Happiness is a Warm Puppy

Lights will guide you home.

And ignite your bones.

And I will try to fix you.

~Fix You by Coldplay

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I’m going to say it.  I have a dog who answers to “kitty.”  Peter was horrified.  He repeatedly told me that I simply COULD NOT call a German Shepherd “kitty.”

The evolution of her nickname is not complicated.  Kerry.  Caribou.  Boo Boo.  Boo Boo Kitty. (Remember Laverne & Shirley?)

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Okay, I admit I might have taken it too far.

I’ve been involved in the world of pet-assisted therapy since November of 2009.  Kerry (aka Boo Boo Kitty) came to be ours rather serendipitously.  We got her when she was just seven weeks old.  She was to be a guide dog for the blind; we were her puppy raisers.  Our job was to socialize her for the first year and a half of her life.  We took her to the requisite puppy classes and on as many outings as possible. When she left us in June 2008 for her training we were incredibly sad, but reminded ourselves of the reason we had agreed to foster a guide dog puppy.  We hoped that she would pay forward her gift of sight to someone without it and give them the freedom they might not otherwise have.

It turns out, however, that Kerry’s gift was for us.  Vets at The Seeing Eye found a tumor on her iris, removed her right eye, thereby making her ineligible to guide the blind.  As her puppy raisers were were given the right of first refusal.  Long story short, when both kids were packed off to college in the fall of 2008, Peter and I made our move from NJ to NYC with three dogs, rather than two.

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Peter was a year and a half into his cancer journey at that time.  It was his idea that Kerry and I become certified as a therapy dog team.  We did so with The Good Dog Foundation, and have been making therapy visits ever since.  For Peter, she was so important.  They loved their long weekend walks in Central Park together.  Even when Peter’s cancer treatment left him feeling exhausted, being with Kerry gave him energy.  She stayed by him until he left this earth.

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 Since Peter’s passing, Kerry has been my therapy.  I’m not sure what I would have done without her.  In the days after his death the numerous therapy visits each week  got me out the door and into the world.  We visit hospitals, hospice, a school for kids on the autism spectrum and a fabulous program called A Fair Shake for Youth, helping at risk school kids build self-esteem.  Although very different, each visit gives me a daily glimpse into the very valuable gifts given by our furry friends.  I’ve watched nervous family members relax and forget the surgery their loved one is undergoing while giving Kerry a belly rub.  Kids on the autism spectrum have gone from debilitating fear of Kerry to looking forward to her visits; to actually being able to feed her from their hands.  I’ve had a woman come over to Kerry and “soak in her positive energy” because she’s being stalked by her ex-husband and lives in constant fear.  Kerry has befriended an at-risk teenager who said that no one in his entire life had shown him any sympathy until her met her.  One woman told me she wanted to overcome her fear of German Shepherds with Kerry.  Her only knowledge of them had been through her mother’s holocaust stories.

Five and a half years of therapy work have given me volumes of stories.  I know the value of a warm puppy.  Thanks to Kerry and hundreds of other therapy animals around the county, so do many troubled souls.

Kerry’s had her “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” (Andy Warhol).  Actually, I think it’s part of living in New York.  It’s hard not to bump into fame here and there.  Or maybe it’s just Kerry, because she really AWESOME.  Following are a few links to some of her escapades.

NY Post – November 2011

Cure Today magazine article – 2012

Martha Stewart Living – December 2011

Good Dog Foundation video 2013

Good Dog Foundation 2014

Victoria Stilwell satellite media tour – August 2014

A Fair Shake for Youth

You can also see a few minutes of her helping a Staten Island family in Season 4, Episode 2 of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog.”

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