Sunday, November 15, 2015

School Days With My Grand-Treasure

Of all the pet therapy appointments Chester and I are blessed to do ~~ one of our favorites is school-time with our granddaughter Kaile'a ~~ Kai for short. Since she entered preschool, we have visited her classroom each year.

Children & Dogs. Well, it's a match made in heaven.

A few short years ago, Kai asked me if Gigi and Chester could please visit preschool.  Well, of course! Preschool was a one time visit, we shared a few words and mostly we shared a whole lot of tails wags and snuggles and Chester paw-shakes and tennis ball retrieval. He was a hit!

Kindergarten days became once a week visits. After the newness of "A DOG IS IN THE ROOM" wore off, we settled into a routine of reading on the rug with eager students. Reading mostly meant....belly rubs, head pats, giving treats, pointing out pictures in a favorite book.   Regardless it was fun. And important.

With first grade a new season emerged with Chester in the classroom. Chester and I visited the students during journal writing ~~ and each one read their entries to Chester while doing their seat-work.  Table-desks were perfect dog-nose-height, and perfect for reading and explaining details of dog-gone great artwork to their favorite pup.  Also a good height for dog kisses.  At the end of the year, we created a book, "Favorite Days With Chester!"  It was and is a bestseller :-) .

And now here we are in 2nd grade already ~~ where does the time go? Chester is a familiar friend on campus. Arriving at school, it is impossible to predict how long our walk to and from class will take ~~ Chester is a kid-magnet. And we always have time.  Usually with 20 minutes lead time :-) ,  we arrive to 2nd grade with a few minutes to spare.   Our 2nd grade days are still evolving into what works best for the teacher and students. So far we have snuggle on the rug and one-on-one reading,   1 student + 1 golden retriever = happiness.

There are so many reasons to treasure our school days ~~ being swamped with kids as we walk to and from classrooms.   Hearing Hi Chester! from staff and students.  Observing little and big hands reaching out to give pets and pats and hugs. There are the classroom bonkers moments when silliness erupts. There are the quiet and tender reading moments between child and dog. There are the sweet conversations between children and furry friend.... from the animated I think Chester would like my the quiet voices My dog died just died, I've had him my whole life...  Chester has a way of bringing out the story tucked inside the heart.

I treasure all these moments ~~~ but my favorite moment at school?  It is when I see my Kai. Whether on the playground, or in the classroom,  she stops whatever she is doing.......I hear her sweet voice "Gigi!" and she runs to greet me with abandon, wrapping her arms me, hugging me tight.  Pure joy for both of us.  Yes, that's my favorite.

A special thank you to Kai's teachers....who are so gracious with Kai and me.   Of course we continue to adjust those classroom moments when she can't be up, leaving her desk, and running across the classroom with abandon.  I'm thankful her teachers understand these moments ~~ I think they know they're to be treasured.  In my classroom ~~ grandparents always received VIP treatment, 'rules' faded to the background  and grace rose to the surface when it came to this precious relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Now that I'm a Gigi,  & on the receiving end, I'm especially thankful to Debbie Mesch, my mentor-teacher, for teaching me early on this important classroom etiquette.  I now understand how it feels. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Chester Wins Their Hearts

Chester won the hearts of the judges at Calcareous Vineyards pet-costume-contest. He took home Best of Show ~~ meaning, he gets to pick out a treat from PetCo and I get to take home a delicious bottle of Chardonnay from the vineyard.  I'd say it's a win win for sure !

Friday, October 23, 2015

Prison Visit #2 - Sunshine and Blue Skies

(in the grand order of blog posts......this actually should be sandwiched between Prison 101 (our first visit when the storm hit)  & Graduation Day .....  It just took me awhile to gather my thoughts and write.....)

The day had finally arrived. And thankfully the day dawned calm and clear on California's Central Coast. ~~no storm or thunder or lightening, just bright blue sky, with a few whispy clouds of white. Chester's kind of day. It was time for our second visit to the Men's Colony, and hopefully a day we would meet the 15 men in the Paws for Life training program, the inmates who had been chosen to train & rehabilitate rescue dogs.

