No dog-book author would ever classify the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, that ultimate lap-warmer, as a working breed. But Bisou, who has lived her entire life for pleasure alone--the pleasure of eating, the pleasure of ball-chasing, the pleasure of my company--is now a working dog.
Last Sunday she auditioned for the
position of Therapy Dog in the facility (to be known in these pages as
"Alder") that houses Wake Robin's assisted-living and skilled-nursing
She was by no means a shoo-in. As we
battled a freezing gale on our way up the hill to Alder, I rehearsed
various dire scenarios. The most worrisome was that she would jump up
on people, get tangled up with their walkers, and gouge their shins with
her nails. Have you ever trained a small, friendly dog not to jump
up? I've taught three German Shepherds not to jump up, and it was a
relative snap, the main reason being that nobody reinforces a big
dog for jumping up. But when Bisou jumps up on guests at our door
they invariably say "Oh, you little sweetheart!" and reward her by
ruffling her fur and making kissy noises.
I also worried
that, when confronted with persons who appeared ill or disoriented, she
might turn away in despair, as a former therapy dog of mine used to do.
She might cower at wheelchairs, run away from walkers and canes, recoil
from strange sights and sounds. She might even, god forbid, poop on
But I had underestimated my dog. When she
spotted the first wheelchair, she ambled up to the tiny occupant, sat
down, fluffed out her ears and gazed up with her big, liquid eyes. She
waited for the gnarled, trembling hands to reach her head and stayed
still for as long as the caresses lasted.
Our next stop was a jolly centenarian who addressed me in perfect Italian and Spanish
while she invited Bisou to put her front paws up on the recliner. I
held my breath, envisioning Bisou leaping up and landing on the woman's
lap--but my brilliant dog just stood there on her hind legs, making
soulful eye contact, enjoying the petting.
And so it
went, room after room, with the figures in recliners or on wheelchairs
stretching their arms to her, and she trotting up to them, wagging her
tail, doing her job.
But for all Bisou's enjoyment, it
was work. When she sensed that we had turned in the direction of the
exit, she began to pull on the leash. She was done.
in our cottage, Bisou gave short shrift to Wolfie's concerned greeting
("Where have you been, and what's that smell on you?") and ran to the
water bowl, took a good long drink, then jumped into my reading chair,
practically patting the seat to say, "come here, you!" I complied,
pulled a blanket over us, and we both fell asleep.