My mother tells me that when I was three years old, she was pregnant, and one of her friends asked me if I wanted a brother or a sister. According to Mom, I said I wanted a dog.
My husband feels the same way about dogs. When people know we adopt abandoned and neglected dogs, they often say how lucky the dogs are, but we know it is we who are lucky. The dogs’ unselfconscious love is a balm in our lives.
Years ago, one of our mastiff dogs was killed by a coral snake bite that occurred in our back yard. Guy Noir died in the vet’s office. Greg and I were devastated and Gidget, Guy’s littermate, stopped eating.
We called Mastiff Rescue. They said they had an abused dog who had just come in. We chanced a meeting. I waited in the car with Gidget, and Greg knelt with one leg on the ground and his arms relaxed at his side. They brought a cowed and skinny mastiff toward Greg as Gidget and I looked on. The sad beast walked right to Greg and put his head next to Greg’s heart. He stayed there, at least figuratively, for the rest of his life.
We named him Big Mo in hope for the future. He was 50 pounds underweight. He flinched when men came near him. He was pathetically grateful for any kind attention. Over the next year we fed him, brushed him, socialized him and lavished love on him. In turn he filled out to 180 pounds of beautiful, loving dog.
English Mastiffs are called Gentle Giants, and Mo was a poster boy for the breed. We trained Mo and he was certified as a therapy dog. We went to schools, worked with autistic kids, and went to nursing homes. The old people would touch him and tell of the dogs they had loved. As the residents talked, their faces animated and their voices took on emotion.
Mo’s favorite activity was going to the library where children read aloud to him. It improved their self image and their reading scores, but it did more. At Christmas Mo got a greeting card from the mother of one of the little readers. The card said that the child’s parents had gotten a divorce last spring, and the boy had not been doing well in school. That’s why the mom had asked that the child be in the doggy reading program. She said his grades were now improving. Then, she ended her card by saying her boy carried a wallet, empty except for a picture of Mo.
We helped Mo heal from his abusive history. By the time of his death years later, he was still shy around men, but he did not live in fear. In turn, Mo helped the folks at the nursing home recall happy memories. He helped a youngster heal from his parents’ divorce, and he helped us heal from the horrific death of Guy Noir.
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