A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about community being an antidote to loneliness. Friends and family and neighborhoods rally to uplift us when we need it most, but it turns out that there’s only one creature that loves you no matter how you feel or when you get home or what’s for dinner: your dog.
A recent article in the Washington Post posits that dogs’ success is love-based. You know that gooey feeling you get when you gaze into your honey’s eyes and them eyes gaze back at you? That’s the love hormone, oxytocin, and it spikes in people and their dogs when the contact is human-canine.
The Huffington Post ran a piece on how being in the company of dogs benefits humans’ health. Heart health, weight loss, social life, and physical activity improve. When Fido needs to be walked you burn off calories and improve muscle strength; that friendly walk connects with neighbors you might not otherwise say a whole lot to; and you may just find yourself tracking steps!
Service dogs have long helped persons with disabilities. Therapy dogs have emerged as a source of comfort in hospitals and nursing homes. Today’s Palm Beach Post has a piece about “a mutts-do mission … Jupiter man bikes aross US to promote pet therapy.” His dog Chibby Choo comforted his sister while she was dying of cancer.
I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine, Julie, and her Golden Retriever, Levi. To say that they fill each other’s hearts is an understatement. How they found each other and what they are doing together make an amazing story.
Some years back, it was fashionable in Turkey to own a Golden Retriever puppy. The fad faded and the puppies grew up, and soon there were dozens of grown Goldens abandoned and running loose in and around Istanbul.
Levi was one of these abandoned dogs, fending for himself in the forest outside Istanbul, when he was rescued by Turkish women who had taken it upon themselves to save these dogs. Partnering with Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue (EGRR) and other similar organizations, they helped Levi and dozens of other dogs access a new life in the United States.
Levi was among 18 Turkey Dogs flown to Florida in 2016 by Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue (EGRR). He was thin under his matted coat, and wary of humans.
Julie was part of the rescue effort and became Levi’s foster mother. It didn’t take long for her to realize she couldn’t part with him, so she and her husband became Levi’s permanent family. He was their fourth Golden Retriever.
It wasn’t an easy decision to live with. Levi had been fending for himself for so long that he did not trust humans. He was guarded and elusive, even agressive. “He was a broken dog.” But Julie would not give up on Levi.
Working closely with her vet, Dale Porcher at Shores Animal Clinic, and her trainer, Jamie Diaz at Dynamite Dog Training, Julie helped Levi feel safe and secure. In the process, she gave her dog his life back.
You might say that Levi also gave Julie her life back. She had only recently retired from a 36-year teaching career and didn’t really know what to do with herself. In working with Levi, Julie found her way to a new passion: pet therapy teamwork.
The trainer had suggested that Levi would be a good therapy dog, and another volunteer with Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue had certified her dog through the national Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Julie and Levi enrolled in the Alliance training program and diligently followed the curriculum, getting Levi used to being in busy public spaces while remaining calm and well-behaved. They passed with flying colors and became a Pet Therapy Team.
The retired teacher knew where she and Levi needed to be: with children. She knew that children who struggled with reading (out loud, in class) were teased by their classmates, and that the resulty anxiety made reading an even tougher challenge. If she could find a way for children to read to her dog, one-on-one, she knew that the calming effect of stroking now laid-back Levi would give these kids the security and confidence to work through the reading challenge.
A Palm Beach County Library branch manager provided the missing link: a new program, Animal Reading Friends (ARF), through which children could have weekly private reading dates with Levi and Julie.
Julie and Levi have become the ARF ambassadors and even dress up for Halloween and for celebrations of Dr. Seuss!
Levi and Julie have tons of small fans.
Julie and Levi also have loads of adult fans: parents who see their reluctant children develop a love of reading; library patrons who politely ask to pet Levi as he makes his way to the Children’s area; and librarians, who see Julie’s love and dedication in the support, compassion, and caring spirit she shows each child.
So, yes, love abounds. We give it, we get it, we need it. It makes the world go ’round. When a shell of a dog is given a chance to live abundantly, he flowers. As does his proud new mama.
When this shell of a lady needed all the help she could get to recover from a life-threatening illness in Amsterdam, the world responded, and she has flowered, too. More about me another time.
Wishing you abundant love, dear reader!