WHAT I CAN HEAR

At six a.m., a mockingbird sings her morning medley from the pomegranate tree. She’s as happy as I am to be awake. If I sing back, you say, Stop Barking! Remember I can hear four times better than you. Lucky me—my long, shaggy, black and white hair protects my sensitive ears. Your ears are open and exposed. I could never be you and you can’t be me.

Oh, dog, it’s another day! It must mean you’re going to put on your delicious shoes and take me for a walk. I spin in circles and jump so high, like Mister Bojangles. Up and down and up higher. I taste your shoes and bring one to you and you say, Drop it! and Thank you! I can’t sit still while you tie your shoes and snap the leash on my collar ring. Oh, hurry! The snap echoes in my ears. I give you my best I Am Your Good Dog look.

As soon as we go outside, I swivel one ear and know exactly, to the blade of grass, where Rachel Rabbit is. You hold the leash very tightly, so she and her family scurry across the damp grass to hide under a bush. If I stand perfectly quiet, so does she. We play Hide and Seek. Who can be stealthier. Yes, I know that word. Remember I have a very good vocabulary. So far, the rabbits are ahead, but I have seen a tail or two, even a hind leg. When I’m lucky, I see whole rabbits. Rachel looks like Easter bunny chocolate, round in the hind end with long ears like mine. You eat their ears, but not mine.

After our walk, we have breakfast. Then I sit outside on the deck and listen and watch. My ears are phenom. Then, I scratch at the door to come inside again to be with you. Uh-oh!! I hear the garbage truck. Did you remember to put out the garbage? If you didn’t, I may squeeze outside the door with you to put the garbage bin on the curb. Oh, dog! I hope you forgot. Then I can go outside to look around and sniff at the trees and the bushes and maybe even see a dog. I may have to run across the street to sniff the dog. That makes you scream in a terrible voice. Oliver! Come! But, I see you are staying in your chair reading the paper. I have to watch you every minute for signs of change. You don’t sit still for very long, so I don’t either.

My favorite sound is piano music. It goes right through my chest to my heart. You know how much I love it because you play for me almost every day. Chopin. Gershwin. Bach.

In the afternoon, the boom-boom! from people’s cars and loud r-r-r-r-r-r! from motorcycles sends vibrations through my entire body. People string long white threads from their ears that fills my ears with noise too. I hear it across the street, through the window, and into our house. I jump up on the window seat and bark. It could mean stranger danger.

Sometimes when long hair grows down inside my ears, I don’t hear as well. You take sharp scissors and snip, snip, snip! Little pieces of hair fall down inside my ears. I shake my head hard to get them out.

At night, while you listen for Daddy driving down the street, I’m already at the door, nose up.

The garage door opens. His VW door opens and slams. He comes in. I ambush him and hug him. He doesn’t mind hugs as much as you do. You always say, Ow! If only you knew how much I love you. I can’t control myself. My paws want to jump on you, knock you down, and hug you some more. Up and down hugs. You’re mine humping hugs. I don’t understand why you don’t like this. You try to yank my collar, but I dodge you every time. I’m fast as lightning.

Oliver’s advice: Try to remember how sensitive I am, especially my ears.

WE NEED EACH OTHER

You need me to bark when I hear or smell danger.
I need you to feed me and give me water that won’t make me sick.
You need me to help take care of people who need comfort
I need you to help me find the right people for therapy.
You need me to keep you company and watch over you.
I need you to feel as important as I am.
You need me to guard your house.
I need you to bring me inside when there is loud noise.
You need me to walk with the new baby.
I need you to keep the buggy from rolling over my tender paws.
You need me to love everybody.
I need you to keep away people who might step on my tail.
I need you to brush and comb my hair.
You need me to get attention for being beautiful.
You need me to believe in forgiveness.
I need you to hear another heartbeat besides my own.

