A Turkey, A Dog, and A Bear…Oh My!

One minute we are sitting with our team of therapy dogs and handlers talking with children at a local YMCA for a Healthy Kids event and the next minute in my peripheral vision I see something that makes my heart start to pound.  I begin a little self-talk.  “Please don’t come over here! Please don’t come over here!  Oh please don’t come over here!”  Jellybean stands at attention, sensing something is about to happen.  I can feel her body tense and I hear a low growl.  “It’s okay Jellybean.  She won’t hurt you,” said the cowardly one.  She looked at me with such trust, then turned and looked at the big, yellow-beaked creature coming straight toward us.  I take a deep breath and tell myself, “I can do this.  I can do this.”

We are sitting in the stands at York College for the girls’ basketball game.  The game is in full swing; both teams running up and down the court, buzzers going off, whistles blowing, fans cheering, Jellybean and the other therapy dogs sitting behind the home team sound asleep.  Seriously, they sleep during the game, oblivious to the hubbub around them.  Suddenly the buzzer sounding half time goes off and the dogs jump up and quickly spring into action as the fans climb into the stands to pet their favorite four-legged pals.  Jellybean is soaking up the attention from a young fan when I give her leash a little tug.  I take a deep breath and mutter to myself, “Oh, no, not again!”   I sense movement at the corner of the bleacher.  There it is; the green hairy leg, complete with a green and white striped sock and a gigantic orange sneaker.  My eyes are big as I watch and silently plead for it to go the other way.  But to no avail, as it gallivants around the corner of the bleacher heading straight for us.  I start to sweat and my heart beats double time.  Jellybean must sense my fear, because she lets out a bark so loud and ferocious that it scared the other dogs into a barking frenzy like York College basketball has never known.

It’s Bark in the Park Day at the York Revolution baseball game.  Jellybean and I are seated behind third base.  In case you wondered, yes, she has her own seat and yes, she is wearing her favorite pink baseball cap and Revs t-shirt.  I actually brought her little pink bed along and tucked it deep into the stadium seat so it would stay down all by itself.  We are enjoying the game and sharing a basket of tasty chicken tenders, when fans around us start chanting “Down Town!  Down Town!  Down Town!”  I quickly stuff the tenders in my bag and go on high alert.  I look at the big screen in the outfield to see if I can determine where my nemesis is located.  Oh no, it is right behind the players in our section, just a few rows in front of us.  Just as I spot the furry mascot, it turns around and our eyes lock.  I can’t breathe.  Then, its’ gaze shifts to my precious little puppy and it is on the move.  My first thought is, “Oh please, somebody hit a homerun.  Somebody do something to distract this overzealous, overgrown blue bird before it gets to my baby!”  Jellybean on the other hand seems intrigued as it plops in the empty seat beside her, rubbing its’ over-sized belly with one hand and stroking her back with the other.  Me, on the other hand, I am frozen in my seat.  I am watching what is happening right beside me, but I seriously can’t move.

Well, if you haven’t guessed it by now, I suffer from Masklophobia.  This is an actual phobia that is characterized by a fear of people in masks and costumes, and costumed characters, such as the likes of Hilda the Turkey Hill Mascot, Screamer, the York College mascot, and even Down Town, the big-bellied baseball-loving bird for the York Revolution.  For me, I think it is the not knowing who is behind the costume that scares me the most. This is something that has plagued me as far back as I can remember and obviously is still an issue.  Case in point, just a few years ago I attended a conference in California.  Apparently we were a hop, skip and a jump away from Downtown Disney.  I refused to leave the hotel for the entire week for fear I would run into Mickey Mouse and his menagerie of friends.

My trip to Vegas with friends will drive the point home.  We were on the third floor of the M&M store thoroughly engrossed in the colorful candy displays, when out of the back room struts the biggest yellow M&M I have ever seen.  It was waving its’ pudgy white hands and stomping its’ chunky white sneakers as it danced across the floor toward us.  I turned to my friend and frantically announced, “I’m out of here!”  I hopped on the escalator and rode down to the first floor where I waited by the front door until the rest of the group arrived, apparently not at all phased by the phenomena of a walking piece of candy.

What can I say, I’m a mess!  I must admit, however, I am trying to work on it.  Being involved with the therapy dog group, Jellybean and I often participate in community related events such as this past Saturday where interaction with characters such as Hilda – the Turkey Hill Turkey, Smokey the Bear, and McGruff the Crime Dog are part of the entertainment for the event. I certainly don’t want my spunky little puppy to feed off my fear, so…for the sake of my sweet Jellybean I need to muster the courage to look those mascots right in the eye – or eyes, whatever might be the case, celebrate their uniqueness and try to find the joy that others seem to see in them.  Wait a minute, did that giant Hershey Kiss just move?

Beverly Stiffler Smith

Children’s Author

Check out my books here! 

