General Non-Fiction posted July 8, 2024

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My next project... maybe!

Would this grab you?

by Wendy G

I am considering assembling a collection of my dog stories, mainly about Sunny, into a book. It will include his loving but sometimes quirky ways, as well as his insights and comments about his life journey with humans, along with his letters to me, his dear Mama.

In my home state, an anthology of one hundred short stories on a specified topic is published annually. This year the topic is “What made me”, and I have used this prompt to write my entry, called “What made me … say THAT?”

I haven’t heard yet whether my entry will be selected from the more than a thousand entries.

However, I was wondering if you think it would be a suitable opening for a book of Sunny stories. You probably already know most of the contents of my entry, so there won’t be much fresh content to read for you. I would greatly value your thoughts on the writing techniques, the structure, whether it would be an engaging opening, and in short, if you knew nothing about me or Sunny, would this story encourage you to want to read such a book? And also if you think a book of his stories would sell (even just ten would make me happy!)

Many thanks for any helpful suggestions or advice. Here is the entry:

What made me …say THAT? 

Those nine words just popped out of my mouth. They changed my life.

My husband’s birthday was approaching, and my daughter phoned me with a brilliant idea for a gift for him. Without telling me what it was, she encouraged me to just say “YES!” There have been times when I have been naïve and foolish, but fortunately, this was NOT one of them.

I insisted on knowing more. “A kitten!” she exclaimed. Absolutely not. I am allergic to cats, and suffered for many years during her childhood when three kittens were dropped on our front doorstep – one for each child, which they took as a sign that each had been gifted with a kitten. And then I uttered those nine words,

            “If we get anything, it will be a dog!”

I was immediately assailed by emails from my daughter with photos of puppies. I did not want to train a puppy, I told her. I had retired a few weeks previously, and my new life was beginning. The next email contained a photo of a beautiful Labrador, almost twelve years old. No one wanted an old dog – but her owners were going overseas imminently. She would be euthanised if no suitable home could be found. And … her name was the same as that of my childhood dog. Was this meant to be?

“Honey” was invited to Pa’s birthday party, with the grandchildren present – and was the star of the event with her gentle demeanour. She stayed for “a sleepover”. That was when the reality hit me. I hadn’t had a dog for fifty years! I didn’t know how much to feed her, nor if she was a non-stop barker. Yet, within days, she was ours.

A treasure in every way. Thankful for her food, for the garden where she enjoyed the trees, shrubs, and sunshine, thankful for being welcomed indoors. She was gentle, gracious, and queenly. She rarely barked, perhaps half a dozen times a year. Not Pa’s birthday present. My gift to myself. I promised to give her a happy life in her senior years.

She was a born therapy dog with her sweet and placid nature – but was too old to be accepted for certification. She fulfilled her unofficial role beautifully, comforting and reassuring to children, the elderly … everyone she met. I cannot express the joy she gave me. Nor can I express my grief when I held her as she breathed her last, more than three years later. I had fulfilled my promise to her – she had a very happy life, giving and receiving love every day.

Eight months later, after much searching, I found another dog, a small five-year-old magnificent-looking dog of indeterminate heritage, who needed a home. Sunny. Good with dogs and children, they said. He fitted beautifully into our household. He too was sweet-natured and gentle, a very friendly placid dog. Everywhere we went, people approached him for a pat and a chat. Other times he approached people for a pat and a chat. He was truly Mr Personality.

Early last year he became an official certified therapy dog. He is lively and curious most of the time – until he sees someone who needs doggy love, and then he will lie quietly beside them and cuddle, sharing his care, comfort, and reassurance for whatever time they need.

He has encouraged people, particularly those with few visitors, in nursing homes. He has regularly been to a disability day program where the young people are trained how to approach and pat dogs safely and offer treats at the end. