Tag Archives: therapy dog

  • My Inner Fire

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic

    My Inner Fire I recently attended a yoga retreat. We were asked to visualize our inner fire, like as a flame or the sun. In my mind’s eye I saw this blazing orange cattle dog, this intrepid, very yang dog: Bandit. Yang means fast, solid, focused, hot, and is associated with fire, the sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. Over the past ten years Bandit has taught me so much about life, and now he is showing me how to live (really live!) with cancer. He is my inner fire.

    Bandit, an Australian Cattle Dog, first appeared in my life just moments after my very old red and white cattle dog mix Rusty had passed away at the vet clinic. A very engaging puppy, Bandit had Rusty’s red ears and mask. I was sure that Rusty had somehow sent this solid little charmer, the only red cattle dog puppy for miles around, as a gift to help me cope with my grief.

    Two weeks later Bandit joined our family. Soon I learned that if I was going to be the pack leader, I’d better stay ahead of him. He is so smart, and good at everything, that he kept me busy as we learned many things together. When he was an adolescent, I quickly learned that I had better lead or get out of the way, thus he made me a better leader. We played ball and went for long walks every day, and completed several levels of obedience school. He passed the Canine Good Citizen test. We learned to herd livestock, including sheep, goats, and eventually cattle. We competed in agility and learned tricks in an acting class, which led to a commercial gig. Together we earned titles in obedience, Rally, agility, sheep herding, cattle herding, and versatility, and just last year trained toward a tracking title. Over the years, we earned several second place ribbons, but the only blue ribbon we ever brought home was for herding cattle. Bandit moved the cattle around the course without much help from me, except for penning them at the end. He was one proud dog that day, beaming with pride, doing what he was bred and born to do, and doing it well enough to place ahead of our instructor and her dog.

    Several times we had the opportunity to work with an entire herd of cows at a local farm. Watching this 55 pound dog move the herd across a field absolutely changed my view of life and what is possible. That can-do attitude and bullet-proof confidence goes a long way, especially when matched by ability. Once Bandit committed to moving the cattle, even a moment of hesitation could have been dangerous. He had the courage and confidence to run out in front of a cow about 30 times his weight who was breaking away from the herd. She rolled him with her nose, and he bounded right back up and bit her on the nose, turning her back to the herd. I’d been holding my breath, and as I inhaled again, relieved to see him get back up, I admired his chutzpah.

    Last spring and summer, Bandit and I spent many hours training for a tracking test. In August, when Chase was in cancer treatment, Bandit completed the Pet Partners therapy dog test with the highest marks. I thought he’d be able to substitute for Chase at our monthly library visits if Chase wasn’t feeling well. Then one September morning, the month before we had planned to take the tracking test, Bandit wasn’t able to start a track. Something was terribly wrong. We went straight to the vet and eventually he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a systemic cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Now Bandit is living with cancer and is expected to be on daily chemo meds for the rest of his life. The average prognosis after diagnosis is 18 months. Bandit has never been average.

     

    As we’ve gotten older, life isn’t so much about participating in activities, but just being together, out for a game of ball or a run in the fields and woods, or just hanging out together, sharing our undivided attention. Bandit continues to teach me, as he has all along. Although his body has changed as he’s lost muscle mass from the medications that manage his disease, he greets each day with enthusiasm and joy. He engages me in a game of jolly ball every chance he gets. He doesn’t like it when I get sad or upset. If I cry, he consoles me by licking my face, but if I continue to be sad, he eventually gets up and walks away. He doesn’t want to feel the sadness; he wants me to be happy.

    The roller coaster ride and financial stress of Chase’s cancer treatment followed by Bandit’s cancer diagnosis has had me focused on keeping both dogs well, and worried about my finances. We’ve been to several vet clinics many, many times over the past seven months. Along with just keeping up with daily life, I got caught up in keeping the dogs healthy, helping them deal with cancer, and doing my best for them. But then that started to get in the way. At times we had to focus on treatment, but eventually we had to get back to living. I noticed that the dogs were running and playing and enjoying every day, and I needed to get back to enjoying life along with them.

