume her close sitting posture. Corey would just squirm and bolt.

And all that changed overnight.

My wife and I moved from South Carolina back to our native North Carolina when her father, Richard, became ill. My wife is a nurse practitioner, and when we learned her father had a brain tumor, we sold the house, called the movers, and headed back home.

My father-in-law had always been active. He could fix anything with a motor, keep a Volkswagen running with a paper clip and two rubber bands, and had been a fireman most of his life. He loved to go out in his boat and work his fishing nets. But his body didn’t cooperate. By the time the tumor was diagnosed, he tired easily and was forced to take constant breaks to complete tasks he used to complete with ease.

Prior to the final move, my wife told her mother we would be happy to move into the apartment connected to their house and help take care of her dad. But if we came, the dogs were part of the bargain. On the day we moved in, dogs in tow, the girls walked in and looked at Richard for a moment. Then, without a word (or a woof), Arde very calmly climbed in his lap and went to sleep.

My in-laws had been around our dogs before, and they were accustomed to the sitting close and stretching out at your feet routine. But none of us were ready for this.

You see, dogs know things. Important things. Life-giving things. Dogs are nature’s physicians of the heart, and their medicine is powerful.

Over the next day or so my father-in-law learned about something else. He learned that a dog in your lap (even a sixty-pound “born-again lap dog”) is good medicine. Every day without fail, once my father-in-law settled into his recliner for some John Wayne therapy (he had learned the therapeutic value of The Western Channel), Arde would gently climb on his lap and would stay until Richard needed to get up. Sometimes they sat there for hours. Arde receiving almost constant rubbing and Richard receiving the kind of medicine only a dog can give.

Then Corey decided to get in on the act.

One afternoon, Corey walked over to the front door and barked. Not the I’m-bored-and-need-something-to-do bark. This was the full-fledged “Come-quick-Timmy-is-in-the-well-with-a-monster” bark. Arde woke up, looked around, leaped off Richard’s lap, and started barking at the door too.

Then Corey walked over, climbed onto Richard’s lap, licked his hand, and went to sleep.

We were all stunned (including Arde, I think).

Then the laughing started. But that was just the beginning.

After a couple of days of the barking at the door ruse followed by Corey’s stealthy climb onto Richard’s lap, the tables turned. One Saturday afternoon, Arde stood up, ran to the door, and started barking like the zombie apocalypse had started. Corey jumped down, ran to the door, and joined in at the top of her lungs. At which time Arde trotted over, climbed onto her accustomed spot, and went to sleep.

A little over a year later, Richard died at home. Right where he wanted to be. But he was so frail toward the end that the dogs couldn’t get on the bed with him. So they sat and watched him from the hallway. Sometimes they slept just outside the door.

On the day he died, they stood in the hallway watching the coming and going of hospice workers, EMTs, family and friends. They didn’t bark. They didn’t beg for treats. They just watched.

Then, after the funeral, after everyone had gone and we were alone, Arde walked in.

And climbed on my mother-in-law’s lap.

You see, dogs know things.

~Thomas Smith

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