One Special Dog
Linda and Ken Greason are retired teachers. They own and handle Nicky, a four year old Ganaraskan. At the early age of three years, Nicky proved he had The Right Stuff to be a pet therapist when he was certified by Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) to work with adults, then soon after, certified to work with children.
Being so highly qualified means Nicky’s skills are urgently in demand. He visits Southbrook Retirement Community, a retirement home in Brampton, Ontario, as well as two schools. At one school, the little therapist visits special needs and special mental health classes. At the other school, Nicky participates in the Paws to Read® program where Grade One students overcome their anxieties by reading to the therapy dog. Nicky is their attentive, non-judgmental, loving audience.
But then, there are “special events”, like PAWS Rooms held in secondary schools and Sheridan College at exam time. In these rooms, Nicky and other therapy dogs provide a playful, stress-busting break to the students. And there are other special events – like the “unofficial” visits Linda, Ken and Nicky paid to their family friend, a man approaching the end of his cancer journey…
One Special Visit
The church the Greasons attend has a prayer shawl ministry. They had given their friend a prayer shawl when he was diagnosed with cancer three years earlier. Now they were returning to the hospice to provide him with a new shawl.
Linda, Ken and Nicky walked through the door and immediately the wife of the man in bed, scooped up the off-duty therapy dog and held him tightly as they settled onto the couch. Over the next hour and a half, as the woman petted the small dog from head to toe, spoke to the Greasons and cried, things changed. Nicky realized he was very much “on duty”. Throughout this time, he looked at the grieving woman, making deep eye contact with her. Penetrating eye contact. Eventually, the woman murmured how helpful, how relaxing, it was to have Nicky there by her side, making himself available to comfort her in those difficult moments.
It was dark. Late. Linda and Ken prepared to leave. At that point, Nicky sat straight up and stared at the man in bed. Nicky sniffed the air for several minutes. The Greasons had never observed these behaviours in the their therapist before.
The following morning, Linda received a call from the woman. Her husband had died in the night.
The Great Unknown
Much has been written speculating about whether dogs and cats have the ability to predict impending death:
- Prominent psychologist, Dr. Stanley Coren wrote of reports concerning the possibility that dogs have a “sixth sense” and some howl when a person is about to die
- There is speculation that dogs read body language and detect odours to deduce that death is near, and
- Many accounts have been written about Oscar the Cat’s uncanny ability to predict death, signalled by his behaviour of lying on the beds of patients who are about to die.
Owners of dogs and cats, especially therapy dogs and cats, understand the abilities of animals to know when a human is about to leave This Life. Our ability to articulate how they know is another matter...
Ganaraskans began their development as breed about 40 years ago when a man engaged in pet therapy was inspired to create a new dog from breeds known for their ideal suitability as pet therapists; namely the English Cocker Spaniel, Bichon Frisé, Poodle, and Miniature Schnauzer. Although not yet recognized as an official breed in Canada, the consensus is that formal acceptance is just a few years away. The Canadian Ganaraskan Breeders’ Association does not have a website, so for more information on Gannys, visit: https://www.petpremium.com/dog-breeds/ganaraskan/.
 Associated Press. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3186088/Pets-pick-cues-comfort-dying-grieving.html.
 David M. Dosa, M.D., M.P.H. “A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat” (July 26, 2007) 357(4):New England Journal of Medicine, at 328-329.