Lots going on, not too much “good” or clever to say, but this should describe one of the many “current events” in my life:

Dear Robyn, Bill, Janice, Jo, and everyone at SDI,

I’ve been postponing this long enough (one thing Girl has taught me is to ‘hope despite all evidence to the contrary’), but I am finally submitting Girl’s and my formal retirement from TOUCH.

Although we were never as active in TOUCH as I’d hoped we’d be (first her back, then her OD on doggy Advil, now her imminent death), SDI and the TOUCH trainers made such an impact on me, especially in teaching me to work with with Girl.

Remember: Girl was a puppy mill breeding dog and had never even been on-leash until I got her. Plus, I was a first-time dog person. Your unending patience with me during training enabled me to bring out the best in Girl when we did our visits.

All the “pain” we (I) went through during the training was totally worth it on our very first facility visit. She was lifted (with permission and a cover to sit on) to a patient’s bed and immediately rolled onto her back for him to pet her tummy, which the patient just loved. After a long while I hinted about moving on to the next visit and I was told that I could go, but the dog had to stay!

That immediately made all the efforts and frustration and sheer work totally worth it.

While doing TOUCH, I also never expected to see a tangible, obvious, and direct benefit to a patient (other than a fleeting pleasure), but Girl helped one person in particular more than I could’ve guessed:

As you know, we visit facilities and do not know (or ask) why a person is there. I know we visited brain injury patients in lock-down wards, people recovering from various surgeries or neurological problems, but that was really the extent of it. You don’t know the purpose of the patient’s stay, you just know why you are there.

One night (at the StL Rehab. Institute) we walked into a room and I greeted an older woman who was sitting upright at the edge of her bed, wearing her own bed clothes, and seemingly “fine.” We started chatting informally while she pet Girl.

Before we left the room the rehab. therapist who accompanied us said something like “Ms. X, do you realize that while you’ve been petting Girl you’ve been speaking in complete sentences? You’ve been saying random words and couldn’t construct a sentence, but when you pet the dog you speak in sentences. We’ll get a dog in here tomorrow to aid you with your therapy.”

Unbeknownst to me (I never found out the exact problem), the woman had incurred some injury that caused her to be unable to put the right words together to form sentences. She was only able to speak random, non-sensical words – gibberish really, until she started petting the dog.

I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was literally a life-changing moment (for her and for me!) and I realized, yet again, that volunteering gives the volunteer as much as the person they are “helping.”

So as Girl nears the end of her life, I resign with the knowledge that although our work was short-lived, she made a difference to many people for a few minutes, and a few people for many minutes. I will continue to support TOUCH any way I can and look forward to someday returning as a TOUCH team volunteer.

With my deepest gratitude and appreciation,
Marie (still pronounced “mary”)