Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's not all about me....This time.

This time I'm going to have Mom tell you about the dogs she had before me.  She told me she has been thinking about them a lot because she gets the page feed on facebook from Handi-Dogs, who just celebrated their 40th anniversary in December.  Dad also built a new computer for her in December, and in transferring over the files from the really, really old one, she found lots of pictures and files about her old dogs.  Well, I don't mind, I'm glad she has had lots of dogs to love.  Anyhow, even though she told me all about her other dogs, she also told me that she never called any of them "The Awesome Dog of Awesomeness".  Waggedy-wag-wag! 

Notes from Mom:

As Cody mentioned, the Handi-Dog posts have been calling to mind my last dogs.  It has been a while since they passed away, and I went "dogless" for quite a while afterward since there were too many other things going on (moving to NM, for instance, then my parents getting sick, etc.) and my heart just wasn't ready for it.

I found this note while trying to sift through files on the old computer and update my new website.  I had put this on the old site, for the reasons listed below, so some of you may have seen it before. 

"My boys" were abandoned in the desert when they were pups, and were extremely sick when they were found.  Throughout the time I had them, as I've done with all my pets, I kept a "baby book" of vet records, notes, etc.  Some years after their passing, when I was able to go through the folders, I found the original article about a woman trying to find homes for some dogs - I thought I had thrown this away, but after looking at it again all those years later, I decided I would write the woman a letter about the boys.

The woman's name is Anne Schmidtz - I didn't keep in touch with her after we got the dogs, and posted this originally in the hopes I would find her (had no success looking her up online, and the number in the original article was no longer in service).  I also included the letter on our site because I want others to realize how much difference a single person can make, and because I hope it will encourage others to adopt shelter animals and/or become involved with Handi-Dogs, Pet Partners or other therapy dog organizations.

Dear Anne,

About those strays.....
It's been about 13 years since we moved out to the country and I decided I wanted a dog.  Not just any dog, I had my heart set on a black Labrador retriever.  Steve researched fencing systems to keep the dog on our property and decided the "Invisible Fence" system would be our best bet.  God must have been whispering in his ear on the day he went to get the equipment, because he came home with not one, but two electronic collars and the fencing system.  When I asked why, he said "I just know you're going to have to have two dogs".

Shortly after that we ran across an article in the paper about two dogs who were homeless.  One had been hit by a car and the other refused to leave her sibling.  That's where you came in to the picture, as your name was listed in the article as someone to contact to give these dogs a home.  We called, and you told us that you and Donna already found homes for the dogs.  You did, however, mention that someone had picked up and dropped off two strays found in the desert, and asked if we would come have a look at them.

We all piled in the car and headed for the kennel.  You showed us the dogs.  Two scrawny, cowering, skinny, dirty, scraggy male pups you thought might be some sort of husky and German Shepard mix.  NOT at all what I had in mind, but I picked up their heads and looked them each in the eyes and told Steve "these are my dogs".  I recall you had reservations about the fencing system, about coyotes getting our dogs, and about how these two half-wild pups would be with our kids, but eventually you decided you would let us have them.

Well I thought you might like to know how it all turned out.

On our way home with the two brothers, we pondered over names and came up with "Bert" and "Ernie".  Not very original, but our daughters, being 7 and 9 at the time, thought this was a great idea.  They didn't know which one should be which.  I said "the one who isn't smiling is Bert" and it was decided.

Bert and Ernie had their first vet visit the next day.  They were both very sick and had to be put on antibiotics and a number of other medications.  The veterinarian said he couldn't tell exactly how old they were because they were so malnourished, but guessed somewhere between six months and a year.  We were told the dogs couldn't be neutered or have any other operations performed until they recovered some of their health, and that in all likelihood Bert would have to have a hip operation since it seemed he had displaysia.  Happily, it turned out that Bert's muscles were just very weak, but with regular veterinary care and nutrition both boys started to become healthy and active.  They decided to catch up on their puppyhood so we had to survive the chewing, housebreaking, etc.  Their favorite person during this time was the UPS man, who brought all kinds of things for them to chew up, like hundreds of dollars worth of software, gifts from relatives, etc.

We started training them to know the boundaries of the fence system, and as soon as they had it figured out they had acres to run on. And run they did!  They were always chasing each other, chasing squirrels, rabbits, cows, the horses, and whatever else happened to come onto the property!  We began their regular training too, and soon they learned most of the usual dog commands, and both would walk side by side at heal on the leash.  Jessica, our youngest daughter, decided it was also a good time to teach Ernie how to read.  She spent hours every day reading to Ernie and he would pay close attention to her books.  After a while she was convinced that he had indeed learned how to read!  To this day I believe she thinks the dog would have read more novels if he only was allowed to get the books down by himself and turn the pages! (she could be correct!)

The boys decided they had important jobs to do and set about raising "their girls".  Every morning they would jump on the girls beds to get them up for school, and of course they would walk them down to the bus stop and make sure they got on the bus safely.  They kept close track of the time for the return bus trip too.  As soon as the bus came up the road the dogs would stat barking for the girls to hurry up and get home!  Naturally, they also helped with after school snacks and homework (more with the snacks, I suppose, but they tried to help with homework as well).

The girls progressed through school and decided to enter the 4-H dog program.  Bert and Ernie both became 4-H dogs; Bert with Jessica, and Ernie with Catherine.  The dogs patiently endured as the girls learned all about dog training and care, and even won some ribbons at the dog shows!