MORE PEOPLE SHOULD BE LIKE TIM

He comes to our house almost every morning. First I hear his white USPS car door pull up and watch him lift up the back and sort the mail. I watch for him in the tiny space under the blinds. I hear him open the latch on the heavy metal gate and let it slam shut behind him. I race to the sliding door in your study and scrape my nails down the glass. He’s here! Oh, don’t keep me from him! It’s hard to contain myself. You slide open the door. I wiggle all over and jump up like a humpback whale. I saw a movie about whales once on television. A human freed one from a net in California and afterwards, she jumped up in the air forty times. We counted, you and I. Whales breaching up in the air are like my jumping up and whirling and spinning. Whales and I have joie de vivre. I speak a little French. Sometimes you call me Olivier. That’s O-liv-ee-yay.

Tim is happy to see me every day and calls me and my sister, Calliope, by name. He tells me to sit. It’s very hard to control myself because I see he has a bagful of my favorite treats in his hand already—venison and sweet potato. I jump all over him with love. He gives me a treat even if I don’t sit. He is not a good trainer but he is a very good person. He laughs and pats the top of my head.

You tell Tim not to give me a treat until I sit, but Tim just wants to reward me. He tells you he talks about me to his children. You gave him one of my business cards. You have three different kinds of cards for me. One for the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. One for PAWS at the University of Minnesota. PAWS stands for Pet Away Worry and Stress. One for general use like for Tim. Lots of people know me. One girl at Occidental College hadn’t seen me for two years and called me by name—Oliver!

Mom asked Tim if he would put the mail in my mouth to carry into the kitchen. He doesn’t know how to do that, so he just gives me a treat and laughs while you take the mail and give it to me after I’ve swallowed my first treat. Then I get another one from you! One from Tim and one from you. I am so clever. Oh, dog, two treats for one visit from Tim.

I see people dressed like Tim in other places with the same blue uniform and brown bag. I strain at the leash to get to them, hoping they’ll give me a treat, but they all back up and try to get away from me. I don’t understand them.

Oliver’s Advice: Only give me enough newspaper my mouth can hold. Everyone in uniform should have treats like Tim. Even people not in uniform, like you.

EVERYONE IS EQUAL, UNTIL THEY AREN’T

In my world, everyone can be equal if they learn to be. You told me all dogs are red-green color blind. Since no one is red or green, I don’t know what I can’t see. I go by smell and eyes and movement anyway. I love everybody unless they smell angry or scared, look at me funny, wear hoods so I can’t see their eyes, come close to me too fast, or jump around. My relatives in Scotland herd sheep, but the best I can do is keep my world under control.

When we go to work as a therapy team, almost everyone I see wants to see us. First thing I do is jump up on the receptionist’s desk to say hello to the person saying hello to us. Some people at senior residences drive big noisy machines called electric wheelchairs. I also hear food carts and walkers. Whir, whir, clatter, clank, shoosh.  I can’t tell where wheels are going and they might roll over my feet so I back up when I see them coming. Most people who drive them are careful of my paws and tail, but not everyone, so you and I must be watchful.

People who lie in bed or sit up in chairs love to see me. How old am I? What is my name? Have you had me since I was little? What kind of dog am I? Am I a lot of trouble to groom? Sometimes they ask the same questions over and over again before you’ve finished answering the first time.

In Los Angeles (we get around), we go to Children’s Hospital. We both love it there. Children are in bed under sheets, but you put another fresh sheet on each bed over that and I jump up and children pet me. Some have I-vees and other attachments that make it hard for their hands to reach me, so I lie still until you tell me it’s time to jump down. Parents love me more than the children. They are so happy to see me, they thank you over and over again. They don’t thank me, but I hear them thanking you so it’s okay. The children come in all sizes and shapes. I love them all.

We go to Minneapolis Southwest High School on Thursdays. We stand outside the lunchroom to say good morning to people who are dragging their faces to school. I am happy to see almost everyone. Except girls holding steaming coffee in one hand when they lean over to pet me with the other. No has spilled on me yet, but I spin around just in case. I don’t like big back packs because they can hit me in the head. Some people reach their big hands full of shiny rings out to me in front like they’re going to grab me and punch my eyes out. They think I belong to them when you and I know we belong to each other. I like it when people squat down and look me in the eyes and say my name—Oliver.

