I believe in the healing power of the human-animal bond.
Every workday my job is to visit the dying and their families. I am a hospice social worker. I have a four footed partner who does more comforting with her soft ears and warm body than any words I could speak.
The love of a dog is pure and without judgment. As hospice workers we are expected to be accepting of the end of life. It is our mission to make that end as physically, emotionally and spiritually comfortable as possible. But we are human, and as humans there will always be a part of us that takes a step back from death. A step back from looking death directly in the face and knowing that someday we may be in that bed, that frightened, that sick.
Dogs have no such issues. Scout gives fearless unconditional love to every patient she visits. She is not, in the secret parts of herself as I am, using energy to defend against her own inevitable end. In that sense she is fully present. She is not concerned with open wounds, bodies consumed by cancer or the emptiness of end stage Alzheimer’s. In the presence of all suffering she is the affirmation of total acceptance and love. She happily climbs into hospital beds and lays among the oxygen tubing and morphine pumps to do her work. The work of providing a brief respite from the sadness, anger and pain that humans often feel as their bodies decline.
I once had a fairly young patient who, in response to me cheerfully introducing myself as the hospice social worker, looked me full in the face and slowly raised his middle finger. I was quite speechless, yet I often find there is a power higher than ourselves that can come to our rescue when we need it. Out of my mouth came “Do you…uh… like dogs?” The patient-I’ll call him Bob- paused and withdrawing the finger told me never to come into the room without the dog. So thus began a 3 month love affair between Bob and Scout (I was just the one on the other end of the leash). Despite my best social work efforts Bob would never talk about the fact that he was dying. One day he sat with Scout and, bringing her face close to his, said “I’m sorry buddy, but I am not going to be here much longer”. He then went on to tell Scout his regrets and his sadness about leaving. Two of Bob’s family were present and as Scout patiently listened we all sat in stunned, tearful silence. Bob was finally beginning to say good-bye. That, to me, is the healing power of the human-animal bond.