Book Excerpt from Chapter 10 of Can You See Me?
…There were also some bright spots in my experience living at the Homeless Emergency Project, and these would help remind me that there was still hope.
Wes was a HEP client, but he had lived there and helped out so much that he had a place by himself on HEP’s property. He was a veteran, a recovering alcoholic and was in remission from cancer when I knew him. He was probably in his mid-fifties at the time, and the president at HEP let him get a dog, which was unheard of there.
Her name was Sammy and she was a yellow lab mix. She was a bit smaller than a full Labrador, but looked and acted very much like a lab. I was so excited to meet her and she was equally as excited to meet me. It was as if she knew I was in need of some lab kisses because she always gave me some.
Sammy and Wes walked at least twice a day and after Wes heard about me and my situation, he came to meet me with his Sammy. It turned out that Wes and I enjoyed talking as well, but I loved to just watch the two of them together. He would throw a ball and she would so happily run after it and bring it to him. He loved her so much and Sammy adored him too.
Their relationship was similar to my relationship with my dogs. My dogs were the un-retrievers and never really got the hang of retrieving balls or toys, so it was fun for me to watch a dog do that. It was fun for me to see a dog period. There were no dogs allowed there, except for Sammy, so it was a treat for everyone. I was allowed to hog the time with Sammy when she was around because everyone knew I was lost without my boys.
Wes would walk her over to the apartments in the mornings and in the evenings. The timing was usually perfect as we would have just fed, or hadn’t yet fed, the mass of mallards and Muscovy’s.
He would let her off leash in the field that was just to the south of the apartments and as they got closer to us, he would just let her run to us without waiting on him. She would sometimes run right into the water of the estuary if it was low tide, but she knew she wasn’t supposed to and really listened when Wes would call her back.
She would jump up on me, put her front paws on my lap, and kiss my face when she saw me — unless she was distracted at first. Sammy always eventually gave me what I consider a proper doggie hello. Wes took me a couple of times in my manual wheelchair with he and Sammy to the dog park.
I was a little bit sad that my dogs weren’t with us too, but it was so therapeutic to watch dogs play together and run unabashedly in the park that I couldn’t focus much on the sadness. I would just sit there and smile. Of course, I couldn’t wheel myself from wherever Wes parked me, but I didn’t care because I was surrounded by pure joy.
Dogs playing, to me, illustrate being in the moment better than just about anything else. It illustrates love, cooperation and pure happiness. I needed some doses of that during my time at HEP for sure. After a while, I couldn’t transfer from the manual chair to get into and out of a car anymore, so I couldn’t go to the dog park. I still had my daily visits from Wes and Sammy just the same, and I looked forward to them more than anyone could have known at the time.
I knew I felt better just being able to pet and give love to some being that was giving me only love back. I understand why the research shows that there is so much benefit from pet therapy—lower blood pressure, better immune functioning, reduced anxiety, and improved mood just to name a few.
I didn’t even feel as much pain when Sammy was around or when I was visiting the boys during this time. These times were opportunities for me to be in the moment without so much focus on the reality of my situation…