Here we are. Waiting to duck into the spinning door that takes us inside. This is the place where they care for sick humans. Most of them get better and leave. Some don’t.
You might wonder how a dog would know that. I don’t need to see death to know it is there. I can smell it. I can smell, see, and hear a myriad of things your human senses could never detect.
And today I smell death. And sadness. And exhaustion. Unimaginable stress. Their bodies are wracked with it. A cocktail of cortisol, oxytocin, and adrenalin emanates from them. They work tirelessly against an insidious and invisible adversary: the virus. I can smell it too.
The awful virus is overwhelming and those who work here are caught in a sense of helplessness. They have dedicated their lives to healing. No one prepared them for this. No one could.
I am just a dog. The first year of my life I was a stake dog, held captive by a steel cable. My world extended only 16 feet in any direction. Fleas and ticks slowly drained the very life blood from me. Flies feasted on my ears until the cartilage lay open.
But I broke free. And I ran. For days, maybe weeks. I did not trust humans, but I was inexplicably intrigued by them. And so it was that I came into one of their traps and was taken to a holding place. While in this place, I was cleaned up, and put in an enclosure for people to see me. One man, named Tim, stopped and I held his gaze. The next day I slept in his bed and we were forever joined.
I learned to pay attention and go along with his wishes: sit, down, come, stay, leave it, wait, and walking politely on a leash. Then there were these things called tricks: shake, roll, high five, crawl, just to name a few. Later I learned to climb, weave, tunnel, and jump faster than a lot of other dogs.
I was always good at meeting humans. Tim didn’t have to teach me that. Strangers were only people I had not met yet. My submissive approach and presentation of my belly endeared me to them all. I quickly discovered that I am an empath of sorts—a temporary reservoir for feelings that besieged them. Most felt better when they walked back to their lives, leaving just a little of themselves with me.
Which brings me to now. My partner Tim and I are not visiting sick people anytime soon, because of the virus. Today, though, I freely give of myself to those who heal but are in need of healing themselves—those who reach out but cannot touch. But they can touch me. And for a moment, I can heal them.
There are so many in this place. So much anguish. So much grief. I am a conduit for it all. Tim knows when it gets to be too much and takes me home. Dinner, a chew, a soft bed, and his gentle touch that soothes my weary soul. Later we will hike and I will breathe in all the wonders of this world. It’s intoxicating, but in a good way. Tomorrow, we hit the agility course. It’s my release.
But I am never far away from the job I was intended to do. And I relish in the notion that I matter: That my life has purpose. And that you smile for having met me.
–Submitted by handler Tim McHenry
Tim and Cheyenne, a Pet Partners AACR team, were inspired to begin visits in support of healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 at their local hospital by the Volunteer Spotlight (page 10) in the Fall 2020 issue of our magazine, Interactions.