Before leaving home, I took some time to sit quietly, and pray....asking God to help us bring His love and kindness to the lives we would touch on this Sunday.  My Bible literally fell open to Matthew, and  these words jumped off the page... Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.  I knew that I knew, I was not alone.  And so, with my pockets packed with pupperonis, Chester and I drove to the California Men's Colony ~~ and I assured my buddy that the day would unfold better than our last scary-thunder-visit.

I don't know how to describe the morning at the prison. It's like trying to capture a sunset with a black and white photo. Or measure the ocean with a thimble. Impossible to tell you. But I will try to share a glimpse.

....After being escorted through security and numerous clanging gates we arrived at our destination.  Picture 15  men in blue scrubs, sitting on folding chairs in a semi circle in an old gymnasium. Armed guards standing at every corner. A handful of people from the PAWS program and my friend Lisa,  the trusted trainer, seated alongside the men.  As the inmates settled in, Chester and I greeted each one, I with a handshake and encouraging word, Chester with warmth and wags.  He thoroughly sniffed each one ~~ obviously picking up & enjoying the scent of canine of their uniforms. Since the men did not have their pups with them,  Chester had their undivided attention, and he poured on the doggie love.

After being introduced by Lisa,  I stood in the center of the gym with Chester sitting at my side.  I talked with them  about Chester, myself, pet therapy.  We did a few demonstrations with enthusiastic audience participation ~ then I began sharing Chester 'tails' with the men.   All were attentive and engaged. Nodding. Asking appropriate questions. However, as time went on, it was clear one individual was not engaged. ....Chester. He was totally bored.  My visual aide was droopy and pathetic. Seriously?  Seriously.

As I've said so many times, I've learned to listen to my furry friend. And so, rather than stand in the middle, speaking eloquent & dazzling tails with my "visual aide" bored out of his furry mind,  I decided to stroll  around the edge of the circle while I spoke,  closer to the men.

As soon as the men could reach out and touch my friend, or I should say, as soon as Chester could reach out and touch the men, he transformed from pathetic pup to dazzling dog, wagging and smiling. I stopped mid sentence and said to them, "Whoa, did you see what just happened with Chester? THIS is pet therapy! He doesn't want to listen to me say blah blah blah, he wants to be with you! You."  Laughter erupted.  ...."And you want to be with him, don't you?"

And so I changed my PLAN A, and shifted to something else. I don't even know what I shifted to. I just let it unfold. I walked the edge of the circle and talked story, letting Chester and the men have their time. Chester gave nuzzles, some slobbery smooches, a calming gentleness, and a swishing- waggy tail that just seemed to bring a life-giving breeze.  The men responded with gentle touches. Soft, kind whispers. Stories of their own dogs from long ago. Ear rubs and back massages. When Chester waited. I waited. When Chester moved forward, I moved with him. And so went our morning.
This was Chester's job. His delight.  And he knew this was why we had come. Not to be out-of-reach. But within touch. I could bring words of encouragement and hope, and tell pet therapy stories til the cows come home, but that was only a piece of the puzzle. Chester could bring physical touch. And unconditional love to the mix.  Touching Lives Warming Hearts it's what he does best.

As I drove home.  The morning replayed over and over in my mind.  These men. Many of them lifers. They would not get out of prison. But we had the privilege of going in. And what a privilege it was.

I often wonder if Chester is getting ready to retire. And then we have days like today. And I know we're not done yet.  Good job buddy.  I'm so proud of you. You walked back into thunder alley....and hit it out of the ballpark.  Ice cream for you tonight!

