No dog-book author would ever classify the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, that ultimate lap-warmer, as a working breed. But Bisou, who has lived her entire life for pleasure alone–the pleasure of eating, the pleasure of ball-chasing, the pleasure of my company–is now a working dog.
Last Sunday she auditioned for the position of Therapy Dog in the facility (to be known in these pages as \”Alder\”) that houses Wake Robin\’s assisted-living and skilled-nursing residents.
She was by no means a shoo-in. As we battled a freezing gale on our way up the hill to Alder, I rehearsed various dire scenarios. The most worrisome was that she would jump up on people, get tangled up with their walkers, and gouge their shins with her nails. Have you ever trained a small, friendly dog not to jump up? I\’ve taught three German Shepherds not to jump up, and it was a relative snap, the main reason being that nobody reinforces a big dog for jumping up. But when Bisou jumps up on guests at our door they invariably say \”Oh, you little sweetheart!\” and reward her by ruffling her fur and making kissy noises.
I also worried that, when confronted with persons who appeared ill or disoriented, she might turn away in despair, as a former therapy dog of mine used to do. She might cower at wheelchairs, run away from walkers and canes, recoil from strange sights and sounds. She might even, god forbid, poop on the carpet.
But I had underestimated my dog. When she spotted the first wheelchair, she ambled up to the tiny occupant, sat down, fluffed out her ears and gazed up with her big, liquid eyes. She waited for the gnarled, trembling hands to reach her head and stayed still for as long as the caresses lasted.
Our next stop was a jolly centenarian who addressed me in perfect Italian and Spanish while she invited Bisou to put her front paws up on the recliner. I held my breath, envisioning Bisou leaping up and landing on the woman\’s lap–but my brilliant dog just stood there on her hind legs, making soulful eye contact, enjoying the petting.
And so it went, room after room, with the figures in recliners or on wheelchairs stretching their arms to her, and she trotting up to them, wagging her tail, doing her job.
But for all Bisou\’s enjoyment, it was work. When she sensed that we had turned in the direction of the exit, she began to pull on the leash. She was done.
Back in our cottage, Bisou gave short shrift to Wolfie\’s concerned greeting (\”Where have you been, and what\’s that smell on you?\”) and ran to the water bowl, took a good long drink, then jumped into my reading chair, practically patting the seat to say, \”come here, you!\” I complied, pulled a blanket over us, and we both fell asleep.