Living in the hills of western Massachusetts, I have the luxury of being able to walk right out the door into the woods or onto the country road for a pleasant walk with the dogs. We do this early in the morning around 6:30 AM – it’s so quiet and peaceful then… my favorite time of the day. At this time of the year, the air is crisp and the sun is shiny and bright. Occasionally, we’ll run into a flock of wide turkeys. They’re so tame around here (and plentiful), they don’t fly off when they see the dogs approaching. We’ll often run into a neighbor or two and stop for a chat. Later in the day, the dogs love it, too, when I pop them in the car and head to a section of the bike path. In our area, we have miles and miles of contiguous bike paths connecting several area towns. Here the dogs get to meet people and other dogs along the way, stop and socialize for a few minutes, and move along. It’s a great place to socialize a puppy or dog in training to be a therapy dog. Sometimes we’ll meet up with a friend and take the walk together. The dogs love their special walking time – and so do I – wherever we go.
My first visit back to Julia’s nursing home… the place she visited every week and reveled in the attention she received from both residents and staff. James did a terrific job – he always does. But, everyone asked, “Where’s Julia?” There were many tears… Today we took the first step. We’ll go back now, week after week. The visits are so important to everyone there.
Three weeks ago, I found myself rushing to our Vet with Julia. I was getting ready to head to my office… I was in the midst of rallying the pack (then four) to head to their room. I noticed Julia having trouble – she was coughing up blood, once, then again, then four times within five minutes. I’m not one to call on the Vet for every little thing, but I knew this wasn’t a good sign… something was wrong. They had me bring her right in. Driving there, I kept trying to convince myself that it was something minor – something had caught in her throat, her stomach had been irritated by something she picked up in the woods. The Vet, too, chatted with me about minor things that could have happened – but then mentioned the dreaded word cancer. X-rays were needed. And, that’s what revealed the answer: a primary lung tumor that had spread throughout her entire body. Nothing could be done. Julia came home to spend the afternoon with her family – both human and canine. Then, at 6:00 that night, with her brother James and buddies Trudi and Annabelle encircling her, our Vet administered the injection that would send her into a peaceful, eternal sleep.
Julia was our dear canine family member, playmate of the pack, and a superb therapy dog. For several years, she soothed the lives of patients in a mental health unit at an area hospital. She could calm many a restless and unsettled patient with her exuberant, non-treatening, non-judgmental manner. The staff often mentioned that Julia’s weekly visits served to brighten the day for both patients and staff. The past two years, Julia has spent her time with rehab patients and residents at a local nursing home. She would first take a tour through the physical therapy room where she worked the room, stopping to visit with each of the ten or so patients there receiving service. At times, the physical therapists would have her assist in movement therapy. On down the hall she’d go making stops at rooms and residents sitting out in the hallways. Her last stop was always at her friend Nelly’s room. Nelly always had Julia jump up on her bed, she’d hug her and give her a special treat of pretzels.
This past Thursday, I made my first visit back to Linda Manor with Julia’s brother James. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to do this… going to the facility and having to tell folks that their canine friend had died. This is a very hard part of the work I do. For years, the dogs visit, week after week, bringing comfort and caring to many who often receive limited contact from the outside world. And, then they are gone. Very hard, it doesn’t get any easier no matter how often it happens.
We are slowly adjusting to a pack of three – but a little piece of our heart broke off and went with Julia.