Paw to Paw
By Noel Thurner;
There she was, propped up in the middle of that huge, white sheeted
hospital bed. This 2 year old Asian girl was absolutely darling,
amazingly calm. She was surrounded by stuffed animals, toys and a
coloring book along with an open box of crayons. It was the latter upon
which she was focused.
It was a typical Tuesday evening at the Shriners Hospital for Children
and the pet therapy Paws2Care teams were at work. We had
completed our time in the common room with lots of patients and
their families milling about, all enjoying the dogs and what various
entertainment each had to offer. In such an environment, distractions
from the realities these children and their families are experiencing
are welcomed. The children in this hospital are there for orthopedic
surgeries, many which result in the loss of one or several limbs. The air
can be thick with tension, fear and fatigue.
Parker, my brown Bearded Collie, is considered one of the more
calming dogs in our group. His demeanor supports taking a deep
breath and enjoying a nice moment of stroking a dog with long, silky
hair. He does not do tricks, not in this work, and prefers to use his
calming presence as his gift to those who interact with him. On this
evening the visiting in the common room was coming to an end and
time to visit the patients in their rooms… patients too sick or just
recovering from surgery so could not leave their beds for a visit in the
well appointed common area. A handful of us are invited down the hall
to the waiting patients… the really hard work begins.
Parker understands that going into these rooms is serious. The families
are on the verge of exhaustion as they watch their loved one
recover from what is usually a very serious surgery. This room was no
exception. We calmly waited our turn in the hallway. It is this time that
the staff gets their “pet therapy”. They recognize the regular dogs and
even know them by name. These dedicated folks appreciate the break
in their stressful work shift, appreciative of what the dogs offer to all. A
Golden leaves the room and now it is our turn to enter.
There she was, this adorable 2 year old Asian girl, awake and alert.
Obviously not too impressed by the previous dogs: a Lab, a Great
Dane, and a Golden. But she did a double take when Parker slipped
into the room. We will never know what it was about him that got her
attention. Her adoptive Caucasian mother was standing by the side of
the bed, strained by the events of the day yet relieved to have some
relief from it all. She had obviously enjoyed the previous dogs and was
encouraging her daughter to feel the same.
As always, I did a quick assessment for any equipment or medical
paraphernalia that needed to be considered so as not to do harm.
Then I smiled at the mother, who was relieved that another dog was
coming for a visit. Then I made eye contact with the almond eyes of
the patient. Stoic. I asked if she would like to say hello to Parker. Her
eyes responded with a slight affirmative.
On the side of the hospital bed Parker did a “chair up” which means
he places his front feet on the side of the bed and stands on his rear
feet. This position is not comfortable for him for long periods of time
but he knows that when a small child is confined to a hospital bed,
that is what he has to do. That is when I noticed why this little girl was
here. Her right arm was freshly bandaged, the recipient of the day’s
surgery, shorter than a normal arm so that meant there was no hand.
The left arm came forward to collect her coloring book and crayons,
just in case Parker was intent on taking them. The staff and mother
laughed… it was OK… Parker was not here to take the coloring book.
Parker smiled as well. A sigh of relief in the almond eyes. There was
no hand on the left arm either… just a paw with a surgically crafted
The girl was face to face with Parker, her eyes studying intently this
hairiest of all her visitors. Parker does indeed have a goofy smile. The
patient smiles as well. Everyone in the room smiles… some relief.
The mother encourages her daughter to stroke the fluffy paws on her
bed. The little girl gives these big fluffy feet a long look of interest and
then places her paw on his… a quick touch. Then the next touch is a
few seconds longer. Before you know it she is beaming, stroking and it
is indeed paw to paw. Lots of smiles.
She then pulled her coloring book in front of Parker. She pulled the
open box of crayons toward herself and gave the colors an intense
study. Then she studied Parker. She selected a brown crayon, an
appropriate choice since Parker is indeed brown. With her small digit
on the paw of her left arm she lifted the crayon from the box and put it
in front of Parker. Then she pointed to a flower in her coloring book as
to indicate he was to color it. Well, Parker can do a lot of useful tasks
but this was his first venture into art. So I took the crayon, held it under
his paw and we proceeded to color … his fluffy white foot with a brown
crayon coloring a flower. The patient was satisfied so Parker had best
do another one. This time the color she selected was orange. So we
repeated the process. Mother stood motionless with tears streaming
down her face, trickling around her smile. Staff was breathless. Patient
was enjoying teaching this shaggy dog to color.
The mother realized that this was asking a lot of Parker to stand in this
position so she gently asked her daughter to select one more color for
Parker to color and then he had to go. This time the patient selected
a happy blue, again indicating which flower Parker was to color. This
time she placed her paw atop his as the three of us colored that flower
a happy blue. That brought a look of contentment on the little girl’s
face. Parker had been an excellent student of her art lesson. We
retreated knowing that we all had learned something that evening.
As I look back on that experience I wonder how Parker managed
that “chair up” position for so long. How he managed to connect with
this little girl who was recovering from surgery yet did not have much
connection with the previous dogs. Is it Beardie magic? It is certainly
the magic of Shriners… and the magic of doing pet therapy with