C.PP.S. Companion Trish Frazer of Lake Mary, Fla., writes about her experience with her new puppy, Sylvie, now a trained therapy dog, and what Trish and her husband, John, also a Companion, learned from the experience:
In July of 2016, my husband John and I decided to get a puppy. It had been five years since our dog passed away and John spoke of retirement. This was my way of getting a puppy for Christmas, and I wouldn’t have to do any of the training since John was retiring! Famous last words.
Our puppy was born September 11, 2016, and on October 15, 2016, we picked out our baby girl. From that moment, I knew I was in trouble. She licked and played with John, bouncing between his feet, but when it was my turn to hold her, she looked into my eyes and decided it was time to go potty—in my lap.
On November 5, 2016, we brought her home and named her Sylvie VI. And John didn’t retire. Sylvie and I had a rough couple of months. She scratched and nibbled me every chance she got. Each day I would go home during my lunch hour and let her out, returning to work bloody with new “war wounds.”
When Sylvie was 12 weeks old, it was time to begin structured puppy classes. I just knew this would calm her down and save my arms and face from future scars. We learned the basics and many tricks. Sylvie excelled so quickly that we decided to join an obedience and agility class. That’s when our life began to change.
Before class, we would gather in a large, fenced-in area to wait our turn before entering the larger training area. Owners and dogs of all ages would congregate, and the dogs excitedly would greet one another. The humans talked to the excited dogs, saying “what’s your name?” and “good dog.”
As time went on, John and I talked to other owners about our dogs, the weather and the class. We started to arrive early just to be able to catch up and share the progress of training. We spent time laughing and sharing stories of our latest adventure or the challenges of raising an energetic puppy. Our circle was widening.
I once read that hospitality means to reach out to strangers. I suppose that John and I have always done that by opening our home to anyone who needed a place to stay, a hardy meal or a cup of coffee. Surprisingly, our puppy was about to teach us to reach out in a very different way.
After class one day, we were approached by one of the trainers, who saw something in our puppy and perhaps in us. We were asked if we would be interested in teaching Sylvie to become a therapy dog. We discovered a therapy dog is often confused with a service or emotional support dog. A therapy dog’s “job” is to visit nursing homes, children’s homes, retirement homes, hospitals, hospice, schools, prisons and any other place where its love is needed.
Therapy dogs partner with their owners to share unconditional love and support with seniors, sick people, the disabled and others who can benefit from the special spirit-lifting attention of a dog. John and I didn’t hesitate, and with our resounding “yes,” we began our six-month training.
St. Gaspar challenges us Precious Blood people to include those who are on the fringes of what we call community and to do so with compassion. I often forget that seeing through the lens of Precious Blood spirituality is omni-directional. I can see the homeless on the street but might miss seeing the lonely person in the nursing home. I gather food for the food pantry but never saw the child in the children’s home starving for attention.
As Companions, we are all called to bring the presence of Christ to those who may feel forgotten. Because of our commitment to the therapy dog program, we now sit and visit with someone in a wheelchair or bed. They eagerly pat Sylvie on the head and share stories of their own pet long gone. Through this listening and sharing, perhaps we give them a sense of self-worth and dignity.
After our long journey through training, John, Sylvie and I graduated. There were ups and downs but everyone we’ve visited remains engraved in our hearts. From the repeated stories we hear in nursing homes to the giggles of children, we are blessed to realize we make a difference all because of a little puppy named Sylvie.