The first time I wrote about adopting Buffy the three-legged pit bull, in February, I was hoping that we could begin visiting veterans at area VA hospitals. With bureaucratic hurdles finally cleared, Buffy and I have been making the rounds, once a week, at two different locations.
On our first day, the recreation therapist said that a top priority was Mr. J, a new patient who was depressed after having been placed in long-term care. He cried every day about leaving his five cats. With no one able to care for them, he had been forced to surrender them to a shelter.
I walked timidly into Mr. J’s room. He sat hunched on the edge of his bed, hands folded between his knees, head hanging down. I said: “Mr. J, I have my dog Buffy here. Would you like to say hello?”
He turned his head to look at us and, without a word, patted the mattress next to him. Buffy immediately jumped up on the bed, but she did not lie down. Instead, she turned around to face in the same direction as Mr. J and sat down next to him. He put his arm around her, and she began to lick his face. I don’t know how she knew to do that. You cannot teach what has to come from the heart.
Since then, Buffy and I have worked to hone our visiting skills. A dog is a great conversation starter, often sparking stories of patients’ dogs from 10, 20, even 70 years ago, because you never forget your old buddies. An elderly veteran told of returning to his family home after two years in Europe during World War II and walking into his house. Their dog, in the basement, recognized the sound of his footsteps overhead and went crazy with happiness.
A young Marine told me that he became something of a high school track star in his hometown in rural northern Maine. He credited his dog for this achievement because the dog used to take off all the time and he would have to chase after him, running and jumping hedges and streams. Now he has MS and can’t do that anymore, he informed me matter-of-factly from his wheelchair.
We came across another young vet in the physical therapy gym. He was stretched out on a table, surrounded by staff. I could not discern what he was accomplishing, because I could not detect any motion, but I knew that he must have been working very hard, because his face was covered with sweat. A burly therapist picked up Buffy and placed her on a wooden straight-back chair. She sat there motionless as the therapist took the patient’s hand and guided it over Buffy’s body and head. Whenever his hand passed over her soft black muzzle, he said: “I can feel it. I can feel it.”
The vets give back to Buffy, too. Her favorite guy sets aside five Cheez-Its daily for an afternoon snack and feeds four of them to Buffy when we visit. She enthusiastically basks in hugs and pats and as many breakfast-tray leftovers as I allow.
Honestly, by the end of each visit, we are exhausted, and poor Buffy is hobbling on her three legs. But it’s so worth it. People always say that they are amazed that a pit bull is so friendly and affectionate. Then they say, “But it’s the way they were raised.” No. Buffy had a horrible early life, but through some animal sense, she knows where she is right now. It’s far more amazing that a short time ago, this dog was disabled, homeless, friendless, abandoned, hungry, cold, and alone. But in the time since, she has found a joyous and comfortable life, and genuine purpose as well. We should all be so lucky.
Ewa Erdman and Buffy live in Malden. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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