General Non-Fiction posted February 7, 2024

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Just a (big) little gift

by Wendy G

Today I received a tiny gift. Actually it wasn't for me at all.

But for me, the gift was huge because it came with thought and appreciation.

Today is Wednesday, which means it is “Therapy Dogs Day” for my dog Sunny and myself; our fortnightly visit to the hospital to encourage people who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

I have never missed since the program was established in the middle of last year, and am therefore getting to know some of the regular patients, and they in turn are getting to know us. Sometimes I rejoice when I see them no more - for the good reason that their treatment has been completed, and, for the moment at least, they are doing well. Their last day is a happy one. 

On our last visit before Christmas, I took a small gift for each person, and they were very appreciative. It doesn’t take much to brighten the day for someone going through some tough times. They love seeing the dogs and chatting with someone who is not medical, so their pleasure is my delight. It’s an experience of reciprocal pleasure.

The staff also enjoy seeing these dogs and interacting with them. Theirs is a career which can be emotionally draining, and they will sometimes confide in us if they are having a bad day or have recently lost a patient, especially if that person loved the dogs’ visits. Staff too need comfort and support.

Today seemed extra special. Everyone was happy to engage with the dogs and us – there are times when people are not interested, are not “dog people”, or are simply too tired or unwell, and we do not bother them.

But today, wherever we went, faces lit up, and smiles radiated around the rooms and foyer areas. Photos and stories of their own dogs were shared, and gave pleasure to all of us.

But to me the most beautiful part of today’s experience was with my first client, whom I shall call Andrew. His wife Jane was not with him today as she, a nurse, had finished her leave of absence, and was back at work. Carer’s leave had been granted for her to look after Andrew initially after his diagnosis, and then extended when her ex-husband also became terminally ill with cancer.

She has been torn by the need to care for her ex-husband in palliative (hospice) care, not expected to last until Christmas (and living several hours away in a country town), as well as Andrew, who had a much better prognosis. Her ex-husband died last week.

Andrew and Jane have now unofficially inherited his beautiful elderly kelpie dog, Willow, and are helping her to adjust – she is grieving the loss of her master, and coming to terms with a new home and family in her senior years. Andrew and Jane have hearts of gold.

This morning, I greeted Andrew – and his face lit up to see Sunny. Then he drew out some gifts, one each for Sunny and the other two dogs. Three sealed plastic bags, each containing a slice of cheese. Dogs, of course, love cheese! A little treat.

Our dogs are not permitted to eat while “working”, so he asked me to give them to the dogs later on, for a special thanks from him.

This kind and thoughtful gesture brought tears to my eyes.

After all he has been through and is still going through, and after all his wife, children and stepchildren have been enduring for the last several months, and in the midst of her heading off for work this morning, and getting Andrew to the hospital, they remembered that this was Therapy Dogs Day, and prepared a little something for the dogs.

How can I not feel humbled, encouraged, and thankful for such thoughtful people? Facing life with courage and determination – and still thinking of others. That's what this gift represented to me.

How can I not believe that this volunteer work means a huge amount to those we meet?

I am so glad to be part of this very rewarding service to our community.



The above photo is of a dog like Willow, now being cared for by Andrew and Jane.
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