When I learned my colleague and friend had lost her Mother, like everyone else, I felt saddened and helpless – but then I remembered that I have A Most Wonderful Therapy Dog... so I sought permission from Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) to do something novel: attend a funeral. I was required to obtain in writing from the church where the funeral would be held, authorization for Misty to attend. When I contacted the church, there was not a moment of hesitation: the email was sent immediately.
So Friday evening was dedicated to bathing Misty, brushing teeth – all the usual preparations. Misty seemed puzzled about why I wouldn't let her play outside with Delaney, (now 12 weeks old and already an accomplished hole-digger – not a desirable activity for a freshly bathed Therapy Dog!) but Misty “got it” once I brought out her red TPOC vest... she sat quietly by the door waiting to go to work.
We pulled up to the church, an elegant and stately structure in an older neighbourhood of west central Toronto. The weather was sympathetically weepy, as were the people gathered on the church steps. Misty in her vest and I in my TPOC shirt were met with a few looks of surprise but the way was parted for us to enter.
Misty wore her slightly wagging tail and “I care” expression on her sweet face. Soon, all the usual reactions surrounded us:
“What a beautiful dog!”
“What’s his name?”
“Her name is Misty.”
“Misty, you’re so soft and beautiful!”
An elderly man sat in the aisle seat of a pew. His eyes were red from crying but a smile emerged on face. “Can I pat your dog?”
“That’s why she’s here.”
“No, she’s here for me to take home.”
Seated people began turning around and slight smiles appeared on sad faces. A man on crutches approached so I nudged Misty to make room for him in the aisle.
“No, leave her, she’s fine. Can I pat her?”
From the pew opposite: “Don’t get used to her, I’m taking her home.”
The man sat down heavily in the pew across the aisle and reached for Misty. She obligingly stepped over and nuzzled into his arm. I looked up, trying to picture the emotions swirling atop – a drape of sadness, wisps of tenderness, brushings of love, some pocks of emptiness, all hanging above the species present... as has happened with human and canine throughout the long echoing halls of the millennia...
The Minister raised her arms. The memorial service had begun and Misty laid down in the aisle. Initially during prayer I found myself uncertain about closing my eyes because as the human half of the Therapy Team, my job is to watch Misty at all times – but as always, Misty was so up to her role and responsibilities.
The man in the pew ahead of us reached out and twiggled his fingers – an ancient summons of person to dog. Misty looked at me as though to ask, “Is this okay?” then she moved into the row to lean up against the man.
When we rose to sing, Misty moved back into the aisle, anticipating we’d be leaving. So confusing these new human behaviours! As we sat down, Misty laid down again and the man behind me said, “I think my singing hurt the dog’s ears.” As the soprano sang, however, my arms had goose bumps with each soaring note of Ava Maria. This was Misty’s first exposure to a human performance. What was she hearing? I wanted to perceive what she was perceiving, as ever, but there was no outward sign from Misty about her interpretation of the singing. At another point, however, Misty sat up abruptly and began searching faces around her... clearly, it was another instance of my human inability to perceive something that was so obvious and significant to that Therapist.
The ceremony was over. The Minister began walking down the aisle to exit but paused to stroke Misty’s kind face. “What a good dog!” she said softly and then resumed her passage.
When Misty and I stood at last in the foyer, a woman with tears streaming down her cheeks reached out with both hands to take Misty’s face in her hands. Her husband’s voice came from behind her: “Well, a few minutes ago you were crying and now look at you...you’re smiling! What a great idea –bringing a Therapy Dog!” She nodded silently.
In the next moment, Misty was sitting surrounded by a gaggle of preschoolers, all chubby arms tentatively encircling Misty’s neck. She happily wagged her tail. “What a great temperament this dog has,” coming from the father of one of the kids.
“Yeah, it’s in the job description.” I was so very proud of my girl. This Golden X rescued from the highway in Prince Edward Island. She’s given so much, been such a wonderful teacher, friend, “Reindeer Dog” in Santa Claus parades (more on that soon) and now Therapist. Our journey continues...