I’m in a photogrpahy group called, “Take a Damn Picture a Week.” It’s a bunch of professional photographers who decided it would be good to have a weekly discipline of taking one photo each week that is NOT work related (helps with the creative edge, I’m told.) This week the assignment was “Happiness.”  I could probably justify photos of my granddaughters each week – regardless of the theme – but that’s kind of cheating because I would be taking those photos every chance I get anyway. So today I got on my bike and headed for the park to see if I could find myself a little happiness. About 4 miles in I ran across Sam and her human, Arlen (who told me that you don’t “own” a golden retriever; it owns you.) 

Sam was so focused. The stick! The stick! The stick! She never took her eyes off of it: when Arlen reared back to throw it, she took a step back with him. And once he flung it, she hit the water before the stick did, simultaneiously watching it fly through the air. “Get it, girl! Find it!” She’d paddle left, then right, then left again – a living, breathing zig zag. Every single time Sam managed to find the stick and came back for more. I imagine she would’ve paddled around in that water for hours if that’s what it took to find the soggy branch. 

Sam was at the park for some well-deserved playtime. She’s a working girl; not just any working girl but the 2011 Texas Therapy Dog of the Year! What does a therapy dog do? They visit people who need love and hope, offering them a “time out” from things like chemo or being cooped up in a hospital room or a nursing home. Arlen says that Sam works mostly with the elderly; this power duo visits with folks for about an hour and a half once per week, and afterward Sam reportedly falls asleep before the car has even pulled out of the parking lot. Being a therapy dog is hard work: Sam goes from person to person offering furry hugs and listening ears. And while she may not understand every word, she’s still spellbound. Sam is also a catalyst for conversation, as being with her reminds folks of days gone by, when they, too, had a dog. Arlen is the one who gets to hear the stories, and he says it’s undoubtedly the most rewarding volunteer work he’s ever done. There’s so much to be said for slowing down and actually listening to people (especially those marginalized by society.) What an incredible gift! To learn more about Therapy Pet Pals, visit their website here

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