Dear Margo, After reading the letter from "Dog Lover in N.Y.," I had to write. "Dog Lover" was amazed that her friends had shelled out $750 to put their dogs in doggie camps. You responded with a quote from your grandmother, "Dogs should be with dogs, and people should be with people." Thankfully, the thousands who work with and benefit from pet-assisted therapy don't share your grandmother's views.
When my mother suffered a severe stroke, I put my dog, Kadie, in an airline carry-on bag and flew to my parents' home. Mom's crooked smile told me she was glad to see me, but her eyes reflected anxiety. When Kadie started to lick Mom's face, I saw hope and happiness come back into her eyes.
I then joined a local volunteer organization called Paws Across Texas. Kadie and I work as a registered therapy team, visiting nursing homes and hospitals. I witnessed a hardened street kid turn into a caring child when he gave my tired dog a drink of water out of a paper cup. I saw a handicapped person bury her face in the dog's fur and laugh with delight. And I've seen how it brightens the day of lonely seniors in a nursing home when Kadie cuddles next to them in bed. -- L.A. in Euless, Texas
Dear L.A., Get out the wet noodle. My grandmother was wrong. The beautiful, warmhearted letters from dog lovers have convinced me that a dog can indeed be man's best friend.
Dear L.A., Since that time, therapy and service dogs have made huge strides in improving the lives of disabled people. I served on the board of Canine Companions for Independence and learned how remarkable these animals are, and how precise their training; they can pull wheelchairs, push elevator buttons, help with grocery shopping, and hand a telephone receiver to its master. The CCI dogs are trained to 86 commands. (Dare I say it? They are better trained than my children were!) Therapy dogs can hear phones and fire alarms when deaf people cannot, then they alert them. In other words, service dogs have gone far beyond delighting seniors and lowering their blood pressure. (A funny PS. about my mother and animals. She didn't get it with cats and dogs - and, in fact, referred to her friends' pets as "livestock.") - Margo