Dogs are four-legged companions, saviors

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“I’d started bringing Pearl to the physical therapy sessions because the therapists, dog lovers all, wanted to meet some of mine. Initially, I just brought (her) in on a leash, planning to take her back to the car after a few minutes’ cooing. But Pearl created a different role for herself. Pearl, who behaved as if she’d seen the place a million times before, began working the room, visiting a sixteen-year-old with a torn ligament who was struggling on a cycle, then a man injured in a biking accident and an older woman recovering from a broken hip. In the few cases where a patient was in too much pain or just not interested in having a dog around, Pearl simply moved on. She seemed to know instinctively where she was wanted and needed, and where she wasn’t.”

Dog Days by Jon Katz

I am convinced the dog world is blessed with its own share of heroes. I’ve been lucky enough to know some of them quite well.

One story that comes to mind goes back to the 4th of July flood in 1969. My dad was asked to check a barn at a neighboring farm where friends had boarded a horse. The barn sits close enough to the Jerome Fork that major flooding was a serious situation.

Flooding on all sides of Jeromesville had stranded the townspeople, and there was no way the horse owners could get to the barn they rented to check their horse.

When my dad arrived, he found the lower part of the barn filled with water, and the rush of the flood water had ripped boards away from the barn. The flood water had pushed bales of hay, straw and tack out of the barn, and there was no sign of a surviving horse.

Dad felt the water level in that lower barn was far too high for anything to have survived inside of it. He headed back to his truck, parked quite a ways away on dry ground, hoping that the horse had somehow managed to escape to higher ground.

Dog sense

As always, my dad’s sidekick was with him. Bill was a no-nonsense farm dog, a sturdy English Shepherd who took his job as a farm dog very seriously. Dad said that as he got back in the truck on that gloomy morning, Bill started to jump out of the bed of the truck, something he never did once their job was done and it was time to leave.

Dad stopped the truck and Bill barked a couple of times, as though he was trying to tell him something. With his flashlight in hand, Dad decided to make one more walk down to that flooded barn, as Bill let out a low whine at his side.

Closer look

This time, my dad tried looking in to the barn at various angles, shining the light all over that lower barn. As his light scanned across the high water, he was startled by some small movement. He shined the light across that span of barn again and was certain he saw something move.

Holding the light higher, he was stunned to realize he was looking at a horse’s nose and mouth just above the flood water. Dad managed to get a door opened and he half walked, half swam in to that barn, holding the light on that snout so he could move in the right direction toward the horse.

He laid his hand on her neck, stretched as high as it could stretch, and led her safely out of that dreadful situation.

Bill let out some happy barks, his tail wagging, his brown eyes shining. Their job there was done.

On alert

Our farm dog, Channing, would love to serve in such a grand fashion. When we arrive back home to our farm from any amount of time away, she comes running from wherever she has likely been napping, and bolts like a lightning flash out to the pastures and the barn, showing us with every ounce of her being that she is on high alert, doing her duty as a farm dog.

My son mumbled the other day after she put on this spectacular show, “We need to get something for Channing to herd.” He is right. She wants desperately to show us what she can do.

Best therapy

Another great dog we know well also loves having a job to do. Chloe was rescued from a county kennel by my friends, Cindy and Phil. Chloe may not have a canine pedigree, but don’t tell her that.

As if being a good farm dog were not enough, Chloe completed therapy dog training seven years ago and takes her job as nursing home therapy dog very seriously. When the therapy dog bandana is placed around her neck, Chloe holds her head a little higher and gets ready to do her duty.

On some of her earliest visits to our county home, Chloe befriended the oldest resident, Gracie Brubaker. Chloe would draw close to Gracie, whose eyesight was failing, and enjoy the treats that Gracie pilfered from her own meals.

“Gracie would save bits of bacon, hush puppies, cookies, all stuffed in her walker pouch or her dressing gown pockets, just for Chloe,” Cindy says. Quite often, Gracie would be rewarded by a kiss from Chloe, bringing a glorious giggle from Gracie.

When Gracie died at the incredible age of 109, Chloe seemed confused on subsequent visits. Gracie’s roommate, Mary, was now sitting where Gracie had always been. Though new people arrived, it took Chloe some time to realize that Miss Gracie was no longer there.

Special purpose

One of Chloe’s new friends is a slightly-built, deaf-mute man named John Bob who was at first so frightened of the large visiting dog that he would run away, screaming in fright. Chloe patiently waited for him to realize that she is a friend to all.

Now John Bob has grown to be her official greeter and door opener, and when her visit is completed, John Bob has assigned himself the job of pushing the button to open the doors for Chloe to leave the building.

Think on this: Chloe was once an abandoned pup, placed in a county kennel with not much hope of survival. Chloe now walks with great purpose as she brings smiles to those who are spending out their days in a county home with very little hope of visitors to brighten their existence.

There is a majesty and grace in this, wouldn’t you agree?

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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