Prison Again....Graduation Day....Kleenex Please

Just a few thoughts on yesterday. Yesterday, behind prison walls and fences, I attended one of the most memorable and touching graduations ever: PAWS FOR LIFE, prison program, inmates rehabilitating and training rescue dogs. . Kleenex please. A few weeks back Chester and I were invited & honored to meet and speak with the men about Pet Therapy. We were invited back for graduation day. 15 men. 5 dogs. You should have seen each man, in prison uniform, proudly receiving his diploma. And the dogs ~~ calm ( well, mostly calm smile emoticon ), obedient, and well-loved. All passed with flying colors. When I arrived, I had time to speak with each of the men, shake hands, tell them how proud I was of them (and how proud they could be of themselves!), and listen to some of the 'tails' of his paws-for-life-journey. One man, moved to tears, stroking 'his dog's soft ears and head, quietly said to me, "These dogs come here afraid, battered, and abused from off the streets. If they weren't in this program, well, they'd probably be euthanized. No one has ever taken the time to love them, be patient with them, teach them, have compassion. My dog, well, he was a lot like me...." He paused and looked at me, his eyes were not only filled with tears, but with hope, and with pride. It was crystal clear, his 4-legged friend was not the only life changed. heart emoticon kleenex please.
Thank you Lisa Horowitz my friend, and superstar dog-trainer who is full of wisdom, love, PATIENCE, and compassion. PAWS FOR LIFE is blessed to have you, and you my friend are the reason 15 men and 5 pups are being given hope and a second chance.
PS Stay tuned... In the days ahead I will share the tail of our (Me & Chester) second trip to prison, the one that happened after the lightening storm lock down. Lifechanging.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Prison 101

 Yesterday, Chester and I went to Prison.  A FIRST for me and my pup.

 I didn't know what to expect... but NOTHING went as planned. NOTHING.

My friend Lisa, dog trainer extraordinaire, is piloting a program at the prison called PAWS FOR LIFE. Lisa was chosen by PAWS to be the trainer. Lisa works alongside the inmates who are accepted into the program, teaching them how to train and rehabilitate the rescue-dogs. She is doing an amazing job. And as you can imagine...the dogs are not the only ones who are rescued and rehabilitated.

Lisa and the PAWS FOR LIFE program invited me to share with the inmates about Pet Therapy.  I felt honored, And for Chester......well, it was just another opportunity to meet new friends :-).

Of all things, ........., the night before our visit, and during our visit, there was this STORM that landed on the Central Coast of California. Seriously, a STORM?  We have not had rain, let alone a real STORM for y.e.a.r.s. ~~  I mean YEARS.  All night long, Thunder. Lightening. LOUD BOOMS. Lots of rain.  Though I was woo-hooo-for-the-rain, I was not so woo-hoo about the thunder booms for my buddy.

Chester doesn't do so well with fireworks or cracks of lightening or booming thunder. Let's just say he gets rather stressed.  And needless to say when Sunday morning arrived, my buddy was not in his best form for a therapy visit to prison.   Had it been any other situation I would have cancelled, but because of security issues and scheduling, we needed to move forward with Plan A. I promised him TREATS big time.

Our team met together in front of the prison, and after passing through the security process,  the  5 of us + Chester were driven to a point of entry where the men and dogs were located.

We entered through 3 tall fenced clanging gates with the barbed wire loops on top.  We all signed in again and waited in an outdoor courtyard area .... in the rain ...with the booming thunder noise loud and close.

And then...while standing in this courtyard, a guard informed us we could not meet with the inmates......the prison had gone into lock down.


Apparently, a lightening bolt struck very close to a guard tower. Too close. And rather than risk the possibility of a power outage due to lightening strike...well, the prison just shut-er-down and went on generator mode.  And lock down.

I think that meant we were sort of on lock down as well.  The 5 of us + Chester stood and waited.

And then .... this series of events occurred.   For privacy reasons, I cannot tell you what happened.   But I will say, as this crisis unfolded, all 5 of us +Chester, were exactly where we needed to be in exactly the right moment in time  

NOTHING went as planned. But His timing was perfect.

Chester and I hope to return to prison soon (on a bright SUNNY day), so we can meet the inmates who are doing this good work with the pups.   When we do ...  I will bring rib eye steak treats for Chester.   He totally deserves it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

When Caregivers Need the Love-n'

I was told that Mr. P might like a visit from Chester. In the past, Mr. P totally enjoyed large dogs. All were in agreement, Chester just might be a good fit for
 Mr. P during his Hospice Care.

And so, Chester and I went.

 My GPS lead me to a residential home. The home, converted into a care-home was lovely.  Mrs. P greeted me with a tender and appreciative hug.  She introduced me to the staff, then  lead me down the hallway to  Mr. P's room.  It was bright, full of light ~ with one hospital bed positioned close to the large window, 2 wing back chairs, and  a small dresser and a nightstand. The walls were simply decorated with  one of Mrs. P's beautiful handmade quilts and family pictures.