You tell people how to approach me. You say, Come to his side. When he is ready, offer him a fist. Let him sniff you. You are so smart. You are almost as smart as I am. You know dogs need to meet people side to side first.

Everyone smells different. My favorite people smell is tuna fish. Some people smell like coffee. Some people smell like smoke. Some people smell like peanut butter or old sheets or oysters or worst of all—incense or cologne. It fills my nose and I can’t breathe.  I back up and get ready to run. Some people smell like fear and I get confused. Why do they want to pet me if they’re afraid? I love them anyway.

There have been places we haven’t liked. One was the juvenile detention center. The big boys there were so silly I could never have herded them into one spot, so I stood still and didn’t move. I was happy to go, but after we arrived, my legs got stiff and my mouth got dry because they didn’t smell good and they didn’t act right. They waved their arms around and shouted, Oh God, a dog, a dog, a big dog!! They were too wild. Big fire doors clanked shut behind us each time we walked from room to room. I thought I was trapped. I wanted to go home, so I just lay down. You couldn’t get me to budge. I let you take me to the car. We didn’t go back. I was afraid some of them would hurt us. I loved them anyway.

One place you didn’t like was Memory Care. I loved the little bits of food I found in corners. They call it Memory Care because people forgot to remember the food they dropped. Applesauce, jelly, crusts of bread, crackers, cookies, baloney. I gobbled up everything I smelled. You kept yanking my head up, saying, Leave it! Leave it! My neck hurt. You frowned. We didn’t go back.

I like the sound of your voice and the sound of Daddy’s voice, but whoever invented skateboards didn’t love dogs. They sound like danger. The furnace in our home in Los Angeles clangs on and off and that scares me too. I’m afraid of people who stand on street corners holding up cardboard signs. I can smell them right through the car window and they look like they’re up to something funny because they aren’t going anywhere, so I bark at them. Go away from our car! Don’t come near us! I can’t read so I don’t know what their signs say or if they want to hurt us, but barking at them is part of my job description.

Oliver’s Advice: Everyone is equal, but watch me for signs of trouble. I know more than you do about these things.

A MORNING IN MY LIFE

I’m awake from a dream of chasing a chattering red squirrel up an oak tree. It was dropping acorns on my nose. Now I have to wake you up from your dream about cars careening out of control. Here’s how I work: I jump down from the bed, pace back and forth, click my toenails loudly on the hardwood floor, stretch first once hind leg out behind me, and then the other. I’m stiff from being curled up on your feet. You pretend you’re still asleep, so I put one paw up on your arm. My sister and I are ready to go outside.

Our first walk begins at six a.m. Rachel Rabbit next door hides under the bush as soon as she knows I’m on patrol. I lift my leg on her bush to make sure. To smell who’s been around, I sniff around the baseline and up the bark of every tree anointed by other dogs. My sister Calliope squats on the boulevard and I cover her spot so no one else gets the bright idea she’s their girl.

My daddy is the best there is. He takes me everywhere I want to go. He lets my leash out loose, but you keep me close. Sometimes you walk in the morning, but usually my daddy goes out alone, especially when it’s cold.

I love going down to the beach. It smells of giant birds called Canada geese that scared me when I was little, but now that I’m as big as they are, I scare them. I have a hard time not eating their green poop which is truly bright and beautiful. You won’t let me, but every once in a while when you’re not looking, I sneak one. Delicious. Too bad you don’t think so.

After my sister and I do our business, we all go home. I am already thinking about breakfast so I pull harder at the leash. Crunch, crunch, that’s the sound I hear in my head before I get home. Kibble between teeth.

You fill my bowl and say All done! and I race to breakfast. I have a special bowl with alleys in it to slow me down. My special bowl takes me a few seconds longer. I gobble down my food and get the hiccups. I am Oliver of large appetites.