    So, again I’m trying to find a balance, to focus on being well and living in the moment, enjoying what we can do today, and not focusing so much on the illness or worrying about the future. After all, not a one of us will get out of this alive. For now, both dogs are doing well. The irony is that as well as Bandit is doing, I may not be able to afford to keep him going for as long as he wants to. The costs of the monthly medications and tests are not sustainable long-term. I want to live without regrets, and one regret would be to have to let him go before he’s ready. So as long as Bandit looks and feels well, we’re not going to the vet as often, but we’re continuing the medications, trying to focus on life.

    The dogs make me think of a conversation between Pooh and Piglet:

    “What day is it?” asked Pooh

    . “It’s today.” squeaked Piglet.

    “My favorite day.” said Pooh.

    Ironically, as we have learned to live with cancer and enjoy the time we have left, Bandit’s only littermate, his brother Baron, enjoyed his last game of ball before he passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly on January 16th. Our hearts go out to Baron’s mama Bitsey as she mourns his loss. Sometimes we get a long time to say goodbye and sometimes we don’t, which encourages us even more to seize this day.

    Remembering Baron:

     

    How do I want to spend the rest of my dog’s life with him? Playing and living in the moment, right here, right now. Because this present moment is all we really have. So today is our favorite day. Every day. Soon it will be Valentine’s Day, one day of the year when we’re all focused on love. At our house, we focus on love every day. You can too.

    Recently, when the outside temperature was well below zero, I improvised, resurrecting some of our old training and tricks and nose work to keep the dogs busy in the house. Bandit was so excited to be doing his old tricks and retrieves and nose work again. He had not forgotten a thing. That’s my boy, my inner fire! Who knows, we may even get out tracking again this spring.

    Lao Tzu said, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Our dogs teach us this too. Happy Today! Happy Valentine’s Day! Share the love.

    Good nutrition, including Omega Fields Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets, has helped keep my dogs healthy while living with cancer. Follow our journey at https://www.facebook.com/jenny.pavlovic

    Next time, read about Chase and the 1st anniversary celebration of the Dog Gone Reading program at our local library.

  • Remembering Frankie as We Keep on Rolling

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic

    … Learn about Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day, bringing positive awareness for all dogs in wheelchairs, and the Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog Memorial Wheelchair Fund …
    Frankie (short for Francesca), a Dachshund, injured her back and was diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). Her back legs were paralyzed and her people, Barbara Techel and her husband John of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, first thought they would have to put Frankie down. But Frankie’s amazing spirit and will to ‘keep on rolling’ led Barbara to learn about wheelchairs for dogs. Frankie was fitted with her own chair and Barbara learned how to take care of her in her new condition. Barbara learned a lot from Frankie as she discovered that Frankie could still have a wonderful quality of life and had much to teach us.
    I learned of Barbara and Frankie a few years ago when their first book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog (http://joyfulpaws.com/books/), won the Dog Writers Association of America Merial Human-Animal Bond award. I became pen pal friends with Barbara and watched as Frankie became a therapy dog and Barbara and Frankie reached out to the elderly and to school children. They spread Frankie’s positive messages far and wide, as this differently-abled little dog shared her tremendous spirit and kept on rolling.
    Frankie dramatically changed Barbara’s life, gave Barbara a voice and a message that had to be shared, and turned Barbara into an author. In many ways, Barbara’s story with Frankie paralleled my story with 8 State Hurricane Kate. Barbara and I went on the Passions and Possibilities radio show together (listen to our podcast at http://tinyurl.com/passions-and-possibilities) and both contributed our stories to the book Dogs and the Women Who Love Them: Extraordinary True Stories of Loyalty, Healing and Inspiration by Allen and Linda Anderson (http://www.dogsandthewomenwholovethem.com/).
    Frankie not only changed Barbara’s life, she also changed the lives of many others. Fortunately, Barbara was receptive to Frankie’s messages and was talented and determined enough to share them with the world. When she didn’t know how to take the next step, she took it anyway and learned as she went. Barbara and Frankie grew together.
    In June I received a message announcing that Frankie was retiring from public appearances. She was almost 13 years old and tired much more easily from visiting. I knew that Frankie’s retirement was a good decision. What I didn’t know is that Frankie would not be with us much longer. The following week she was diagnosed with chronic heart failure, and she passed on. I’m grateful to Barbara for knowing when Frankie’s little body was too painful for her to keep going, and for letting her go in peace.
    In honor of all dogs who have changed our lives for the better, and in gratitude for all that she gave us, I’m remembering Frankie as she would have turned 13 years old on August 20th. I think the best way to remember and honor her is to share with you the message Barbara wrote at her passing. Here it is:
    Saying Goodbye to Our Sweet Once In a Lifetime Dog, Frankie 

    One week after Frankie’s retirement and our last presentation together, my sweet Frankie was laid to rest today.

