I follow Wild Currents, a very moving blog and today was inspired by her post.
This entry moved me to write about my purebred German Shepherd, Joy, named to counteract her malfunctioning tear ducts, which were cosmetically disturbing enough that her breeder considered doing away with her.
I’m afraid I don’t care who that offends.
I had always wanted a big ole German Shepherd. My best friend throughout my teens lost his vision and had the most wonderful guide dog, called Rue St James. I adored that dog.
And when I discovered my neighbor up the street was a well known breeder, with champion Shepherds, I made it known that I wanted one. Unfortunately her dogs went for thousands of dollars which put me out of the running….until my accountant asked me if I needed a Guard Dog for my therapy practice. Hmmm. I started saving money even though I never had any intention of teaching any nasty habits to a pet of mine.
One day I got a call saying if I wanted a dog for free, I could have a damaged one if I came for her right now. This precious puppy had been kept in a separate cage for the first four months of her life, no other dog or human contact, waiting to see if she would outgrow her birth defect to the degree her owner could at least breed her. I jumped at the chance.
I fell immediately in deep love. Joy grew up to be such a beauty the breeder wanted to buy her back. By then she was all mine, though that did not exactly come easily. She spent her first few weeks with me hiding under my bed.
Eventually I was able to take her to work with me. I’m a psychotherapist in private practice. Right around this same time I had started accepting clients referred by the courts and some of them were actually pretty scary. Several people suggested…strongly…that I have Joy “protection trained”, but I just wouldn’t do that. She was already pretty skittish and not reliably nice to strangers.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to train her. I hoped that her mere presence would imply protection for me. And in a bass-ackwards way, it did.
I was blessed to have Joy for 16 years, completely healthy for 15 of them, highly unusual for such a large dog of her breed. And you know what, she never so much as curled a lip at a client of mine. Not even when one of them showed up at my home at 2 AM, in a rage of negative transference, and carrying a baseball bat! Joy spotted this client out on my deck and started barking her “I’m so glad to see you” bark, tail wagging furiously. When I let her out, she simply ran to the client (her buddy from numerous therapy sessions) and attacked her with 110 pounds of slobbery kisses.
Joy protected me alright, by winning over the most hardened of hearts, and making instant friends with the innocent “child” part of them all.
Joy died in 2001, during the same trauma-filled stretch as several of my family members passing, both my other pets dying, AND then, 9/11 happened. I was devastated by all the jumbled loss in my life, and though I have grieved much of that loss, I still have not had the courage to adopt another dog….yet.
Joy, and her cat Bandit
I call her a Grandmother of the Service Dog, because she was here before we really knew the power and healing a therapy animal can have…..