Patsy would turn eighteen in two days. Patsy was in her bed and lying next to her bed on the floor in his usual spot was Patsy's best friend, a six year old Dobe named Tonto. As Patsy looked down at Tonto she remembered when she first got him as a pup and thought about their life together for the last six years. The doctors said she wouldn't see her fourteenth birthday and here she was getting ready to celebrate her eighteenth. Patsy knew part of the reason she lived so long was Tonto. Patsy was very grateful to have Tonto in her life and knew that there were other people who were grateful because Tonto affected their lives also.
Six years ago when the doctor told Patsy and her parents that she had a rare disease that was rapidly taking over her body they were in shock. The doctors told them that there was no cure or treatment for what Patsy had and that she would only live for maybe two more years. Patsy would not be able to attend school and would be bed ridden most of the time. At first Patsy's parents made her stay in bed and rest, but after a while Patsy would have none of that. If she only had a short time to live she wanted to live it her way.
Patsy made a list of things she wanted to do. First on the list was to find out everything she could about her disease. With help from the doctors and her computer, what she learned was not encouraging. Patsy took it all in stride and continued with her list. It was a short list, second on the list was to help other people. This would be hard for Patsy and she was having trouble coming up with ways to help other people. Third on the list was to get a dog. Her parents tried to talk her out of this but she was persistent and her parents finally gave in. Because she was bed ridden most of the time Patsy read and used her computer a lot. She read about and researched many different breeds of dogs and settled on the Doberman Pinscher referred to by their owners as Dobes. What helped her decide was the description she had read; it stated that the Dobe was elegant, noble, loyal, intelligent and affectionate. It also said the Dobe needed little grooming and that was important to Patsy. The Dobe's coat came in black, black and tan, red, fawn and sometimes white. Patsy didn't really care about color. She knew that the average size was about twenty five inches tall and the average weight was sixty five to seventy pounds. With the breed of dog picked Patsy contacted numerous breeders, some by phone and some on her computer. She told every breeder she talked to about her condition. Many of the breeders refused to sell her a puppy. They were all very nice and explained their reasons to her. One breeder was different though; this breeder had been raising Dobes for over twenty years and also had only one arm. This breeder thought it would be good for Patsy to have a dog and told Patsy she would work with her to find the right puppy.
A short while later the breeder called Patsy and told her she had a puppy that she thought would be a good fit. The puppy was a ten week old red male with an easy going temperament and a low energy level. The breeder described the pup as a future couch potato. There was only one condition that the breeder insisted on. The breeder wanted to personally deliver the pup to Patsy. Even though it meant traveling three hundred miles one way the breeder wanted to do this. She had come to know Patsy through all the phone calls, she felt that she knew Patsy even without meeting her and was very impressed. She told Patsy that she would be there in three days on Saturday. The breeder told Patsy what supplies she would need for when the pup got there. Patsy went with her parents to get all the supplies and knew she wouldn't get much sleep in the next three days.
Saturday came and the breeder called Patsy to tell her they should be at the house in about ten minutes. As the breeder pulled into the driveway Patsy and her parents were waiting outside. The breeder took the pup out of her car with her one arm, neither Patsy or her parents knew about the breeder's disability. The pup was more a rust color then red, his ears stood straight up and his tail was cropped. The breeder carried the pup to Patsy and put him in her arms. The pup kissed Patsy, Patsy was crying, the breeder was crying and Patsy's parents had tears in their eyes.
As Patsy was holding the pup the breeder said "that pup comes from a good breeding and will be a loyal and faithful companion". Patsy's mother said "I've heard that before". Patsy's father stated "faithful companion, that's from the Lone Ranger". "His faithful companion was Tonto the Indian". Patsy looked up and said "that's a great name; I'm going to call him Tonto".
The breeder stayed at Patsy's house for four hours. While Patsy was outside with Tonto the breeder was inside with Patsy's parents. As Patsy's mother was looking out the window watching Patsy and Tonto she turned to her husband and said "do you see what I see"? The husband said "I think so, but I am not sure". The breeder asked "what's the problem"? Patsy's mom said "no problem, it's just that Patsy seems so different". "She's showing no signs of being sick". "It's like she's her old self again". The breeder responded with "it's been said that people with dogs or other pets live a longer healthier life". Patsy's father looked at the breeder and said "you know the doctors say Patsy will only live one year at the most". The breeder said "yes, Patsy told me everything, but no matter how long Patsy lives I think Tonto will make that time very happy for her".