I bring in the morning newspaper. I bark once really loud in case you’ve forgotten. You open the front door wide enough for me to strut out on the deck, survey the landscape, sniff the air to see what kind of day it’s going to be, and pick up the paper in my mouth. When it’s wrapped in a plastic bag it’s easy to grip with my teeth.  I am really good at this. I prance right into the kitchen. You say Sit. I sit. You say, Hand it to me. I raise my head and open my mouth. Sometimes the paper drops to the floor and you repeat what you said before. I pick it up and we try again. If it’s not wrapped right or it’s too heavy, you carry some of it yourself. That’s okay with me as long as I get a treat.

If you give me too much time before I reach the kitchen, I might drop it on purpose and tear it. I love that sound. Rip, rip. One rip and I need to rip it more and more until it is shredded. I might even growl. You don’t like this. This is bad dog behavior. You might not give me my reward. I am big on rewards. Very big on rewards. Treats. Big fat sweet potato/venison bones. Dog, do I love those! I chew one up and my morning is made.


Oliver’s advice: Follow close on my heels to make sure I bring the paper to the kitchen immediately. Once I have started to shred it, the sound and feel of shredding are too delicious and I can’t stopI am greedy and impatient so you must help me when I spin out of control.

Dog, it’s a wonderful day. I am ready to go out on the deck and lie around, but, Hey!  You’re sitting down already reading the paper.

Don’t you remember I like to go out on the deck after I’ve eaten my treat? That never changes. Except when it’s very, very windy. I like the wind for a very short time. It makes my fur feel really clean and good. If it’s wintertime and it’s sunny out, I sit on the deck and feel happy for at least ten minutes. Then, I have to click my nails on the sliding glass door, but you’re back at your desk with your head down. I see you from where I’m lying down.

I guess I can wait. For awhile.  I click my nails on the door a few more times. You ignore me. I have to tell you out loud. Hey! It’s me! Bark, bark! Remember me? I want to come inside now where it’s warm. I want to jump on your daybed and curl up on your warm, cozy, green blanket. I snore.

You’re having someone over who’s more important than me? I heard you talking to her on your cell phone. You can read my mind and I can read yours. Don’t you remember we were going out today?  We were going walking around the lake. Remember? No one is more important than me! I’m running and prancing in circles in the living room to show you Just how cute I am and you’re not even looking.  I hear a car door slam. I know things before you do and it’s my job to tell you.

Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. She’s coming up the sidewalk. She doesn’t walk with us. She’s too old. You’re going to the front door to let in someone who isn’t even close to being as adorable or young as I am. Look at me.

Now I’m shaking the white horse in my teeth. Browl, growl, I am ferocious. I can bite the ear off the horse and chew it and shake the horse and you aren’t paying attention.  My skills are phenom. If I hurl the horse up in the air and leap around, you come over and take the horse away, so I have to do it quietly, surreptitiously. Yes, I know that word. I listen to you and use all the words you use, only I can’t say them aloud. I shake Whitey, the white horse, until one ear is completely gone. Some of it I have to swallow. Oh, Dog, this is fun, except when I choke. Why can’t you play with me? I’m much more entertaining than your people.

The doorbell rings. Oh, dog! She’s here to see us! I jump and twirl. Then I grab the biggest pillow I can find and shake it. I have to do this to get you to look at me. As soon as the person removes her shoe, I pick it up in my teeth and prance away. I am proud when you call me Lightning. The person starts shouting at me. Doesn’t she know how wonderful I am? I’ll show her. I’ll see if she can catch me. If she tricks me into a corner, I’ll drop her shoe. But, look! There’s your favorite, delicious white and red dishtowel. Each time I get it, I tear it a little more. The rrrrripping sound is so satisfying.

When your person leaves, I see her to the door. I am glad to have you alone.  I lie down right by the door that leads out to the deck. I look at the door and you let me out. I see it all. I see humans on bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards. I see small humans in buggies and I see other dogs that look like fun. The noise of skateboard wheels lifts my ears. I would like to bite the feet of the humans who ride them, bite their feet hard until they stop making that noise.  But I‘m stuck inside so I have to tell them to stop from far away. I bark, Stop! Stop that! RR-Rouf!! but they don’t listen. They keep going. They don’t listen to me at all.

