51: The Best Medicine

51: The Best Medicine

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

The Best Medicine

A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.

~O.A. Battista

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for Hosanna, I wouldn’t let him live alone,” I said.

“Is that his aide?” one of my two acquaintances asked.

We were at an art opening for a mutual friend, and the conversation had drifted toward polite inquires about my aging father’s health.

“No, Hosanna’s his dog. She’s a Husky/Lab mix,” I replied. “Think of Nana Darling from Peter Pan.” The acquaintance who asked the question dropped her jaw in astonishment and recoiled in horror. While the other woman nodded and said, “I know just what you mean.”

“Seriously,” I continued. “If I could just teach her to dial the phone, I wouldn’t worry at all.”

It might sound insane to many people to hear me say that I feel confident leaving my father’s dog in charge of his safety. He’s frail, unsteady on his feet, diabetic, and after two traumatic brain injuries, has serious memory problems. The above exchange illustrated for me the two differences in our American attitudes, not only towards dogs, but also sick or aging people. When we began the saga of my mother’s and father’s illnesses I was surprised at how many well-meaning friends thought Hosanna was a burden we needed to be freed from. People suggested re-homing her or boarding her long term “because dogs have germs, and you have to take them for walks and pick up after them.”

My father is a dog person. Consequently for my third birthday, a Beagle puppy arrived named Copper, in honor of my father’s favorite movie character: Copper from Disney’s The Fox and The Hound. (In my childlike attempt to be original, I changed his name to Coppy.) Though Coppy and I had wonderful fun running around the yard together, tumbling and playing as only small children and puppies can, there was no doubt that Coppy was really Daddy’s dog. They would sit outside together each evening and talk, Daddy sipping a cocktail, Coppy chewing on the gin-soaked ice cubes.

Eventually, it became apparent that Coppy’s days were numbered. At the same time, my grandfather passed away and my grandmother, after fifty-two years of marriage, withered and followed him quickly. Losing both of his parents in eighteen months took an enormous toll on Daddy. Against all my mother’s protests, I came home from college with a fluffy white puppy in tow, named Hosanna. There are two conflicting versions of this story, depending upon who is telling it. According to my parents, I had gotten this puppy for me and would be kicked out of the dorm if I didn’t find a home for her, so they did me a favor and took her. Though I love Hosanna, there was never any doubt that she was intended for Daddy, and I would say whatever I had to in order to get her a home there.

Deep in depression and grief, Hosanna was the only thing that made Daddy smile. Now, lying in bed all day was no longer an option because the puppy wouldn’t leave him alone to sleep. My diabetic father lost thirty-five pounds because he had to walk the puppy four times a day.

When my father took up photography, it was entirely to take pictures of Hosanna, who might be the most photographed dog on the planet by now. With Cleopatra kohl-rimmed eyes and white-colored fur, her adoring audience of one couldn’t get enough of her. They would spend hours together: her posing like an Annie Leibovitz model and Daddy taking sometimes hundreds of pictures in a day.

In late 2008 Hosanna began to act differently toward my mother. Sometimes she would look at her and bark for no apparent reason. Other times she would push her head onto my mother’s lap and sniff at her stomach. She became like a shadow to Mommy. We didn’t understand why until March 2009 when my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer that had filled most of her abdomen. When my mother didn’t come home from the hospital, Hosanna grieved more visibly than anyone else. She was mad at my dad. The last time she had seen Mommy was leaving the house with him. Where had he taken Mommy? “You’ve got to make peace with Hosanna,” I told Daddy. “This isn’t going to work if she won’t talk to you. You need her now more than ever.”

That prophecy came true a few months later when my father had two strokes, which led to a two-and-a-half-month odyssey at the hospital. Hosanna, who had never broken out of the gate before, decided to take matters in to her own hands after the ambulance took Daddy to the hospital. She took off looking for him, checking each yard to see if she could find Daddy, and was found by a neighbor walking down the street.

Daddy has been home now for eighteen months. Hosanna knows his schedule better than I do and herds him into the rooms he should be in for meals, medicine times and sleep. They’ve come full circle—again, she’s saving his life. The only reason he leaves the house twice a day is because she needs to be walked. If she weren’t there, Daddy wouldn’t get out of bed, choosing rather to waste away pining for my mother and his former life. Though I am his only child, I am thirty-two, grownup and not enough motivation for him to live; but Hosanna is. Not only is she a better caretaker than any nurse I’ve met, she’s better medicine.

~Gwenyfar Rohler

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