Excerpt from “Imagining Lily and the True Story of a Therapy Dog, a Canine Memoir”

Lily and Maya

The Littlest Children

Every other week we went to the Angeles Special Education School where we visited the pre-kindergarten class, the littlest children. The kids were darling, and I loved them all. Some couldn’t speak or walk on their own, and some had tummy tubes, so I was even gentler than my gentle self when I was with them. The children liked to brush me, or walk me, holding onto my extra leash while a teacher’s aid pushed their wheelchair or helped with a walker. Jackie, my person, always held the other leash and was the leader.

“Great job walking Lily,” Jackie said to my crew of tiny dog walkers. She encouraged long walks down the hall, all the way to the end and back around. I walked slowly, adjusting to each child’s pace. Some were faster, some were slower, but I didn’t care. A walk was a walk. And a walk with my school friends was the best.

The very first time I visited the classroom, Jackie took me to the play area to meet the children. The kids gathered around me with their teachers’ help, petted me and asked questions. It went like this:

“What’s her name?”

“Lily.”

“I want to kiss her.”

“She would like that.”

Kisses on my head, kisses on my back, more pats. Love.

“She has big teeth, is she going to bite me?”

“She never bites anyone.”

They took turns brushing me with my soft, pink brush and I stood very still for them for many moments enjoying myself. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my heart and I looked up – a woman had sat down on the floor near us. She was holding a little girl close to her, providing support. I went to this little girl with her pink barrettes and matching pink outfit, and lay down beside her, my body right up against her like a bolster, leaving no space between us. I rested my head on her tiny leg. She smiled inside.

“You’re a sweet dog. I’m so happy you’re here today, Lily” she said to me without words.

Her name was Maya. We connected instantly, and in that same moment, formed a lasting bond. Stefanie, Maya’s nurse, gently placed Maya’s hand on my neck to feel my fur. Maya made a happy sound and Stefanie laughed and smiled.

“You like Lily, don’t you Maya? Feel her soft fur,” Stefanie said, helping Maya pet me.

Maya fell a little to one side, and I moved with her, never losing our physical connection.

“Wow,” said Stefanie

“Amazing,” said the teacher.

“Lily loves Maya,” Jackie said.

Of course.

After our first meeting, I always looked for Maya when we visited the class. And this, or something like it went through my canine brain whenever I saw her:

Here in the classroom one child is singing to me. The lyrics are full of joy, and happiness, and love and caring and wisdom and laughter and they speak volumes about the singer/songwriter. The music is played on her heartstrings and it’s the most beautiful music that people cannot hear. It touches my heart and draws me close to the singer, a little girl named Maya. I mold my large golden retriever/Labrador retriever body around her and support the small four-year-old angel in disguise. We communicate through touch and I listen to her songs. She smiles at me and we share a bond that is beyond words, and we understand each other. I send her strength and love, because that is what she sends to me. This is my calling as a therapy dog, this is my comfort zone, this is what I’m meant to do. Quiet now, quiet. I’m listening to Maya’s silent songs, played on her heartstrings and she is telling me that anyone can hear her songs, if they listen hard enough.

*** *** ***

Jacqueline Hirtz ©2009

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