    As you know, she was diagnosed with Chronic Heart Failure last Friday. While we had hoped she would live comfortably with the medication to manage the symptoms, she was greatly struggling since Sunday. We tried with another medication, and though she had some comfort for one day, she began struggling again. For a heart that gave so much to so many, it was time for her little heart to rest. It was painful to see her struggle for every breath. As Tuesday went by I could see signs that Frankie was ready to move on. Just as she had been to the very end, I sensed her biggest worry was that I would be okay—once I found the courage to let her know I would be okay, we came to a peace and understanding that she will now guide me from the other side.
    My life feels incredibly empty right now. My every day was all about her from expressing her bladder many times a day, to napping with her, riding my bike with her, walking her in her doggie stroller, to all the work we did together at schools and libraries and our therapy dog work together. I’m not quite sure how I will move through the next few days, but I have faith I will. I already feel Frankie guiding me from the other side as she gave me the strength to come to my computer and do what I do best—write about what I love most—my life with her.
    I’ve said it before and I will say it again—there is simply no doubt in my heart that God chose me to be Frankie’s mama—and John, her papa. As I think about our journey, especially the past five years, I see me as a woman who finally stepped into the truth of who she is and found the courage to share that with those around her. Frankie gave me that. When Frankie first started using her wheelchair, I was so afraid of being judged (as I had struggled with that most of my life)that people would think I was mean or cruel for putting Frankie in a wheelchair. I will always remember the day it struck me as I looked at Frankie, happy as could be, living life to the fullest in her wheelchair- It was as if she said, “Hey Mama, you can stand tall, too. Don’t worry, it’s okay.” What a gift that little girl gave me.
    So now I take those lessons of such grace, love and integrity that were wrapped up all in the heart of one little 13 lb. dog with wheels, and I learn to move forward. Our last work together while she was here on earth was the writing of my new book, Through Frankie’s Eyes: One Woman’s Journey to Her Authentic Self and the Dog on Wheels Who Led the Way. She sat lovingly beside me in her little bed, now and then looking up at me, and cheering me on with her soft black eyes when I felt stuck. I’m uncertain as to when I will publish it—may stick with my original Feb. 2012 date— but will also remain open to being guided.
    My life will never be the same with Frankie gone… but my life will also never be the same for her having been in it. She gave me, as well as left me, with some amazing gifts… not only me, but her papa and her family and friends and her thousands of fans.
    As a legacy to Frankie I am working on a special day that will be in memory of her and to help continue to bring positive awareness to all dogs in wheelchairs. It will be called, Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed a dog in a wheelchair could live a quality life. Through this special day, I am setting up a fund to help raise money for families whose pets need a wheelchair, but the family can’t afford one (learn more at http://joyfulpaws.com/2012/06/frankie-the-walk-n-roll-dog-memorial-wheelchair-fund/).
    John and I were so very fortunate to spend the last day and a half with Frankie telling her how much she means to us and how thankful we are for having her in our lives. Though difficult at times, it was such a gift to take our time in saying goodbye.
    We were also very blessed that Frankie’s vet, Dr. Bohn, agreed to come to our home so Frankie could be put to rest in the place she so loved, which was my writing cottage. I held her in my arms, telling her over and over how much I loved her and thanking her for all she did for me… and so many people around the world.
    After Frankie left with Dr. Bohn I sat in my writing cottage staring out the window. A few moments later a swirl of warm wind moved through the trees, through the open window and circled my heart and I felt Frankie’s soul lift to the sky, though her spirit is still very strong with me… and I suspect it will be for some time to come. I smiled and said, “Thank you, sweet Frankie. Thank you.”
    Frankie will live on in our hearts always, and I know many others too, and that brings me and John joy, comfort and peace.
    Our animals shepherd us through certain areas of our lives. When we are ready to turn the corner and make it on our own… they let us go. ~Author unknownIn the loving spirit of Frankie and all the animals that teach us what matters in life-
    Barbara Techel

    Learn more about Frankie and Barbara’s books and find support and resources for dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and other differently abled animals at www.joyfulpaws.com.
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  • Chase: Why Dog is Love