Chester and I attempted to meet and greet Mr. P with all the doggy charisma he could muster. However, as it turned out, Mr. P was not so interested in the big dog. In fact, maybe even a bit annoyed.  We tried paws up at the end of the bed. Chester smiled, "Cheese!".  Not connecting. We tried edging close to Mr. P's hand, so he could pet Chester's soft furry head. Nope- not interested.  I used treats to lure Chester's fuzzy head through the side railings, nudging Mr. P with a wet nose and a tender muzzle-nuzzle. But Mr. P was not interested at all. In fact, Mr P, who talked very little, mustered up the strength to say to Chester and me and Mrs. P with conviction... "Too Precarious!" To that we laughed -- knowing that Mr. P's strength and humor were still tucked inside his failing body.

It was clear....Mr P and Chester were not a fit.

However....the unexpected,  unfolded.   After each attempt to connect with The Mr., Chester would settle down next to The Mrs., snuggling by her chair, at her feet, or leaning into her side for a scratch behind the ears.  Chester and Mr. P may not have connected, but Chester and Mrs. P clearly did.

The road of a loved-one and caregiver on the Hospice Journey,  can become long.

Enter Chester and his 'mom'.

Our once a week visits became a bright spot in Mrs P's week. And ours.  When Chester pranced in, Mr. P's room became homey...and Mrs.P's load became a bit lighter.  And while Mr P rested in bed, Mrs P and I visited about teaching and travels and dance and pilates and concerns about Mr. P and sewing and art and family.  During our conversations, Chester would nestle at her feet, or lean into her legs.

Chester enjoyed visits with Mrs. P. The staff greeted him with warm hugs. Chester liked cruising through the kitchen on his way to Mr. P's room, nose twitching and savoring whatever was being cooked up for lunch. He delighted in annoying the two little doggies who lived upstairs, and he totally loved poking his head into Mrs J's room who had more pictures of dogs up on her walls than people.  Mrs. J would tell us each week how she didn't like those yippy dogs who lived upstairs but she LOVED BIG DOGS like Chester. She would always give the BIG DOG a hearty hug, and sometimes throw the tennis ball for him...down the slippery hallway...and he would scramble extra LOUD to retrieve it, just so the yippy dogs upstairs would know he was there, in THEIR house, having fun! :-).

After months of visits, Chester began to disconnect. I wasn't sure what was going on with my buddy, but it was clear he was not so-much interested in being in Mr P's room, or at Mrs P's feet. Minutes after arriving, he was ready to go ~~ his big brown eyes were on the doorway, he tugged at his leash to leave,  his tail drooped, and overall he was edgy, not relaxed one little bit. Did he know more than I did, that our time was done?  Mrs. P commented, "I don't think he likes being here anymore."  :-(

She was right, and this was a tough call for me. If Chester was burning out, for whatever reason, I needed to pay attention and respect what was going on with my buddy. However, I knew the visits meant so much to Mrs P and I hated to end our time together while we were still needed.  I wrestled with what to do, not knowing how much longer Mr. P would be with us.

Over the weekend I pondered and prayed, gathered advice from pet therapy friends and trainers, AND,  I took Chester for a long walk at the coast. He romped and ran off-leash for hours and just enjoyed being a d..o.g. !  The spot by the sea where I chose to 'play' just happened to be near Mr. and Mrs. P's home.  It was a last minute decision to go to this spot. I thought it was 'my' last minute decision.

Though I doubted Mrs P would be at home, (usually, 7 days a week,  at this time of day, she was by Mr P's side), I decided to drop by before making the 1/2 hour trek back to our house.

Mrs P greeted me at the door. We embraced, and then she said....."Mr P died this morning."

oh no.....

She told me she had just walked in the door, she was home alone, and was making some calls to her children. Her phone rang, and after answering, she motioned for Chester and me to come inside.

Talking to her daughter, Mrs. P smiled warmly and said, "You'll never guess who's here... Chester!"

