For the first eight months of my life, I lived with a man called Tom. Some of Tom's friends and a number of other puppies and adult dogs also lived there. The dogs staying at that place seemed to be ever changing. One went, a new one came in.
Tom gave me a bowl of pale, mushy, sloppy meat every morning. I lapped this up because it was the only food I ever got. One day, I overheard Tom talking to his friends. “That's one of the worst pits I've ever had,” he puffed on a cigarette as he gestured towards me. “But if I can make him look tough by beating him up a little bit and givin’ a spiked collar, the bets will go to him. I can drug my best pit to make him more aggressive and he’ll destroy that awful pup. Best part is we can turn a handsome profit betting on the other dog,” Tom and his friends laughed. Whatever they were talking about, it sounded horrifying.
Tom came and scratched me, hit me, and pinched me, but only a little bit – just enough to leave a mark. Then, I was led into a cage on the outside of a circle of dirt like a small enclosed desert. In another cage on the opposite side of the circle was a large, blue, agitated dog. This was a terrible situation to be in. I instinctively knew at that moment that I was about to be in a dog fight. The fight ended without much excitement because I was smarter than the other dog. I didn't attack the him, I just avoided him until his energy ran out. After it was all over, Tom angrily forced me back into the cage and shouted harsh and crude sounding words to the other men around. We were all taken by surprise when an unfamiliar voice called out from the shadowy area behind the cages “Police! Freeze!”
A man and a woman in dark uniforms with a golden shield shaped plaque on their chests stepped up to Tom. “You’re under arrest,” the uniformed man declared, fastening Tom’s thin, bony hands behind his back. Watching the excitement was interesting, but I was tired. I fell soundly asleep in the dirty cage. I’m sure I would have slept longer if not for the uniformed woman opening my cage door. She looped a ring of wire at the end of a long pole around my neck and waked me to the back of a van that was filled with other dogs I had lived with, all in clean cages. At first, she stood far away, timidly guiding my way. Then, when she noticed I wasn’t fighting back, she walked closer to me. “You’re a great behaved pup, especially after all you’ve been through,” she told me. Even though I didn’t quite understand what that meant, I happily barked. The woman smiled at me. “Oh,” She muttered. “I can’t just let you go to the pound. I think I’ll take you back to the police station with me. How does that sound, buddy?” It sounded great. I liked it when she called me Buddy. I was ushered into a small, dark, cave like space in the back of her police cruiser. We drove away from the wretched place that I used to call home.
The “police station” was a big building with more people in the dark uniforms. Many of them looked at me and smiled. The uniformed woman took me to one man in nice, deep colored clothing who she called “Chief". He was as tall as a ladder and as sturdy as a brick wall. “Chief,” she explained. “I helped rescue this little guy, I call him Buddy, from the dog fighting operation. I think he has great therapy dog potential.” Chief thought for a moment. “You think this little red pup can be a therapy dog?” he asked reluctantly. “Yes, Sir,” the woman answered with confidence. I barked in excitement. “He'll have to go through strict behavioral training, but I think it’s worth giving him a shot,” I sensed the pride rush over the woman. “I'll call the animal behavior specialists, you stay with that pup,” commanded Chief. I sat near a chair with the woman. It was the most comfortable place I had ever sat. A few minutes later, some new people came. I licked their hands to indicate to the people I liked them. After a short conversation with the woman and a few other people in dark uniforms, they took up the leash the woman had adorned me with and gently walked me out the door.
I was loaded into a large kennel in the back of another car. I LOVE car rides! This one in particular, it soothed me right to sleep. I awoke to the loud pop of the back car door opening. The people took me put into a strange room with strange toys where we played strange games. I had never had toys or people to play with before.
The first thing they did was pet me all over. My tongue hung out of my mouth. I LOVED to get rubbed! One of the people in the room stood in a corner making notes on a clip board. For the next game, I was given good, delicious food! While I was eating, they stuck a rubber hand into the bowl. I stopped eating and laid down, waiting to get the dish back. The note taker made another mark on his clip board. For the last game, the people had some stuffed creatures with real scents walk near me. First, a child. Then, a cat. And finally, a dog. I wagged with excitement as they paraded by. The last mark was made on the board. The people smiled and indicated I had done a great job.
The games were easy for me. All I had to do was not get upset. After the games, the people walked me into a big room with a lot of other toys to play other games. I had just earlier been introduced to the tennis ball, which instantly became my favorite toy. I excitedly plunged for one of those! The people talked a lot. Then, another new person came and took my leash. “You're a natural!” he whispered to me. “All that’s left is a bit of training,” he said. I barked, knowing that this training would be much better. The new man’s name was Michael. He was beyond kind. He gave me a proper home with him. He fed me wonderful food and provided me with a comfy bed. He took me to the toys and games facility every day for a long time. He taught me things like “sit", “stay", and “comfort”. I learned these all within a few months. After that, Michael and I went to a new place.
This new place was called the hospital. At first, I was hesitant to even step through the doors. The hallways and equipment had a strong, chemical smell; a scent that burned my eyes. The people in scrubs, called doctors, smelled clean and fresh. The people they visited, called patients, had various smells about them. There were people who smelled weird. People that smelled sad. People that smelled sick. I learned that many of these people needed me, so I ended up enjoying it without a second thought.
This is where I did the command “comfort". I put my head in their laps and they rubbed my ears. This small gesture filled them with joy instead of sorrow. I saw some people several times, other people just once. One of my favorite people to visit was a little girl named Lucy. She was so weak, but when she saw me, her heart was filled with shear happiness. She would throw me a tennis ball from her bed. When I brought it back and set it in her lap, she would toss it again. We would repeat this until her arm was so sore that she could barely move it. Then, I would lie on her lap. She could rub my belly, and sometimes fall asleep, which was something she was not able to do very often.
Most of the patients I visited were children, but I also saw adults and seniors, too. I once went to an old man named Walter. When Walter laid eyes on me, I could tell he had forgotten about his pain. “That dog looks just like the one I had when I was a boy,” He said. “What’s that dog’s name?” He asked. “Buddy,” Replied his nurse. “Buddy,” called the old man. I walked to his side and rested my head on his knee. He scratched me right between my ears. I licked his hand. The day after that, Walter was able to leave the hospital, not sick anymore. I think I was able to contribute to that.
I loved to make people feel good. It seemed to make a true difference in their lives. On one particularly happy day, Lucy Michael, what my story was. “Well,” answered Michael. “He was rescued from a bad, abusive place. But, Buddy was so kind and gentle that the police woman who rescued him suggested him as a candidate for the therapy dog program,” He smiled. Lucy smiled bigger. “So, he overcame something! Just like I am doing! I get to change departments tomorrow ‘cause I’m getting better!” Michael looked at her happily. “Yes,” he cheered. “You, dear Lucy, and Buddy are both strong overcomers.”