Some of the best healers I have known were cats and dogs. They have
sat on my lap, wanted to take walks together, reminded me gently (and
sometimes not so gently) that they have needs, too… a paw in the face
says “I’m really hungry,Mom” and constant barking can mean “I need
to play” or “I need to go to the bathroom now.”

Before my accident, Arthur (a silver Persian cat) was always on my lap.
Half the time you never saw him jump. He was simply there. After the
accident, he was a constant presence. When he got up, to eat or use the
litter box or simply look outside, he reminded me to move around,
listen to my body, and remember there was an outside world.

Jeff and I got Arthur and his litter brother Dax the spring of our senior
year of college. They died on the same day, Arthur of cancer and Dax
of kidney failure, when they were 15 years old.

Our vet said some people get another pet quickly and others take years
to be ready. Within six months we had Rufus and Jacob, two red
Persians, and Teddy, a bearded collie puppy and my first dog.

Teddy changed everything. As a young puppy, he was my first
experience mothering an infant. Kittens came with a little maturity.
Yet Teddy proved to have love, maturity, and power beyond that of
many animals.

You can read about Teddy and his gentle shepherding of Jeff, Joseph,
and me in several essays, including “What Dreams Become,” “Gentle
Knights, Gentle Night
,” and “Door Knobs, Lamps, and Love.”

Lily followed him as our next dog, and you can read about the Princess
in “Three Tails of the Lovely Lily” and “Four Tails of a Dog and their
” Lily was high energy where Teddy was mellow, but through her
I discovered another type of healing power: When Joseph was little and
I was sleep-deprived a lot of the time, my seizures returned as a smell
of garlic followed by a migraine-like headache.

I stayed at home much of the time in case one would come, but I had
no warning before the garlic smell. Somehow, Lily did. She
consistently would come running (this from the girl who never learned
what “Come” meant), lick me, and want me to sit down. She would
hover until the headache faded. If I napped afterward, she came along
and lay at the foot of the bed.

At this time we share home with two pets, Tucket and Angus, both
bearded collies like Ted and Lily. Tucket, who is the sweetest soul but
not the brightest (Angus can lay fair claim to that), has taken me
further than I could have imagined when he was a puppy, a time we
were told Teddy was dying and Joseph would need another therapeutic,
huggable male dog.

I never imagined myself showing a dog, but I showed Tucket after
hearing so many comments about his quality. If nothing else, I wanted
to do it for his breeder, who had sent him as a pet after I said I
couldn’t possibly show a dog and mother Joseph. Joseph, in his
uniquely Joseph way, learned to feel part of dog shows, even though
the busy environments caused meltdowns fairly frequently when he
was little.

As I write this, Tucket will turn 11 years old next week, and he is still
taking me new places. After watching him calm and delight kids and
people of all ages with handicaps for years, I decided to do therapy
work after Joseph went to a residential school and I could dependably
sleep through the night during the week.

We went through evaluations, got accredited, and started work in one
of the most intense medical environments, a large academic hospital in
Boston. Tucket never notices ambulances, sirens, alarms going off in
rooms. He sees people, he loves them gently, and they love him. I am
getting accustomed to people saying “Hi, Tucket” as we walk through

He is on cell phones and computers being hugged by children and lying
on beds with patients of all ages. He calmly accepts being petted by
staff and visitors at nursing stations, elevators, and occasionally, the
bathroom or cafeteria.

I am humbled often during visits. One day we were entering a room to
visit (we get names on a list when we arrive) when the roommate’s
wife and mother asked if we could visit someone who was unresponsive
but loved dogs. I propped Tucket’s front legs on the bed and was
amazed, along with the family, when the patient’s eyes opened and
focused briefly on Tucket, and he said “dog.” He reached toward Tuck
and Tucket leaned forward so the man’s hand could touch him.

At the end of our day, circumstance or fate had us run into that family
as we headed for the garage. We ended up on the same elevator heading
to the same floor. I was getting uncomfortable, knowing the intensity
of their family situation, when the wife suddenly looked at me and
asked “Why do you do this?”

Without thinking, I said “How often do you go to bed at night and not
know if your life made a difference that day? I’ll go to bed tonight
knowing I made a difference. I brought Tucket here.”

I look forward to our weekly visits. Tucket starts whining with
excitement when we get off the highway. He barks when we get to the
garage but is silent in the hospital. He heals and teaches, and people

At three, Angus is my baby. He flew from Europe at a young age and
had a long trip followed by a seven-hour drive home. He was fine,
curious and friendly, until he had two bad reactions to vaccines. Then,
he suddenly became anxious outside the house, fearful of sounds whose
source he could not identify. Indeed, some of his problems in high-
stimulation environments are similar to Joseph’s. I have learned with
Angus how to respond calmly so he calms, and I now handle Joseph’s
outbursts better because I can respond in the same way. I am a better
mother to both. Angus is the most loving soul I know. He licks
Joseph’s hand while he watches television. If Joseph swats him, he
backs away and then goes back. Despite the fact Joseph’s high energy
can make Angus anxious, he stays near Joseph whenever Joseph is
home, devoted to his boy. You can read about Angus in “My Dog, my Teacher.”
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