As I look back on the dogs in my life, I realize most of them picked me rather than I chose them. Murphy was one of 11 Flat Coat Retriever/English Springer Spaniel puppies – brown and white spotted, black and white spotted, brown, black. I wanted a black and white spotted little girl, so I picked one up and plopped her on my lap. She sat there for maybe five seconds then, with barely a “glad to meet ya,” she jumped off and strolled away Out of the corner of my eye I saw a black boy puppy heading toward me. He hopped into my lap and nestled in. (Fifteen years later, my new puppy Grover would do the same.) I whispered in this little intruder’s ear, “I don’t want a boy dog, I don’t want a black dog …”, over and over again. Practicing male selective hearing, he ignored me and fell asleep. That little black dog, Mr. Murphy, lived with me for almost 16 years.
Then there was Zadie, the Golden Retriever/German Shepherd puppy I got after my beloved Zeke, a ball-crazy mellow, spaniel-mix, suddenly died. I brought a ball along when I went to meet the puppies. As a test, I threw the ball and little Zadie was the one who eagerly chased it and brought it back. I was sure, she had to be the one. So, I packed her up and took her home. I soon discovered the meet-and- greet ball throw would be the first and last time Zadie ever retrieved a ball.
There have been other dogs too, but the point is I think that each dog that comes into our life has a purpose. They come with unconditional love, an unquenchable and contagious enthusiasm for life, and lessons we would never learn anywhere else … which brings me to Jake, my massage “tester dog.”
I met Jake Peterson and his parents, Patti and John, at the clinic where I work. They had just found out that their lively, happy older but not ancient yellow lab had osteosarcoma — bone cancer of his rear leg. I was in the midst of my massage courses – which at the time I was thinking might still be a bunch of woo-woo – but I offered to massage Jake at their home on my lunch. Not thinking they would actually accept my offer, I was surprised when almost immediately they called and asked if I could come see Jake.
Now, years later, I realize that although it was something I could do for Jake, it was more about what Jake was to do for me. I knew massage was a technique/practice which stimulates all the body’s systems to create homeostasis – a balancing of the body. Using my hands, the pressure and heat – which reach the brain before pain does, plus the consequential release of endorphins, could stop the pain cycle, if only for a brief time. The problem was, at that time I knew the facts about massage, but hadn’t really seen it work … yet.
At my first visit, Jake had lost weight, but came bouncing to the door to greet me. Setting the mood with music and Jake’s favorite blankets, Patti joined me on the floor, and I began what would be the first of many massage sessions with Jake. Within weeks, Jake regained the weight he lost, and was his goofy, happy self, eagerly greeting each day with enthusiasm and filled with joy for life. The tumor on his leg continued to grow larger, but his spirit never shrunk and, Jake never stopped greeting me at the door, enthusiastic for our time together.
Jake, with the help of his parents, chose me. Jake lived an unbelievable 6 months longer before the tumor was just too big for even brave Jake. I ended up spending my lunch with Jake and Patti twice a week, massaging his hard-working front legs, working his back and feeding my soul.. I saw that I made a difference in Jake’s life, but even greater was the difference he made in my life. Jake believed in me so I began to believe in myself and the love, connection and the gentle healing touch of massage. He showed me unconditional love, despite his pain, and his heart was bigger than the sky. He gave me way more than I could ever give him, all because I had a feeling that his parents, who were so sad, and this goofy yellow lab, needed a kind word – “Would you like me to do some massages?”
Which brings me back to my first thought – we don’t choose the dogs that come into our lives. They choose us. So, you never know where or when a furry angel will come into your life. Just be ready. Also, as I discovered and now believe and know to be true, know that there is magic in massaging your dog – it builds connections that can never be broken.
Next blog: A basic primer on canine massage – tell those doggies to strip down and get a towel ready, you’re about to give them a treat.
Lynnie Ford is a state-certified small animal massage practitioner. Visit her blog, Wag Wellness, at www.wagwellness.com.