After wrapping up her conversation, Mrs. P gave Chester a delicious bowl of cool water. 2 bowlfuls. He slobbered and drooled all over her clean shiney floor. I asked for paper towels please :-) .

We sat together in the study, overlooking the gorgeous rugged coastline. Chester leaned into Mrs. P's legs, she stroked his head and back as she told us the details of the morning and her last few days with Mr. P.  She shared her thoughts, her plans,  for today and tomorrow....and at some point she gently asked me, "How did you know to come?"

"I didn't ... we were just taking a walk nearby, and I wanted to stop in to give you a hug."

 *****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~****~~~~~~~~~~~~ *****~~~~~~~~~~*******~~~~~~~ 

A few afterthoughts..
As I think back to our time with Mr. and Mrs. P and write down the memories, things become so much clearer in hindsight.   It is easier to see God's gentle leading and prompting, like a Shepherd...

How I didn't need to stress or question when Chester knew we were not needed in Mr. P's room anymore.  He knew it was time to go.   And Mr. P's time to go.  

How on that final day when we were needed...God made sure we showed up, at the right place in the right moment. His prompting, His leading.  

I am amazed. And humbled. Again.

It reminds me of what Jesus says in Matthew.  The Message says it this way:
"Walk with Me and work with Me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced 
rhythms of grace.
 I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  
Keep company with Me, and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

and from Amazing Grace...
Tis grace hath  brought me safe thus far, 
and Grace will lead me home.

A perfect day for me to write and remember.  Thank You.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our First Hospice Moment ~ Light Up A Life

Our First Hospice Moment. Light Up A Life.

The Christmas season can be especially hard for those who have lost a loved one.

Each year Hospice of SLO offers a beautiful event, giving people opportunity to remember their loved one in a   ceremony of remembrance called "Light up a Life."  And the year Chester and I came on board, they added an additional night of remembrance for those who were grieving the loss of a pet.  Hospice understood the need to  make an evening separate for pet owners,  as it is not appropriate for Rover's name to follow grandpa's in an event as tender as this.

So to honor all those dealing with a loss...the pet night was added. And Chester and I were invited.

There were not many people in attendance that evening. Just a handful. And, since we were new to Hospice, except for 2 familiar faces, everyone was new to us. Chester was drawn to one man in particular. While people mingled before the ceremony began, Chester wanted to be with Mr.D.

And so, when it was time to sit, we asked Mr. D if we could sit by him.

He welcomed us.

Chester sat between us.  Actually he lay across Mr. D's feet.

At one point big  tears leaked out of Mr. D's eyes, he began to share publicly about his dog,  ...He was my best friend. I don't know if I would be here today if it hadn't been for him...He was by my side throughout my chemo treatments, always there for me....  The tears flowed.  

As he talked, Chester sat up and nestled his head onto the man's lap. Mr. D. hugged him and cried healing tears.

Not a dry eye in the room, as we watched this miraculous moment unfold.

As it turns out, I later learned that  Mr. D was the only non-staff  person at  Light Up A Life.  He was the reason we were there.  And Chester knew.

Hospice of San Luis Obispo...An unexpected journey

While settling into this new land on California's central coast...  it proved challenging to connect with a pet therapy group.  Which was a surprise to me. After all, this IS California, land of dog friendly everything.  AND, as it turned out, my beginning here with pet therapy was not at all what I expected. shocker :-) 

While searching for a Pet Therapy group similar to KPETS in PA, (which does not exist here!), I discovered Hospice of San Luis Obispo on  my web search.  They had a pet therapy program. I called and emailed the pet therapy person.  . As it turns out "Mrs. Pet Therapy Program" moved to Sacramento about the time I moved to the central coast of California.  But at the time I did not know this... of course.

Actually, hmm, as I remember back ---see THIS is why I NEED to write things down WHEN they happen, or I forget the details. I am typing away and there is this little knock on my brain door...."remember that chain of events???"  And I paws...and I'm like, oh wow....   

So here is the oh wow, I wasn't going to even write about today, until Someone knocked on my brain door.

As I said, Hospice of SLO and I were having a hard time connecting, and as days/weeks passed I sort of  convinced myself that Hospice was not really my calling.  Or Chester's. So I didn't pursue it any further.

