Lulu decided to join Red for sheepherding this morning. The donkeys are very interested in Red, they all seem to want to join in at one time or another.
Lulu, Red, Sheep
The Red Dog
Does anyone really know what a dog thinks and feels? I don't. Red projects great empathy and compassion, but I know those are not really dog traits, they are human projections of what we want to think dogs feel. It doesn't really matter, as Red is able to touch the hearts and spirits of people, and do great good. There is a sweetness about him, for sure, and the ability to connect with his eyes and body. It is a powerful thing, a beautiful thing.
Cardiac Rehab: Roger And Red
Roger has severe rheumatoid arthritis, he moves with the aid of two walkers. In order to touch Red, he has to sit down on the weight machine chair and lean forward. Red, as he often does, seems to understand what Roger is trying to do. He gets up off of the carpet where he lies quietly during most of rehab, and he steps forward, so that Roger can reach him. He does not move too close, nor does he get too far.
When Roger is in position – it took him a couple of minutes – Red moved forward, into his hand, where the two remained still for a few moments, and then Roger got off the weight machine and resumed his work in rehab. Red has transformed the tone and feeling of rehab, everyone greets him and visits him in between their workouts. He treats each one differently, moving differently, waiting patiently for people to come to him. I do not grasp how he does this, or even why, I just marvel at his sensitivity.
I feel differently about rehab now, and I am not certain why either. Our connection to one another is growing, Red seemed to open something up. Today, the head of the hospital came in and was surprised to see Red there, he watched him for a few moments, was told he is a therapy dog. Keep him here, he said, all of the time.
Recovery Journal And Red. Dot’s Kiss.
Dot has severe heart disease, she walks slowly, sometimes painfully. She is quiet, she speaks little and does what she can on the machines. Until today, we had not spoken. I did not see her smile until she saw Red come into cardiac rehab last week, and when he first came in, there was the slightest smile. Today, when she came in, walking almost in a shuffle, she stopped to greet Red softly and to lean over and pat him on the head. He lifted his head to receive her. Then she went to work on the machines.
During the 90-minute rehab session, she would look at Red repeatedly, and smile her soft and quiet smile. She smiled at me, at others, we smiled back.
At the end of our session, I helped Dot put her jacket on, she could not get her right arm into the jacket. Red was sitting in his spot on the strip of carpet by the door, and Dot walked over to him. He caught her look and direction and sat up, perfectly still, and waited for her. It took her almost a minute to bend over so that she could pat him, and then, to my surprise, she leaned over and kissed him on his nose. I was lucky to be holding my camera. It was such a powerful moment, it took my breath away.
Words can fail, but the photograph does not fail or lie, and there, I saw the meaning of animals in our lives, why we need them, why they are so important.
Red lifted his nose to receive Dot's kiss, he has transformed the experience of cardiac rehab for others, for me. He speaks to the miracles of working animals and the affect they can have on human beings. I see it with dogs, I see it with the carriage horses of New York City.
I was not comfortable in cardiac rehab, I doubted the need for it, I did not at first see myself in the other patients. I did not smile or speak much to the other patients, nor they to me. I think we were shy, quiet about our surgeries and heart troubles. I went for a week or so fully expecting to stop. I bring Red with me wherever I go, when he is welcome I bring him inside, when he isn't he stays in the car. I told Patty the nursing supervisor that Red was in the car, and he was a therapy dog. I told her I thought some of the other people in the program might enjoy seeing him, I had seen the power of this dog in our other therapy work, with veterans and dementia patients in nursing homes.
I was not conscious of wanting him there for me, but of course I did.
The nurse said I ought to bring him in, just briefly, and only once, she wasn't sure the other patients would want a dog. Red was anxious the first time, he was not sure what to do, where to sit. He watches me, moving from machine to machine as I move, sitting quietly, waiting patiently. By his second visit, Red's discomfort was gone.
He greeted Dot and Irene and Roger and Carol. Everyone said hello to him when they came in, stopped to pet him between exercises, smiled at him, at one another. There was laughter in the room, we all began talking to one another, everyone suddenly seemed comfortable, the mood in the room lightened, lifted. I live with Red, I sometimes fail to see his gifts and his power.
The atmosphere in the room had changed, Red's presence lightened us, opened us up, connected us to one another in ways that had not happened before. His presence changed me as well, I saw myself in my fellow patients, I worked hard on the machines, did more than I had done, more than I had expected to do.
Roger has severe rheumatoid arthritis, he is the only member of his biological family who can still walk upright, but it is so difficult for him to move around. He loves Red, beams when he sees him.
Today, in cardiac rehab, I watched Roger grab an exercise bar with one arm, brace his leg against a stanchion and began to lean over sideways. I was not sure what he was doing, and then I saw Red lying on the carpet in front of Roger. Roger was leaning over to pet him, he had to brace himself to keep from falling, it was a painful and laborious process. I watched and was concerned that Red might move, but Red stayed perfectly still, did not move, he seemed to know what Roger was doing. Red sat there for several minutes until Roger got into position to reach over with one hand and pet him on the head. "Thank you, Red," he said. I saw the effort this took and I wanted to cry, but instead, Red met my eyes, and I smiled and nodded, and mouthed the words "thank you, good boy." I have no doubt he understood every word.
Red At Work: The Great Partnership Between Working Animals and People
This morning, watching Red work, I thought of the importance of honoring the great and timeless partnership between working animals – dogs, horses, donkeys, mules, sheep, goats – and human beings. I honor them every day, they have helped us build our world, protected us, fed us, eased our burdens, clothed us, transported us, enchanted and entertained us, carried our heavy loads. Red offers himself in service to human beings every day, in his work on the farm, in his therapy work. I am grateful to the working animals of the world, I will work hard to keep them with us and honor what they do.