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Dr. Mikey, Therapy Dog by Julie Marks
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Our dogs bring us solace and no matter how we feel or how ill we may be, the dog is the one animal that can swim across the psychic moat and trot right inside our heart and soul. They intuitively know us in a way humans cannot given their special sense about our psychological and physical needs. The clinical literature on dogs as agents of healing is vast. Boris Levinson, an American Child Psychiatrist, coined the phrase pet therapy in 1964, following observations he made when he began to use his dog, Jingles in his sessions with severely withdrawn children. I could write a book on this subject since my dogs have always been my co- therapists since I spend the majority of time working in an office in my house learning from many of my canine colleagues invaluable insights. One woman who my English Setter, Willard adored came in one day and would not stop berating herself for not being a better mother and hoping she had not made irreparable mistakes after a nasty divorce. Willard stood by her chair and the more she criticized herself, he would bat her with his paw until it became so noticeable that she asked me, Why Is Willard hitting me with his paw? I found the scene quite amusing and knew at some point given Willards persistence batting her every time she spoke of her lack of self worth that my client who also owned two English Setters would finally break down and notice his peculiar behavior. I replied, Willard loves you and by the tone of your voice knows you are being very unkind to yourself. He will not stop communicating through physical action until you stop your self criticism. At first, my client looked at me in disbelief and could not believe that Willard was communicating to her despite his usual position on my couch upside down with all four legs straight up in the air. I always knew sessions were going well when he went to sleep in this position alerting me that he felt relaxed about how well the session was progressing and I could do all the work. Today was his work day and despite my comment, the client continued to list all the things she felt she had done to break up her marriage and damage her child. With each comment, Willards physical reminders became more pronounced, and although he would never hurt her, he made sure she knew her berating herself would result in a quick paw smack to her closest thigh. Obviously, we were not making any progress as she continued to describe herself as the most consummate failure of a mother in this century. I asked her if we could talk about the impact of the divorce on her son without her harsh and angry critique to see if Willard would stop his disruptive and insistent pawing. She agreed and began to express deeper feelings about her fear about her sons welfare and her rage at his fathers lack of attendance to his sons needs. As she explored deeper issues affecting her mood, Willard went back to his cozy position on the couch and finally fell into a deep peaceful sleep. As I said, examples of my dogs as therapists are numerous and like Boris Levinson, I had an experience with a child who was selectively mute. She stopped talking to adults although occasionally she would speak to her very few friends. Again Willard came to the rescue. If children were ever afraid of dogs, this would change after meeting my sweet, loving and dopey looking partner. At first, my little client would only talk to Willard telling him about her shyness and pain of isolation in her family and in school. It was amazing how open she was with him completely ignoring me without a greeting or a goodbye. I was the conduit in which she could speak because of my intuitive and very special dog.

The most poignant story involves my dog Mikey who you see in his photo looking depressed and in a deep state of despair. For many years,
Mikey was a therapy dog working with children on the Oncology Ward at Children’s hospital. A friend of mine, Jan Carver sold eye wear
products that allowed Mikey to begin his career as a therapy
dog to offer comfort and emotional support tor very sick children
diagnosed with cancer and adults in a neurological facility
who suffered from head injuries, strokes and other critical
neurological disorders He has a staff badge with his cute freckled face that says, this staff member must be admitted to the hospital at all times. The only thing he lacked was a beeper or cell phone that would alert him to the condition of the forty kids he related to in the recreation room every Monday. It is amazing how intuitive this breed is. I have been told that bird dogs have amazing memories since they must remember where that bird was when it was time to do their dog work. There were times in the intensive care unit that Mikey would point the whirling machine that looked like a bird and we explained that although he seemed human, he also was bred for another purpose. Mikey knew how to selectively relate to each child. For those that were frightened he would simply sit quietly in front of them until they felt comfortable petting him and for many who called him Freckles he would lie on their laps and be allowed in their rooms to comfort them when they had a difficult day due to chemotherapy or the ravages of their disease. The kids were troopers. They were brave, rarely complaining and always in great spirits on the day “Freckles” visited them. His pictures were all over the walls of the unit and with the help of a child, we made a coloring book of Mikey so the kids would have their own special drawing of him on the days when other therapy dogs would arrive. Mikey knew every child in the recreation room and if one was missing, he knew he or she had passed over what was referred to as the rainbow bridge. He would come home despondent and would not eat for two days after the loss of one of his kids. One evening Jan received a call that a young boy requested that Mikey come to his bedside at Children’s Hospital. He was seven and had told the doctors and his parents that he knew they had done all they could for him and there was only one living creature that could help him now, Mikey, his precious red haired freckled friend. He told his doctors sensing he would not make it through the night that he wanted to hold Mikeys paw until he passed over to the other side. In graduate school I had a close friend who worked as a Psychologist on a Cancer ward and wrote her dissertation on the dreams of children who had Cancer. She was urgent to change the policy not to tell children they were dying. This disturbed her greatly since she recorded their dreams that reflected that they knew they were dying and would not live much longer. If Elaine could hear the doctors and parents whispering in the halls, she knew that the kids also could hear the grim news. Until the regulation was changed, the children who were not told had a much harder time dealing with their disease and having the opportunity to pass away in a more peaceful way. Kids know these things and it is a disservice to be untruthful since what is imagined can be much more difficult to handle, especially when children are all alone knowing the truth about their fate. Elaine was the only one who talked to them about their illness learning about their fears and noting the difference in their behavior when the no tell policy existed. Due to the open policy of childrens hospital, Mikey’s little boy was able to call him for assistance and as he was asked, Mikey held the small boy’s hand
throughout the night until this brave child eased into a coma and died early the next morning. Dr. Mikey as he is still referred to never moved knowing how important he was and although he could not change the length of his life, there is no doubt he made his death very peaceful with the tender touch of his warm paw that also helped the parents deal with the grief of losing their beloved child.