But then, there was this one day~
Chester and I did a spontaneous visit to Garden House, (a lovely home in Morro Bay where they tenderly care for men and women with memory loss).  A woman in the waiting room approached me. She gave me her card. She worked with a Hospice organization. She would love for us to volunteer with them.

Same day.  I am in Costco w.a.i.t.i.n.g. to get my new cool glasses :-).   Sitting and waiting with me is my buddy Chester in his therapy dog vest. A woman sits down next to me. She is a nurse with yet another Hospice group. She gives me her card. She would like Chester and I to come volunteer with her group.

Same day, I get a phone call from Hospice of SLO from the director Kris, apologizing for the delay in responding, but somehow my email got lost in the email pile....because their pet therapy person moved to Sacramento...   She was so kind and genuine; I almost jumped through the phone and asked "Would you be my friend? I 'm new here and friendless."  

So, after 3 unexpected Hospice moments in one day,  I thought perhaps I should rethink my position on "hospice not being my thing" and take a peek at this possibility for Chester and me.

Good decision.

There is a quote on a greeting card I picked up in Estes Park, Colorado. I have it hanging on my office wall ~ attached to the Rand McNally USA map, charting our journey from sea to shining sea....

"Sometimes your journey will take you off of YOUR path,... 
 Life is full of exquisite diversions."

Volunteering with Hospice of San Luis Obispo has turned out to be an unexpected & exquisite journey for Chester and me. Such a wonderful group of caring men and women who continue to teach me so very much. We are blessed to be a part. Thank you, Kris, for calling me back that day, your timing was perfect.  

Warmly signed,
  Mrs. Pet Therapy, Hospice of SLO

Thursday, July 9, 2015

When The Therapy Dog Needs Therapy

4th of July
and noises that go 

 Me--- I love love love -- the 4th of July, celebrations, fireworks, the booms, the colors, the patriotic songs, the God Bless America  & the good ole U.S.A. , the night sky lit with sparkles and colors and celebration.  Even cannon booms! The louder and brighter the better. 

Not Chester. Not my tenderhearted golden buddy.  The 4th of July is at the tippy top of the SCARE-ME list. The loud booms and crackles scare the pee-woddin out of him.

This year, visiting family --- in an unfamiliar home to him --- the BooMs and cRaCkLe PoPs were especially overthetop s.c.a.r.e.y.  Chester heard the noises long before I did and disappeared at dusk from the poolside party (where he had been romping IN THE POOL, smiling and playing all day long).

When I heard the first BOOM and crackle, that's when I noticed my buddy was gone from poolside. Looking for him high and low--- I discovered him inside the house, huddled on the cool tile floor in a darkened bathroom, wide-eyed, shivering, and shaking. 

Ahh Buddy.

I sat down with him. Rubbed his soft ears, and lay across his furry, still-wet-with-pool back and tummy, hugging him as best I could to sooth away the fear. 

It was hardly dark yet. And I knew the BOOMS had only begun.   
And so....this year, 

This 4th of July...
While the boom bands were playing... and the fireworks were crackling across the night sky...
We huddled together on the blue tiled bathroom floor.
In the dark.
Listening to soothing music from the glow of the iphone.
While over and over I stroked his fur and whispered into his soft ears...
It will be ok. We will ride this booming storm out together, and make it through the night. I 'm here.

Next's doggie drugs ;-).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grief Therapy

Spending time at Almond Acres Charter Academy is a favorite spot for us.  No doubt about it.  We love our kids.

And stories happen.

A little friend of ours had a very rough year. A tragedy in his family.  One of his younger siblings died in an accident.  sigh   When our little friend returned back to school,  whenever Chester and I were on campus, we would make a point to give extra hugs and wags and time.

The principal at Almond Acres is such a dear man. Full of love and  kindness and strength and wisdom, and believing the best in his students and inspiring them towards greatness. Mr. B, as he is known to all, had an open door policy with our little friend.  Whenever the days got too long or too hard or too anything, this little boy could have time with Mr. B for whatever was needed.

I was on my way home. Signing-out in the office,  I noticed our friend sitting and waiting to see Mr. B. His eyes stared at the floor, shoulders slumped, and well, I just could not imagine the pain in his little heart.

