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Fluent in dog?
FFI: Regions Hospital is looking for additional Pet Therapy Teams. Contact Bonnie Watson, volunteer coordinator, 651-254-9249, or Bonnie.L.Watson@HealthPartners.com. Volunteer teams must be certified by Pet Partners, www.petpartners.org, or Therapy Dogs International (TDI), www.tdi-dog.org.

by Ann L. Thompson


It made so much sense! The photo showed Mom holding 3-day-old me with Beauty, my first German shepherd, joyously checking out the newest pack member. Seeing that photo I realized that I likely learned to talk dog-a language of energy and posture-long before I ever learned the seemingly constrained English.

Dogs and their stories are endemic to my family. Most notable was World War II war dog Duke, a bodacious Doberman pinscher. While in obedience, Dad trained Duke to ignore a female in heat. Later Granny suggested Dad, designated 4-F, send the highly trained Duke to fight in Dad's stead. Ultimately, Duke carried messages to foxholes at the front lines. Reportedly, the enemy even used females in heat to distract Duke. It didn't work.

Honey, my sixth dog, was a Shetland sheepdog, or sheltie. She was smart and gentle, and we quickly achieved her CD title (which stands for Companion Dog-the first level of obedience titles granted by the American Kennel Club). At that time I was a hospice volunteer. Seeing a request for pet therapy dogs, I knew that Honey would be great.

We started volunteering at Regions Hospital, providing welcomed distractions and warmth to anxious, stressed people.

One time en route to a hospice patient, Honey and I walked through a crowd of residents in the lobby of a care center. A double leg amputee severely hunched over in his chair turned his head sideways, looking longingly at the beautiful, long-haired miniature Lassie. Honey analyzed his situation and purposely walked over, not to the side of the chair as was her pattern, but to the front of the chair. With a broad smile, the man easily dropped his arms in front of his chair to luxuriate in her soft coat. It was an amazingly tender moment.

I lost Honey in April. I've taken a break from the hospice work. It just seems more difficult without her. She helped me work through some very difficult personal times. She shared my joys and tears. I still miss her. But, as they say, life goes on.

Leo is a too-cute, mischievous male (OMG!) sheltie. Basic obedience starts soon and likely he, too, will do pet therapy.

As I contemplate my life with dogs, I think the next time someone asks me if I'm bilingual, I'll say yes. I speak English but my first language is dog.

Ann L. Thompson owns and operates St. Paul-based Sage Communication. In addition to dog training, she is a musician. Take a listen at www.AnnLThompson.com.

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