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic
    In January, Chase and I started taking a therapy dog class. The point of the class is to familiarize the human-dog team with the exercises they need to pass to become a Delta Society® Pet Partners® team. Chase has been waiting for me to get my act together for years. He loves to meet new people, is very sensitive, and seems like a natural. I’ve thought for a long time that he would make a good therapy dog, visiting the elderly, or kids in the hospital, or anyone who would feel better by having a dog’s company for a little while, a dog to cuddle up with, stroke, and talk to. He’s a great snuggler and a great listener. He’s a sensitive guy—his favorite ball is pink!
    Chase has always been tuned in to people’s feelings. He knows when something is different. He intuitively picks up on any unrest among animals or people. He’s the dog who goes into the bathroom and puts his front feet up on the stool, waiting for a hug. I used to think he did it because he wanted attention. I slowly came to realize that he does it when I could really use a hug. He’s thinking about me and is much wiser than most people realize.
    My friend Sarah rescued Chase in a poor area of rural Virginia, from a man who was going to shoot him for chasing sheep. This young cattle dog-collie mix had a strong herding instinct and, knowing him, was just trying to keep the place organized. But the man, in a rage, stuffed him into a tiny chicken crate and was going to shoot him. When Sarah intervened and saved Chase, she held him on her lap for a long time before he stopped shaking. He knew what was going on.
    You may have read the story of how Chase and I came together (in the book 8 State Hurricane Kate). The short version is that I met Sarah while caring for rescued animals in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. We stayed in contact and I came upon Chase the following spring on Sarah’s rescue website (www.lostfantasystables.com). Seeing that he was a “red heeler mix”, wanting to support Sarah’s rescue efforts, and knowing that my red Australian cattle dog needed a new pal, I followed up. Sarah and I determined that Chase would likely be a good fit with my family. A series of very caring people transported Chase from Virginia to Wisconsin, where I picked him up and brought him home.
    That was in 2006. Chase settled in pretty well here, becoming fast friends with Bandit after a few tussles to settle the pack order. One morning, I was puzzled when Chase wouldn’t go into the garage with me to get bird seed. I later learned that the man used to throw him in the garage by himself for hours. Chase apparently didn’t want to go in the garage with me because he thought I was going to leave him there… alone… for hours.
    Chase also had a few episodes that seemed like traumatic flashbacks. One occurred when we were in an agility class, getting ready to start a course. I hadn’t unhooked the leash yet, but he began to run, thinking he was already loose. I didn’t see him take off in time and he hit the end of the leash very hard. His reaction was so dramatic, especially for such a gentle dog, that we decided he was reliving bad past experiences of being jerked hard or hung on a leash. He was very traumatized.
    In spite of his past, Chase is a very loving and friendly dog. He loves people and wants to connect with everyone. If we’re in a room full of people, like at a book signing, he is bothered if he doesn’t get to greet each person individually. Being locked in the garage all alone must have been a horrible punishment. He’s trying to make up for lost time on the love front.
    Chase has been waiting for years now for me to follow through on his potential. I think he will be a great therapy dog, but I’ve often wondered how I would fit another commitment into our schedule. He has an arthritic back now, probably from being thrown around when he was younger. I’m concerned about someone surprising him with a big hug and hurting him. But a year ago at a book event, I learned about READ Dogs (www.readdogsmn.org) and I think he would be a perfect READ dog. READ dogs sit and listen while a child (or anyone who is learning to read) reads them a story. Dogs are great company and aren’t judgmental. They enjoy any story. A kid builds confidence and gains a friend while reading out loud to a dog. Kids who don’t have pets at home get to make a connection with an animal. A dog like Chase gets to bond with a kid and fulfill his purpose to give love.
    Chase may have trouble passing some of the Delta tests due to his back problems, but we’re going to try anyway. We know that, just as a dog can learn to pass the required tests, kids can learn how to approach a dog kindly and gently. Chase already knows the important stuff. He knows how to forgive and how to give love. His heart is open.
    ~©~©~©~©~©~©~©~©~
    We’re going to share the “secret” behind Chase’s beautiful, soft coat. Once we let our classmates know about Omega Fields Omega Canine Shine® and Omega Nuggets™, they will all have the key to plush, soft and shiny coats that everyone loves to pet!

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