Bert and Ernie had become very happy, well-trained, healthy dogs!  They did, however, get in to plenty of trouble.  They were well known and loved at the vet's office, and every time I called, the receptionist would hear my voice and ask "What did the bad boys get in to now?".  Thankfully, most things were minor, and caused by chasing things on the property they shouldn't have chased, or running into something when they didn't stop on time.

Years passed and the brothers continued to be a source of amusement, joy, comfort and security for the family.  Especially for their girls, who they helped through all the usual things that girls go through, and patiently listened to every complaint about boys, school, clothes, parents, etc.  The dogs also learned some neat tricks; one favorite after the “Miller Time” commercial came out - when someone said “It’s Miller Time” the boys would run to the utility room where Bert would get the beer can and Ernie would get the “huggie” can holder.  (We had decided that it probably wasn’t really a great idea to actually teach dogs how to open the refrigerator like the dog in the commercial did).  We also found out that big dogs can put holes in aluminum cans all too easily, so we only showed off this trick on rare occasion.

At almost seven years of age, the boys were still in great health.  We decided to enroll them in Delta Society’s Handi Dogs/Pet Partners program.  Together we went through all the weeks of training.  The dogs learned how to act in a hospital, how to react to people in wheelchairs, and a host of other skills, while once again the girls gained valuable lessons as well.

After months of training, then passing all of the skills, aptitude, and health tests with high marks, the dogs became certified Pet Partners.  They were also qualified to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, but we opted not to take the test at that time. Our patient visitations began upon their certification and we kept a journal.

Our first visit was to the pediatrics unit at Tucson Medical Center. Jessica had Bert and I had Ernie.  Reading from our journal:

“We were nervous, but Bert and Ernie weren’t, and they didn’t mind their Handi Dogs shirts at all.....We each visited with four patients, but ended up going back with both dogs once everyone heard there were twin brothers around!  The patients loved them!"

That’s how it was with the boys.  In subsequent visits, to nursing homes, hospitals, etc., we discovered it was hopeless to even try to separate them since everyone wanted to see them together.  Another note from our journal reads:

“We had a special visit where they allowed us to go into the area where Alzheimer’s patients were having group therapy.  The patients really seemed alert and excited when the dogs came in.  The therapist asked us to go to several of the patients specifically and they petted and enjoyed the dogs.  One of the patients we visited, “Bunny”, asked us to please come to her room whenever we’re there.  She said she could live without people, but not without dogs. ....All of the patients we visited seemed to enjoy the visit very much, except for one woman who became very sad and agitated because she couldn’t keep one of the dogs for her own pet."

I could tell you lots of stories from the journals, but the most important point is that wherever they went the dogs made an impact.  We visited some patients who didn’t speak any English, but it didn’t take any knowledge of their language to understand what the big smiles meant.  Some people just held the dogs and cried into their fur and stroked them silently and lovingly.  For the next several years they visited hospitals and nursing homes, until they reached a “burnout” point and we decided to retire them.  There is no way to know how much love and enjoyment they brought to the countless people they visited - even if we only stayed with some patients for a few moments it was clear that the dogs had made a difference in their day and their lives.

We moved in to town not long after that and the boys became “city dogs”.  They didn’t have as much room to run, so we started our daily walks.  The two of them together were apparently quite a sight (Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier in the letter that once their health improved Bert grew to a height of 27 inches at the shoulder and weighed almost 100 lbs., and Ernie was just slightly smaller).  People often stopped me on the street and asked if they could pet the dogs, and they soon became known around the neighborhood as “The Brothers” or just “the Boys”.  Many of the neighborhood children (and even some of the adults!) would run out to see them if I happened to be walking by.  Occasionally, people driving by would even stop their cars to tell me what beautiful and well-trained dogs I had.  As the dogs aged and started getting more grey hair, many people were convinced they were part wolf dogs.  Some kids tried to get them to howl, some people were a bit afraid of them, some people just stopped to admire them, but wherever they went they caused a reaction.

And, just to prove that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, Ernie learned to help out around the house.  He learned the command “Get That” so he could pick something up for me if I dropped it.  He also helped with the laundry,  lifting the clothes out of the basket for me to put in the washing machine. Bert, on the other hand,  taught us more tricks than we taught him - he has us very well trained to rub his tummy whenever he flops over, open doors for him, and in general do his bidding.

Well, this has become a very long letter.  It has been difficult to try to summarize the lives of two dogs who have done so much and have helped so many others.  In truth, I have barely scratched the surface in explaining the fullness of their lives, but wanted to tell you at least this much.  I hoped it would help you understand that because you took these strays in and found homes for them, you made an immeasurable difference.  Words truly cannot express the love these dogs brought in to our lives,  in to the lives of all those they visited in hospitals and nursing homes, and to all the other lives they have touched.

The boys helped to teach our daughters kindness and compassion.  They lived to see their girls all grown up, and survived the eldest moving away from home.  Ernie passed away just a few months ago, but Bert may still be around when the “baby” leaves home.   Bert still goes for a walk every day, and although he is hard of hearing, has arthritis, and some days our walks are almost painfully slow, he still thinks he is a puppy sometimes and I hope he will be around for a while yet to come.  The vet and I believed that because of their poor start in life they probably would not live to old age, but we have been truly blessed to have been allowed to have them in our lives for so long.

So, Anne, Thank You for letting those scraggly pups come home with us all those years ago.  The coyotes didn’t get them, the invisible fence kept them in, and they turned out to be more wonderful and enriched more lives than you can imagine.


(At the time I wrote this, obviously Bert was still living - he did survive long enough to see the youngest move away from home.  He was almost 14 yrs. old at the time of his passing.)