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Sharing the Love

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Jellybean and I recently participated in a therapy visit to a local nursing home.  There were five dogs and two cats along for the visit, in addition to each of their handlers.  It was a unique visit for me, as the nursing home was located in a small town in the southern part of the county where I spent the first twenty three years of my life.  As the residents walked, shuffled, wheeled or were in some cases assisted into the large activity room, now forty years later, I found myself looking deeply into the faces of the residents and searching for some familiarity.  I found it in the face of a gentleman, who sat very quietly off to the side.  He did not speak, nor did he reach out to pet Jellybean, nor any of the other visiting furry friends for that matter.  I tried not to be obvious, but there was something very familiar about him.  His hair line and squared off chin brought forth some very fuzzy images from my childhood, but not enough for me to determine where he fit in my life.  Although he did not actively participate in touching the dogs and cats, there was a twinkle in his eye that let everyone know he was very much enjoying the visit.

The room was buzzing with chatter and laughter as the therapy pets and handlers made their way around the circle.  One gentleman shared the story of how his dog brought him back to life.  He was on the verge of passing and his family brought his dog into the hospital to visit with him.  He told me with tear-filled eyes it took a few hours but all of a sudden he felt himself changing and he worked to bring himself out of his quiet reverie.  As he continued to stroke Jellybean’s fluffy head, he looked up at me and said, “And here I am to tell you my story.”  I need no further proof that the love between pets and their owners knows no bounds.

Jellybean and I then perched ourselves between an elderly resident and her mother, who had come in specifically to see her mother interact with the therapy animals.  Jellybean had the benefit of sitting on my lap, which she loves, and having both women gently stroke her soft fur at the same time.  In other words, she was in doggy heaven!  They began asking questions about Jellybean, so I shared how my precious little puppy became part of my life.  I also shared that because she is quite a little character when not in therapy mode, she inspired my first children’s picture books.  They immediately asked about the books.  Never one to disappoint, I reached into Jellybean’s back pack and produced not one, not two, but the entire Jellybean trilogy.  Before long, the daughter began reading Naughty Little Puppy out loud to her mother.  Those in close proximity leaned in closer so that they were able to hear.  It was the most beautiful thing ever; story time in the nursing home.  They giggled and laughed at Jellybean’s silly antics and talked about the colorful illustrations.  Suddenly I was transported back to my kindergarten classroom in the midst of the best picture walk ever.  Those in close proximity were engaged and focused on the book.  It was actually quite humbling and yet it made me realize that it really is true that as we age, we sometimes revert back to seeing things through a child’s eyes.

It was a wonderful visit.  The morning flew by and soon the resident’s attention was diverted by the enticing aroma of lunch being prepared for them.  With that, the group began gathering back packs, water bowls, and of course dogs and cats and bid adieu until the next time.  I walked Jellybean to the car, dropped off her accoutrements, took her on a potty walk, gave her a drink of cold water, then plopped her in her little car seat.  She was fast asleep before we even made it back to Main Street.  As I drove home, my mind wandered, and I began thinking about the opportunities animal therapy provides.  Although my schedule does not allow us to do as many visits as I would like, I am honored to be involved in a program that makes people happy simply by sharing the love.

 

Beverly Stiffler Smith

Children’s Author

Check out my books here! 

 

“Furever” Grateful

Actress Doris Day once said, “I have found when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”  I agree whole-heartedly with this statement and recently experienced a dose of this unconditional love from my own puppy.  As many of you know, Jellybean and I are a therapy team and when my schedule allows, we participate in events along with our local KPets chapter.  Jellybean is always eager to meet new people and get a few extra belly rubs along the way.

Recently, however, I was in need of some therapy of my own.  My mother, who is 83, and has always been extremely healthy, suffered a heart attack.  The doctors shook their heads in disbelief to discover that at 83 she was on no medication and the last time she was in the hospital was in 1960, when she gave birth to my youngest sister.  I knew when she called and asked me to take her to urgent care because she didn’t feel well, something serious was going on.  Fortunately I live about five minutes away from her and arrived quickly.  Imagine my surprise to find her lying on the bathroom floor, pale and gray.  She was still able to speak and said her chest hurt.  I immediately called 911 and within 5 minutes the medics were at the door.  I rode up front in the ambulance and called my sister on the way.  I was scared and was trying so hard to keep thoughts of my husband’s fatal heart attack 15 years ago at bay.

As I waited to hear something from anybody, I ran into an old friend who sat with me and talked about this and that.  I know now that it was her way of keeping me calm and focused.  I was able to talk to my sister again and called my best friend and asked if she could go to my house and be with my puppy, as I had no way to know how long I would be gone.  In the meantime, a liaison from the hospital took me back to the family room so I could wait away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital to wait for news of my mom.  And then the tears started and the memories came flooding back.  I could see myself standing at the phone in my classroom in total disbelief as my stepson, only a teenager at the time, tried so hard to remain composed and delivered the news that he had walked in from school to his father having a heart attack and that he would meet me at the hospital.  I still am not sure how I got there, but I did.  After tearfully explaining who I was and that my husband had just been brought in, a hospital liaison took me back to a quiet little room to wait.  Sitting in that room, alone, waiting for my stepson to arrive and not knowing what was happening with my husband, the love of my life, was so painful.   Suddenly the door opened and the liaison returned, much more solemnly than the first time I had met her.  She quietly delivered the news that my husband had died on the way to the hospital.  All of this was spinning in my head as I sat and once again in a little room by myself to await any news on my mother.

