Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Dogs: heelers or healers?

Wick's World

 


If I were a dog therapist, these are the questions I would ask.

I’m standing at the head of a classroom teaching a class called Dog Therapy. I cut right to the chase. I don’t ask the 20 students if they ever had to chase their dog. I want to make a different point.

“With a show of hands, is there anyone here who doesn’t have a dog?”

Surprisingly two people raise their hands. When I ask them why they were taking the class, they both replied with the same answer. They were here on behalf of a spouse who had cancer and was currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. They both were about to purchase a cancer dog specifically trained to aid and assist a human stricken with cancer. That led me into my next question.

For the other 18 people, I ask, “Has anyone here had a heeler in their family?”

No one raises their hand, so I ask a different question.

“Has anyone here had a cattle dog or a sheep dog?”

I thought it was possible that maybe someone owned a dog and didn’t even realize it was a heeler. After all, there exist many different types of heelers such as blue heelers, red heelers, Australian cattle dogs or Australian shepherds.

Some, if not all of these breeds, exist because of the deliberate cross-breeding of one variety of canines with another. I ask the class about my favorite breed of heeler, the ones that are specifically bred and genetically focused on the one thing that gives them the most pleasure in life: herding animals.

“Has anyone had an Australian shepherd?”

Again, there is no show of hands, so I went into my monologue about Tippy, the wonder dog my uncle had on his farm where he raised sheep. As a youngster I spent many days on the farm playing with my cousins and the Australian shepherd who was soon to become one of this man’s best friends. It wasn’t that Tippy was so playful with kids, although he was. It was the fact that Tippy was so smart that I questioned if the dog sometimes wondered, why are humans so stupid?

I was still a young kid when I became fascinated with both my uncle and Tippy the Wonder Dog and how smart they were when working as a team. For Tippy, all you had to do to get the sheep in to the barn is run circles around the entire herd until they go where you want them to go. I guess that’s why Tippy was called a shepherd.

For you dog owners, you have all owned healers or at least potential healers. It’s just that your healer is spelled with the letter "a".

It’s been six years since I fractured several vertebras and broke my sternum. A little over five years ago, I found myself back at Mayo Clinic where once again I had my sternum cracked open; this time to heal a broken heart. I commented to the surgeon that this was going to be the second time in less than a year that my sternum was going to be cracked wide open.

I said to Doc, “I have just finally got both my front and back bones healed up, and I give much of the credit to my dog, Otis. How’s this going to work with my just healed sternum?”

He agreed with me about the benefits of my dog as a healer. Then he said, “It’s going to work quite well. We have a saw that will cut the bone right down the middle and then we spread you wide open to easily get at your heart.”

“Isn’t this going to hurt a lot, as I just healed it up?” I asked.

“Well, if you can think of another way to get at your heart, let me know before tomorrow morning. And yes, this is going to really hurt afterward. Not to worry, we’ll get you through this.”

I had just finally weaned myself off of morphine and a mix of other opioids that got me through my “Year of Broken Bones.” I was not looking forward to another withdrawal which was in some ways, far worse than the pain itself.

The heart surgery went well and the healing began. I eventually went through another round of taking this and downsizing to something else. With my dog Otis always on my lap, the withdrawal wasn’t as bad as the first time. All of my bone-breaking and surgeries eventually took its toll on my body. The one method of pain relief I can always rely on is no longer called Otis. When I find myself hurting and needing to sit in my recliner, my new dogs, Sweet Pea and Mae, have their particular spots on my lap where they go to work on nullifying the pain.

Entire books are written on human/animal relationships and some are specifically about therapy dogs. I can sum up in two words what my dogs have done to help me get through the hard times: relaxation and distraction. The dog you love so much can be very soothing during those particularly painful times. They can also be a useful means of distraction by turning the focus away from the pain and toward paying attention to the unconditional love emanating from man’s best friend.

 

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