I knelt down, and Chester snuggled in. And the boy snuggled back.

"Would you like to help me with something?" I asked.

Silence. A shrug.

"You know, being at school can be hard work for Chester...and sometimes, before we head home, Chester really likes to take a short walk with a good friend in a quiet place. I think he'd really like you to take him. What do you think?"  I asked.

He looked up and nodded yes.

Mr. B's assistant smiled.  I handed one leash to our friend, and held the other in my hand. And out the door we went. We strolled on the grass under the shade of the trees for about 10 minutes or so. At first we were quiet, and then he began to tell me about his dog at home. How he thought Chester and his dog would be good friends. And we talked back and forth about other things that I really can't remember.

What I do remember is how his eyes began to brighten, how his steps became perkier, how his shoulders unslumped,  how a smile even came to his face, and how his heavy load seemed a little lighter.

"Well it's time for me to take Chester home. Shall we walk back to Mr's B's?" I asked.

"Can I just walk Chester back to my class?" he asked.

Giving him a hug, I said, " I think Chester would like that a lot."


One of Chester's silly tricks is "ta-daaa".  This is his command for take-a-bow. His hiney goes straight  in the air, and  his nose reaches down to touch his furry toes.   It is always a crowd pleaser, and usually means we are wrapping up whatever we are doing.  Most often, at the end of a public speaking event, we finish with "ta-daaa" and off we go. Home.

It's important while doing pet therapy to watch your dog for signs of stress/boredom/not having fun/time to go/etc.  If you watch closely, they give lots of clues. They really do.  And when they give you clues, it's important to pay attention,  wrap things up, take a break, and head for home.

On this particular evening, I was giving a pet therapy talk to a group of Hospice Volunteers. The speaking event came at the end of a long day, and a long week.  During my presentation, I was NOT doing a good job of paying attention to my buddy.   I did not notice the clues.....

And so in the middle of my little talk, that apparently Chester thought was far too long,  Mr. Fancy Pants gets up from his laying down position at my side... looks at me, then does one absolutely long and drawn out humongous,   "taaaaaa- daaaaaaaa" .

The crowd roared with laughter, I turned it into a teachable moment --- wrapped it up --- and we were out the door. Headed home.

He slept the whole way.

Chester and Dr. Seuss ~ Thank you

A few posts ago...I mentioned unslumping....speaking of unslumping...

Before embarking on our journey west from PA to CA,  a dear family member gave us a favorite Dr. Seuss treasure Oh The Places You'll Go!  The Dr. has some very wise words about slumping~

I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
than Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you. .....

And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.  ....

In this season of a writing slump, and let's just be honest.... a life-slump....I've felt slumpy.   And may I just give a shout out and 'thank You God', for MY pet therapy buddy, Chester.  In this season of slumpness, he is faithfully at my side.   First and foremost, he takes care of me.  His specialty truly IS touching lives and warming hearts (KPETS motto), and I am eternally thankful for how he touches my life and warms my heart most of all.

I don't do this change-thing easily. Though we have done a few MAJOR moves, hello, I do not seem to become an expert at this starting over thing. hmmm.  My track record is great, I always grow to deeply LOVE each place we live and the people tucked inside our community. But, I suck at the starting over part.  It takes me awhile.   a...w...h...i...l...e....

So thank you Chester -- for helping me through yet another season of change.  For snuggling by my side or at my feet and just being there. For understanding when I have no words and my heart is achy. For getting me out for a walk or a bike-- down the street, or in the hills, or to the beach -- when it was hard for me to get up and go. For being silly and making me laugh. For helping me to meet people when I really didn't want to but I really wanted to.  Thank you for being my therapy dog. You teach me much...beginning with how you handle change. I notice this about you. As long as we're together, your world is safe and secure --- whether we are in Timbuktoo or Kalamazoo. And that is worth pondering on a deeper level for sure. So thank you buddy.

For all you extroverts out may think.  Whaaaaaaaaat the heck? Just get out there and get er done and begin again!  For all the introverts out get it.  Unslumping yourself is not easily done!

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So....get on your way!

