Today I met a dog named Dave. He was lying on a folded-up comforter in Dr. Miller’s office when I arrived to work on Peachey. Dave was shy, with a slight tremble. I could tell he was an older dog (he’s 11), with bristly fur and heavy shedding. He’s a Sonoran Desert dog mixed with a Boxer. The only obvious Boxer attribute is his severe underbite, with bottom canines set at an angle so that when he smiles, it’s a very drawn, toothy grin. I only got the see that smile after the session. More on that later.

Dave’s had a tough week. He spent four long days on the couch waiting for his owner to get up off the hallway floor. She didn’t get up and they were both found a few days ago. Dave spent two more nights trembling at the back of his cage at the pound, before his mom’s physician could spring him. His mom had willed him to her, knowing that she would care for him or find him a new home with someone she trusted. I didn’t know this part of the story until later.

Watching Peachey and Gator gently try to encourage him to play was fascinating and touching. Peachey and Gator are stocky, muscular, healthy Labradors, whom you would expect to enjoy a good wrestle (which I know they do). They gently licked his ears and face and then would back away, give a play bow and hope for the best. As our session went on, Dave grew more and more brave. Sometimes reaching out a paw to touch one of theirs, then pulling back and turning his head to the side, indicating that he didn’t want to continue the interaction. They respected his wishes but seemed puzzled that he couldn’t bring himself to take the next step. No matter, they were patient and gave him the space he clearly requested.

Dr. Miller had asked me to come and work on Peachey. They had gone to Colorado recently and hiked nearly 200 miles. Peachey is still relatively young, but he was tired and beat up from all the fun. After I finished with Peachey, and later Gator, I began to work with Dave. He was a bit unsure at first—similar to the way he was unsure about play with the boys. But this time he didn’t turn away. Instead, he stayed focused on me. For the first time, I saw clearly the Boxer in his eyes. Bulging and searching. He had something to say and he knew he’d found someone who would listen. As I worked my way from his head to his neck to his shoulders, his gaze held strong. He was sharing his story. The grief and confusion and anxiety were trickling out of him. Then, he licked my fingers, my hand, my wrist, then my entire forearm. He looked at me again, willing me to understand that he knew I was listening and that he appreciated my undivided attention.

I worked my way down his back, feeling his tension release a bit. He finally put his head down and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed to a deep, sleepy rhythm. He stayed there for another five minutes or so, then lifted his head to look in my eyes. He began to tell his story, picking up where he left off with pain and confusion. We continued this way for another 15 minutes, with me working on the other side and him continuing to relay his story with his eyes.

When I finished, I thanked him for sharing and was waiting for Dr. Miller to finish up with patients. Then I saw his smile. Toothy and genuine, he flashed it over and over, adding a tail wag for good measure. He was more relaxed than he had been even during our session. And his eyes. They lit up like he had a new life. I’ve seen that look only a few times before, but it’s unmistakable. It’s pure joy.

When Dr. Miller returned to her office, she told me Dave’s story. The will, the harrowing four days, the long year leading up to this week. I didn’t know the details but I knew the story. As we stood talking, Dave never took his eyes off me. That gaze followed me everywhere. Even Dr. Miller noticed. “He loves you. But that’s no surprise. Both my boys do.” I always feel something for the dogs I work with, but this was different. He reached out for me in a way few dogs have. He wanted to talk, to share. Many of my dogs say “thank you”, but Dave told me his story.

And I’m so glad he did. Dave followed me down the hall as I was leaving. It was probably the first he’d ventured from Dr. Miller’s office. I nearly scooped him into my arms and put him in the car. “This is a guy that deserves stability and love and attention,” I told myself. But I remembered my own two senior dogs (one of whom is recently blind) who deserved those things, as well. Dr. Miller told me he was a sweet guy and would consider caring for him, but she missed spending time with her guys, too. With those words ringing in my ears, I left her office and headed home. It’s nearly midnight and I’m still thinking about Dave. I know he’s grieving and he’s confused. I’ll have to drive by Dr. Miller’s office on my way to a meeting tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll stop in for a quick chat with Dave.


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