All proceeds of this photograph will be donated to the
facility, Best Friends in Utah, a phenomenal rescue facility
for dogs and other injured, neglect ed and abandoned animals.

Please view this in the large format
Nikon Cool Pix

Tags

childrens, co, divorce, dogs, dr, hospital, mikey, mutism, oncology, therapist, therapy, willard

Comments

  • Wendy  Slee
    Wendy Sleeover 6 years ago

    so true!
    and what a beautiful dog this one is….

  • Julie Marks
    Julie Marksover 6 years ago

    Wendy, I am so happy you like my two children. Mikey just had two tumors removed and Molly sleeps next to him with her arms around him as he heals. Observing the attachments animals make is so endearing and poignant as this story of Mikey’s work with cancer patients. He saw 40 kinds in the recreation room of children’s hospital and knew intuitively how to relate to each child. In intensive care, there were machines that
    gave him the impression they were birds and he would point the machines that certainly gave the staff comic relief. The nurses told the kids that Mikey was doing his dog work. He knew every child and although the rules were that therapy dogs could only put their paws on the children’s beds, the kids asked to have Mikey in their bed to touch him for comfort. The staff broke the rules and the kids looked forward to Freckles, the name they game him with pictures all over the walls of the oncology unit.
    I made them a coloring book so they could be creative and Freckles became a hero for these kids who found his healing comfort to reduce the fear and chronic illness of
    chemotherapy, radiation and dealing with the tragedy their parents felt about the probable or possible loss of their child. They were very grateful to Dr. Mikey who had a staff badge that said that this staff member must be admitted 24/7 with his Freckled face. When a child had died, Mikey knew he lost a friend and would not eat falling into a clinical depression for at least three days depending on how long he knew the child. Thankfully, many survived, but for those who didn’t Dr. Mikey was always available with his devotion to his patients. I hope to take Molly to homes for the elderly given her sweet temperament, but she still is too young (Irish Setter mature slowly) to enter the training program. There is a lot of research on the healing impact dogs have on
    people who suffer from illness or as seniors die more quickly due to loneliness. Petting a dog reduces blood pressure and several facilities allow the residents to have dogs as companions that is such a blessing. Thanks for your comments Wendy. I have many experiences to share and it always is nice to read your thoughtful comments.

  • Wendy  Slee
    Wendy Sleeover 6 years ago

    I am fascinated and touched by your story……what an amazing act of compassion you and your beloved canine friend share with these people. I used to take my miniature horses into the old people’s home here – it was an amazing and enriching experience for me, but I know it lightened the load and touchedthe hearts of the bedridden and lonely elderly people…..to see those hands reach out to touch a warm furry friend….gosh, that memory is burned into my heart….

  • pinkyjain
    pinkyjainover 6 years ago

    Fabulous, & so very touching, your commentary, the little children, & your beautiful companions. i pray that Mikey will be fine. So so sweet of Molly to be so close by her side.

  • Julie Marks
    Julie Marksover 6 years ago

    Pinky, Mikey has the best nurse licking his wounds. ME!! Just kidding. Molly licks his wounds and takes good care of her best friend. I wish more people were devoted to caring for each other as animals are. I have some pictures of Molly with her legs and paws touching him and lying very close. I didn’t have any room for my legs, but I could not disturb the two of them. Today he gets his stitches out and the tumors were benign. He had one at the same place before and it was benign so we hoped there was no malignancy. The other tumor had fatty tissue so we knew it was benign. What hurt was pulling one of his back teeth. Since he was asleep we had the dentist clean his teeth which is important to do since dogs don’t usually brush their teeth and as they get older they also need dental care. The two of them are much healthier than most humans I know since they get so much love from us and from each other. He was so
    sensitive to the children who had cancer and did not move all night when the little boy held his paw. The story made me cry.

  • jamiewinter
    jamiewinterover 6 years ago

    wonderful capture and commentary

  • Crockpot
    Crockpotover 6 years ago

    Thank you for sharing the sweet photo and very touching story with all of us. Dogs are indeed amazing creatures and your story only further supports that. Anyone who says dogs (or any animal) can’t feel pain or don’t know better need to read your story. The story of the little boy asking for Dr. Mikey made me cry – very, very sweet. Thanks again.

  • Kathryn Potempski
    Kathryn Potempskiover 6 years ago

    Superb , spectacular , love it,just wonderful, well done

  • aspectsoftmk
    aspectsoftmkover 6 years ago

    wow…julie, i touch my hand to my heart and say yes. your words…i would dare to say..bestseller…animals are the healers of the world. i satute you also….

  • LindaR
    LindaRover 6 years ago

    My heart ~ and eyes ~ are full…thank you for sharing Mikey’s story here and how he touched,comforted and made such a difference in your patients and the children’s lives…xxx

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