My sister arrived as quickly as she could.  We cried together a little bit and decided we should let our brother know what was happening, as well as our sister in Las Vegas.  Shortly after those calls had been made a doctor came in to update us.  Our mother was in the Cath Lab.  They had already discovered that she had 100% blockage of the main artery that runs across the front of the heart.  The procedure to insert a stent was in process. The prognosis looked good.  She had arrived quickly enough that there did not appear to be other damage.  The fact that she was in such good general health was in her favor.  The hospital was great, making sure that my sister and I were always in close proximity to her, as she moved from one care unit to another.  As a matter of fact, everything went so well that 5 hours later, around 1:00 AM, they had sent my sister and I home so that our mother could rest in between the routine monitoring and bloodwork that would occur throughout the night.

Still a bit scared and nervous we headed to my house, where my friend, Michele, and my puppy were waiting for us.  Mind you, it is quite unusual for either of them to be up at 1:30 in the morning, but both were wide awake.  Jellybean immediately could sense my nervousness.  She stayed right by my side as the three of us sat at the table drinking hot tea and eating animal crackers, well…. four of us were eating animal crackers.  Throughout the night, Jellybean, who shares my bed, stayed pretty close as I tossed and turned all night long.  The next morning, although happy to see our houseguests, she still wanted to be by me.  Mind you, she is a bit of a mamma’s girl, but she was overly protective of me throughout the day and the next several as well.  I found myself really holding on to Jellybean over the next few days.  She eagerly sat with me and several times reached out with her little paw and laid it on my leg as if to say “Everything is going to be okay.”  She even lapped up a tear or two.  My mother was released a few days later and came to stay with us for a few days.  When it was time for bed, Jellybean snuggled right alongside my mother until it was time for her last potty call.  In the morning she bolted down the steps and headed toward the bedroom.  It was almost as though Jellybean knew she had to be extra gentle with her.  She didn’t pounce like she usually does, but once again snuggled up against her. And so the “silent devotion” continued in the days following.  I am “furever” grateful to have a puppy that willingness shares her heart with me, my family and the children, college students, elderly and community members that benefit from her sloppy kisses as a therapy dog.  I am also grateful to have such a wonderful friend, who didn’t even blink when I asked her to leave her family in my time of need.

Beverly Stiffler Smith

Children’s Author

Check out my books here! 

The Great Canine Badge Caper

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This weekend Jellybean and I had the opportunity to participate in an event for the local Girl Scout chapter.  We were there as part of KPets, the Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy organization.  This is an organization whose motto is “Touching lives, warming hearts through human and animal interaction.”  At any given event you may see dogs of varying breeds and size, cats, mini horses, rabbits, etc. The five dogs that were in attendance during our 2-hour session were met with enthusiasm as the 200 plus young ladies oohed and ahhed over these four-legged fur babies.  They petted and stroked their fur, shared stories about their own pets, and giggled and smiled at the apparel and accessories chosen for this specific event.  It was refreshing to hear so many of the girls sharing their accomplishments as they spoke about the various badges adorning their sashes.  These young, achievement oriented girls represented their organization well, and are enthusiastic leaders in the making.  On the drive home, I glanced at my tired little puppy and started wondering what sort of badges she would earn in the dog world.  After some serious contemplation, I actually came up with a few:

COMPANIONSHIP BADGE – Jellybean has brought so much light into my world.  She earns this badge for romping into my life and being my rambunctious, fun-loving side kick.

LOYALTY BADGE  – I could not ask for a more loyal four-legged friend.  Jellybean is constantly by my side.  This badge is awarded for her unwavering loyalty.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE BADGE  – Jellybean asks for nothing in return, yet gives so much!  She earns this badge for her big heart and sloppy kisses.

NAPPER BADGE – She earns this badge for leaving no spot unturned to find the very best place to nap.

COLLECTOR BADGE – Jellybean is a collector of many things; toys, sticks, pinecones, treats.  She earns this badge for proudly prancing down the street with her treasure of choice.

CONCEALER BADGE  – Jellybean is a certified concealer.  She earns this particular badge for spending much time and consideration as to the perfect hiding place for her special treats.

BEST DRESSED BADGE – Jellybean is quite the fashion diva with her vast wardrobe and accessories.  Jellybean earns this badge for accommodating me, her over the top pet parent, when it comes to having just the right outfit for any occasion.

TAIL CHASING BADGE – Jellybean earns this badge for her expertise at spinning at a high rate of speed as she pursues her elusive fluffy white tail.

MOON WALK BADGE  – Jellybean has been awarded this badge for having mastered backing up lickety split from behind the couch when she hears the rattle of a snack bag.

NAUGHTY BADGE – This was Jellybean’s very first badge, earned for running away with things that did not belong to her.  She was very quickly deemed a naughty little puppy.