When Patsy and Tonto came into the house Patsy asked the breeder why she hadn't told Patsy that she had only one arm. Patsy's mom said "Patsy that's very rude". The breeder said "it's okay, I didn't tell you because I didn't feel it was important". The breeder went on and told them how she lost her arm to bone cancer ten years ago and how difficult it was to continue raising and training dogs, but after a while she didn't even realize she was handicapped. The breeder then asked Patsy how she was coming along with her list of things to do. Patsy told the breeder about her list and now told her that the one thing she hasn't done yet is to find a way to help other people. The breeder said "I might have an idea". "While sitting here talking to your parents and watching you and Tonto interact your parents said they have seen a positive change in you in just a few hours". "Tonto seems to be good for you and possibly could be good for other people too". Patsy asked "what do you mean"? The breeder went on to tell Patsy and her parents about therapy dogs, dogs that visited hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. She told them how dogs could help these people both physically and emotionally and with Tonto's temperament he might be a candidate to become a therapy dog. Patsy really liked the idea and her parents were very happy to see her so excited about something. The breeder told her she would send her some information she had about therapy dogs and also told Patsy to try and find out what she could about therapy dogs on her computer.
When it came time for the breeder to head back home Patsy's parents thanked her very much, Patsy hugged her and told her she would give Tonto a great home. The breeder told Patsy to just be patient with Tonto and to show him a lot of love. She said she would stay in touch and help in any way she could and she would send Patsy the information she promised. She then whispered in Patsy's ear "just remember you can do anything you put your mind to, don't let your illness stop you from doing what you want". Patsy, Tonto and her parents watched from the driveway as the breeder drove off.
They all watched until they couldn't see the breeder's car anymore. Patsy took Tonto up to her room. She had Tonto's crate all set up near her bed and placed him in it. In a few minutes Tonto was sleeping.
Patsy just looked at Tonto for a while not believing he was really hers, and then she began work on her computer. She was searching for information about therapy dogs. There were tons of information about therapy dogs and several organizations nationwide. She settled on the Therapy Dogs International (TDI). They were one of the largest organizations and they had a local chapter that was not too far from where Patsy lived. She knew her mother and father would take her to the local chapter meetings. She filled out an application and started printing out all the information she thought she would need. She got comfortable on her bed and started reading all about therapy dogs. She read about TDI and learned a group of volunteers, handlers and their dogs, whose primary objective is to provide comfort and companionship to patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions. These visits helped the patient's emotional well being, promoted healing and improved their quality of life. TDI had handlers and dogs throughout the United states as well as other countries. The dogs were purebred and mixed breeds; they are tested and evaluated for therapy work by certified TDI evaluators. The information said that TDI standards were very high. Patsy looked at Tonto as he was sleeping and hoped that he had the right stuff to become a therapy dog, she also hoped she was capable of being a handler. Patsy knew that this was the one way she could help others and she didn't want to fail. She felt that she and Tonto could really make a difference.
There was a lot of material describing the testing requirements. Some of the things Tonto would have to do were, let a friendly stranger approach and talk to the handler. Sit nice while the stranger petted him. He would have to let an evaluator examine him and brush and comb him. He must walk loosely on a leash and be able to turn left and right with his handler. He would have to walk through a crowd and pass close to several people. Tonto would have to learn to sit, lie down and stay on command. Come when he was called. He must behave around other dogs, and not get distracted easily. Patsy read where Tonto would have to stay with a stranger while she was out of sight and that he must willingly greet people and let them pet and touch him. Patsy also saw where Tonto would be tested around strange items like wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and hospital beds. It was a lot to ask of a dog but Patsy just knew that Tonto would be able to handle it all. Patsy also knew enough not to get ahead of herself and just let Tonto be a puppy for the next few months. They would become good friends first and then the training could begin.
Patsy heard Tonto stir around in his crate; she looked at the clock and realized she was reading for the past two hours. She took Tonto out of his crate and brought him outside. Tonto quickly took care of his business and trotted back to Patsy. Patsy played with Tonto in the backyard for about a half hour and they went inside. Patsy was explaining to her parents about the TDI. While they were talking Tonto was exploring around the house. Patsy's parents listened to everything she had to say and they both thought to themselves that it sounded like an awful lot of work for Patsy and Tonto. They didn't say anything but were skeptical about Patsy being able to go through all that, but they also saw how excited Patsy got when she was talking about all the things her and Tonto were going to do. They would just have to wait and see what would happen, for now they were very thankful because Patsy was so happy. They heard a loud crash and they all ran into the other room.
Tonto was sitting there looking all proud in a pile of dirt from the potted plant he knocked down off its stand. Patsy's mother started to clean up the mess when Patsy said "no mom, Tonto is my responsibility I will clean it up". As she was cleaning up Patsy said to Tonto "I guess I can't let you out of my sight until you learn a few things". She then said to him "don't worry, you're not in any trouble we know there will be a few mishaps along the way"
While Patsy was cleaning up, her parents were in the kitchen talking. Patsy's mom was saying in the past few hours she noticed a big change in Patsy. It was a change for the better; it was like Patsy wasn't sick at all. Her parents only hoped they weren't setting Patsy up for a big disappointment. They both decided to find out as much as they could about therapy dogs.
