The Powerful Love of a Therapy Dog

  Jan 23, 2015   Fred


She was found in the morning when city pound employees came to start their day. She had been tied to the post out in the cold overnight; her eyes swelled shut from infection. When a dog rescue was notified that a beautiful Golden Retriever was on death row, they immediately came to pick her up.

Luckily, I had called the rescue, looking to adopt a dog into my family. When we went to the rescue to see Sunshine, as she was named, she ran to my husband and sat down beside him. He looked up at me and smiled. “I guess she’s coming home with us!”

A few years after we adopted her, Sunshine and I began to volunteer at a long-term care home as a therapy dog team. This is where I witnessed the miracle of a dogs’ love and what a difference it could make in so many lives.

Walking with Sunshine through the halls of the home was like being in the presence of a movie star. She was adored by the residents and in turn, she adored them. Once, when we were leaving, a caregiver came up to me with a lady in a wheelchair and asked if we could visit. The lady saw Sunshine and her eyes lit up. With her hands shaking, she cupped Sunshine’s head and began to whisper to her. The caregiver was stunned. “Amazing”, she said. “Ethel hasn’t spoken to anyone in years”. Yet, you could distinctly hear her telling Sunshine how lovely she was.

We had many beautiful miracles like that happen all the time. One instance was a new arrival at the home, a gentleman who was once a farmer. When he saw Sunny, tears started to roll down his cheeks. “You don’t know what this means to me” he said. “I never thought I would ever see a dog again.” He then began to speak of dogs he had in the past, dogs that he had as a boy. During this difficult adjustment to his new home, thinking of the past seemed to give him comfort and put a smile on his face. As we were leaving, his wife mouthed a tearful “thank you”.

Now, it wasn’t all Sunshine doing the giving. The residents would save sandwiches or cookies from their plates. One resident in particular tried to give me a quarter to “help pay for Sunshine’s food”. It touched me deeply. Perhaps these folks didn’t have a lot, but they wanted to give what they could, they were so appreciative that we visited.

We were also assigned the Alzheimer- Dementia floor in the long-term care facility. Sunshine’s allure was as strong as ever. Some agitated residents were calmed when they saw her. Others would hum to her and pat her. She was a big, calming presence and she was able to connect with people that had difficulty connecting with others.

We volunteered for six years, until Sunshine started to have difficulties with arthritis due to old age. I often think of the power of her love for humankind. She had been neglected and abandoned in her past yet, continued to give unconditional love and affection to everyone she met. Sunshine’s lesson of forgiveness and her willingness to connect had a lasting impact on so many lives, especially mine.