Other people look very scary because they wear dark clothes and walk with their arms close to them, looking down, like they’re going to pull a fast one. I bark in my deepest voice, Keep your distance! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Stay away from us! No, I mean far away! Go to the other side of the street! Better yet, go where I can’t see you at all!

I want to come inside, so I put one paw up on the glass door and drag it down. It makes a wonderful screeching sound. You hear it too. You open up the sliding door and say Come inside! I show you how much I appreciate it by hugging your leg. You don’t like that. You push on my head, instead of hugging me back. You say, That hurts! I get way too excited.

Today is a therapy team day.  You show me all the signs. You get my special leash and harness, Dog! Do I love it! You put on your necklace with my picture on it and comb and brush me. You spray lavender all over me. I smell delicousl. You comb and brush me some more and you put a special elastic in my man bun and I am so handsome. I can hardly stand it. I tell you over and over again how much fun we’re going to have. I twirl and twirl, and finally sit still so you can put on my outfit. We go to the garage. You open the back gate of our car and say Hop up! I smell the treat bag and I smell my own blanket. You drive us where we’re going—the Shalom Home. Shalom means peace. We bring peace. Today we see people who are lying in bed. I jump up on the bed and just lie there. Sometimes I like the way people smell, especially when it’s lunchtime. Sometimes the special stinky stuff people in the hospital put on their hands called hand sanitizer makes me sneeze.

Some people are sitting up in wheelchairs so when they pet me, I don’t have to jump on their beds. They pet me and pet me and pet me but if they tousle me too much, I scoot backwards. I like it better when they just quietly stroke my head, from the top of my head down my back to my tail. I close my eyes and am mindful of why I am here—to comfort.

BEING A BEARDED COLLIE

You love me and Bearded Collies best of all dogs. You tell me all about my 4 runners who were yours before you got me, and how wonderful they all were. I know them by name: Samoset, Cinnamon, Gizmo, Shadrach, Misha and Cedars. I have a reputation to follow. One thing I know:  Beardies are regal when we flow through the air, our hair waving like tall wheat in the wind. We are funny, smart, beautiful, and mischievous.

A neck scarf, a harness, and a leash are my office attire. I love that word. It reminds me of my favorite place to lift my leg. A tire. My American office moves around. Dog therapy work is perma-lance- no job security, no vet benefits. You pay all my expenses out of your “pocket.” But, I love my job. When you dress me for work, I fill up with joy. I am eck-static! My paws tingle. My chest expands. I begin to twirl. I’m like a Turkish Sufi without the white dress.

Samoset saved people from falling in the ice. Cinnamon made you six puppies. Gizmo was a goose chaser. Shadrach was gallant. Misha was always there for you. Cedars took care of your son. I know me best. I am silly when we play hide and seek, smiling at you when you can’t find where I’ve stashed your favorite shoe. If you are sad or tired, I lie down next to you without saying a bark. If one of us gets lost or confused, I find us. I let my long tongue hang out when I am extra happy.

There are times when I wish I didn’t have such long hair. We pass by dog parks and you keep walking. I pull you toward other dogs running and playing and barking, but you won’t let me off my leash. Sometimes I whimper—not very grown up, I admit. You tell me I take too long to groom when I get all muddy. It makes sense to you, but not to me. After all, what better use of your time than to pay attention to me for several hours, washing, brushing, and combing me? You tell me my coat is a magnet for thistles. I’ve never seen a magnet. But I am on close personal terms with thistles. My long hair is a pain under the tail, but that’s the way I was born. I can’t help it.

Thank you for not taking me to dog shows where dogs stink of perfume and have every hair in place. Just watching them makes me itch all over.  We both know I would take all the prizes and trophies for my enormous good looks and happy prance, so we don’t need to prove it to anyone, especially not to those judges in fancy suits who talk funny. What we do together as a therapy team is the best thing. We spend time together making other people feel good if they’re one of three things: stressed, sick or sad.

Herding sheep is traditional. I’m a progressive, up-to-date Beardie. As a therapy dog, I believe in bringing what the world needs now—comfort.

Oliver’s Advice: Help me be the best Beardie I can be and keep loving me exactly as I am.