For the next several months Patsy and Tonto attended the local chapter meetings of TDI. Patsy made a lot of new friends who all loved Tonto. They answered all her questions and helped her train Tonto. At just under a year old Tonto passed his basic obedience course and was getting ready to be evaluated by TDI. Some of the members had taken Patsy and her mom along on some visits to a hospital and a rehab center. Patsy enjoyed these visits and learned so much. She interacted with the patients and helped with the dogs. After their visits she would come home and tell Tonto all about them. She explained to Tonto how much the patients enjoyed and benefited from the visits. She told Tonto how he would put smiles on the faces of children, older folks and even staff members. Patsy told him how all the people will become his new friends, including other handlers and their dogs. Patsy was very excited when she talked to Tonto about these visits and Tonto would get excited right along with her. Patsy whispered in Tonto's ear "we just have to pass the test; there are so many people out there who need our help". "I know you will do your best and no matter what happens I will always love and need you".
Patsy liked going to nursing homes the best. She enjoyed seeing the elderly people smile and the way their faces lit up when the handlers and the dogs came into their rooms. Sometimes Patsy would just sit there and talk to them; even if they didn't respond to her she just kept talking. There was an old man who used to own dogs and he would perk up when Patsy and the other handlers came in. He would talk to Patsy about his dogs he used to have and how much he missed them. When he told Patsy about a Dobe he had, Patsy told him all about Tonto. She promised him that he would be the first person she and Tonto would visit if Tonto passed his evaluation. The old man told her not to put too much pressure on herself and Tonto. He told her that just by having Tonto's companionship she was way better off then a lot of folks.
The night before Tonto's evaluation Patsy's mother came into her room and told her she better get some rest, "you have a big day tomorrow". Patsy knew that Tonto was ready for his evaluation but there was always the chance that he might not pass.
The next morning a TDI member picked Patsy and Tonto up at the house and brought them to the center where the evaluators were waiting. Four dogs including Tonto and their handlers were being evaluated today. There were two labs, a mixed breed and Tonto the Dobe. The other handlers were all adults and Patsy knew all of them. After each evaluation the handlers were told if they passed or failed. Three hours later Patsy and Tonto were dropped off back at her house. Patsy went into her room without saying a word to her mother or father, Tonto followed. Her mother and father went to Patsy's room, the door was closed and they could hear Patsy crying.
Just as Patsy promised their first visit was to the old man. Tonto entered the room looking very proud in his Therapy Dog saddle cloth. The old man was very happy to meet Tonto and told Patsy that Tonto was a fine example of a Dobe. Patsy had Tonto sit next to the old man while they talked. The entire time the old man petted Tonto. When the other handlers told Patsy it was time to go she looked at her watch and realized they were there for over two hours. She said goodbye to the old man and told him they would be back real soon. She let Tonto jump up and give the old man a kiss goodbye. The old man hugged Tonto and it seemed like he would never let go. The old man told Patsy that this was the best day he had in a very long time.
Patsy and all the handlers knew Tonto did great for his first time. When Patsy got home she told her mother and father about how well Tonto did. She told them about the old man and how he said it was the best day he had in a long time. Tonto got some special treats for being so good.
Patsy's parents were very proud of her but they were extremely grateful that everything went so well and that Patsy was so happy. From the start they had their doubts but it all worked out for the best. Patsy was showing no signs of her illness and the doctors told her to keep doing whatever she wanted too. Patsy kept Tonto's breeder up to date on everything about him. The breeder reminded Patsy that she could do anything she put her mind to. The more visits they made the more Patsy and Tonto enjoyed what they were doing. Patsy could tell that Tonto really loved being a therapy dog; he would perk up and try to drag her into the facilities they went to. Tonto would get all goofy, he would dance and jump around., it was like he knew what he was doing was making people feel better. Patsy enjoyed it because she was helping people and it was very rewarding for her. Some of the people they visited could hardly move but they would try their hardest to pet Tonto or throw a ball to him. One young boy who was confined to a wheelchair worked for two weeks just so he could open his hand and give Tonto a treat. The doctors said they worked for two months with the boy and they saw no progress. So opening his hand and giving Tonto a treat was a major accomplishment. Then there are the patients who have no arms and would hold the treat in their mouths and Tonto would gently take it from them. Patsy would answer all the questions they asked, like what kind of dog is Tonto, how old is he, how much does he weigh? Patsy could sit for hours and talk to the patients. Even though some of the patients didn't respond Patsy felt they knew that she and Tonto cared enough to spend time with them. Patsy felt all the people they visited were affected in a positive way. Tonto seemed to bring something to these people that modern medicine couldn't. Tonto just seemed to know how to approach people. He would approach children differently then he would the elderly. As much as the visits were helping Patsy as a person she felt it was all about the dogs. The dogs were just special. It was a program where everyone benefited. The patient's, Patsy's and Tonto's lives were all enriched.
A short time after her eighteenth birthday Patsy passed away, but she was very alive for those last six years. Two weeks after Patsy's passing Tonto died. He was never sick during his short life and Patsy's parents felt he died from a broken heart.
Stories by Frank Rescigno. All
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