Thank you Chester.  AND. Thank you Dr. Seuss.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Loving Memory

I learned last week of the passing of our dear friend, Willard.  As I read the email , tears flowed....

Dory, Chester, and Willard

Dear Willard,
We are so blessed to call you friend and to have known you for the short time we did. Though our time together was short in the world's eyes -- it felt more like dog years :), and we were thankful for every moment. Priceless memories. I remember our first visit to your room. Our friend, Dory,  who worked on your floor, asked if we would visit you. "Willard rarely leaves his room, he doesn't get many visitors, and he really likes dogs," she said.  "Of  course," we said.

We were just going to visit one time.  After all, retirement communities, memory-care floors, were not really MY comfort zone. Walking into your room for the first time is forever etched in my memory....I can still feel my uneasiness, and still see Chester climbing right up into your bed! I was mortified (he was NOT invited), you were thrilled, and Chester was a happy camper as he settled right in. You two knew far more than I did.  And that was that. Our one time visit turned to once a month, twice a month, once-a-week. Thursdays with Willard. 

During our visits  you and Chester snuggled and spooned. I sat quietly in the chair. No words necessary. Just quiet. Full of meaning and love. There were a few jaw-dropping-surprise moments sprinkled in; when your memory returned for a bit, when you showed us the picture of your dog, Katey (from 1952). When we talked about the lightning storm from the night before.  When we went for a stroll in the garden -- your first time outside in many years. You would only go because you could walk Chester and hold his leash.

Mostly, though, ....I remember sitting in the chair by your bedside enjoying you and Chester together. I remember the pictures in your room ~~ the watercolor painting of the little Baptist Church, the  worn Bible on the shelf, the black and white photo of your Pennsylvania farm, the certificate of honor that hung over your bed from World War II. Bronze Star. Algerian Conflict.   While you and Chester had your time, I would watch you two,  and scan the room -- putting the pieces together of 'you', the man we had grown to love.

A few years ago, when our family moved, and  journeyed from Pennsylvania to California, saying g'bye to you was ohsohard. I knew it was our earthly good-bye.  (sigh)   After moving, Chester and I   mailed postcards and pictures to your bedside regularly. The last card arrived in your mailbox just 2 weeks ago, for your 97th birthday.  From sea to shining sea, you were never forgotten, always remembered with love in our hearts.

Our lives are all the richer because of knowing you. Thank you for welcoming us into your heart, and Chester onto your soft and cozy red blanket. 
The Hawaiians say it best "A hui hou" dear friend, until we meet again....
We love you,   Chester and Diane

PS  Dear readers....if you are new to Chester Tails, check  past posts for stories and pictures of our dear friend, Willard. 

Writing s.l.u.m.p.s. and b.u.m.p.s. & Chicken Soup

Back in January....I stumbled upon an ad for Chicken Soup for the Soul, looking for inspiring stories from volunteers.  Immediately a Chester-story came to mind. Without thinking about it too long ... I did some re-writing and editing ---  pressed SEND. Told no-one. (I did tell Keith about two weeks after the fact, mumbling, while doing the dishes or something....)

And then I forgot about it.  A month ago, I received an email. THEY liked the Chester Tail.  Really? Today I received an email saying congratulations! No way I said.  Yes way they said.  We are dog-gone excited!!!!  Our Therapy Dog Tail will be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Volunteering & Giving Back, available in bookstores August 18, 2015!

I must say....we are dog-gone excited. (I think I already said that)  We are!

As I type this....I realize (oye), I've not written a Chester Tail in over a year. That's a long time. Sometimes writing s.l.u.m.p.s. and  b.u.m.p.s. can be long and ....well, long.  The longer the slump, the bumpier the bumps. Though my writing has been s.t.u.c.k. ~~ our stories have continued, and Chester continues to be Chester, touching lives and warming hearts.  Chicken Soup has been good for my soul to help  me get  unslumped.

Reminding me the importance of telling our stories~
If  I don't want to forget the stories and the people, who have touched my heart so deeply ...well, I had best pick up my keyboard and write.  Just write -- not worry so much about dotting my i's and crossing my t's -- or if you will think it is a great tail or not ---  just get back to the beginning and the basics of enjoying our pet-therapy journey and talking story with friends. we go....