44: A Surprising Joy

44: A Surprising Joy

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

A Surprising Joy

I am joy in a wooly coat, come to dance into your life, to make you laugh!

~Julie Church

She was only fourteen when she took her own life. Her classmates were reeling with pain and confusion. So were we—the adults in the school. We were all trying to wrap our heads around how someone so young, so lovely, so talented could have done this.

The girls closest to her and the ones who didn’t get along with her seemed to have the worst time of it. There was misplaced guilt on either end. If they were her friends, they wondered why they couldn’t have stopped it. Why didn’t she care enough about them not to do it? Those who hadn’t liked her so much wondered if they had said or done something that had pushed her over the edge.

I was the counselor in the school and had to deal with my own pain and misgivings, because no amount of training can prepare you for the needless loss of a child. I also had to be watchful for the now emotionally vulnerable girls who seemed completely unable to pull back from their own newly found precipice of despair. There was a dark pall over the entire school. I wondered how I could ever lift it if I couldn’t seem to lift myself.

I brought my Border Collie, Buzz, to school once a week as part of a reading dog program I ran in the building. The little ones loved to practice reading aloud to the dog instead of to their classmates or teachers. Buzz, “Mr. Buzz” as I had students call him while he was on the job, would listen intently with never a word or gesture of judgment. The most fearful young reader would happily try his or her hardest to read a book to my happy, willing canine partner.

As I slogged through the days following the student’s death, I thought how wonderful it was for me to have Buzz at school that one day a week. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he came along some other days to help me . . . so I could better help others.

My principal had no qualms since the dog was always a perfect gentleman, so Buzz was allowed to joyfully leap into the car each day, ears pricked and tail waving. He started to whine with excitement each time we drew close to the school building; his enthusiasm buoyed me a bit. I was grateful.

A few days into the new routine, my usually well trained dog—the one who waited patiently when I left the office without a complaint—bolted out my door when I opened it, racing into the hallway, ignoring my calls and standing in front of the math room where the most affected of the students were quietly working. The somber pall was like an unwelcome cloud over everything, even making the air seem heavy to breathe. Mr. Buzz looked back at me when I called to him and gave me the largest doggy grin he could and dashed into the neat, quiet classroom.

I gritted my teeth and winced, but stood straight and surprised when I heard the sounds that came to my ears, popping the pall like a bubble. There were titters, then louder giggles, then out-and-out laughter from the chronically sad students. I approached the door and found Mr. Buzz going from student to student with his tail lashing. He pushed himself into their laps.

One girl had been particularly hard for anyone to reach. She hadn’t been happy and joyful before, and now she seemed determined to defy any attempts to touch her angry, pained soul. Buzz approached her, and she turned away while her classmates giggled at the surprise antics of a dog in the classroom. He crawled to her lap. I saw her lips start to twitch, but she was determined not to smile. He wriggled higher and closer still and planted a dog kiss on her chin and then it happened: She rocked the place with her own laughter. Buzz looked like he was laughing too. He had known just what to do to help.

For the next few weeks I brought Mr. Buzz in, and groups of the students would come to my office between classes or during their recess or lunch and find joy with my unpaid therapist dog. They played tug with him, snuggled with him on the couch. Some of them took him for walks with me and tossed him tennis balls, which he gleefully caught. Once in a while I’d turn him loose on the top floor, where the junior high studied, to briefly and happily disrupt the classrooms up there.

He was so alive and so glad to be alive. He showed them how good life still was with no ulterior motive. It was something I could never have given them like he did. No human could have done it. It took both the wisdom and the openness of a good dog.

~Tanya Sousa

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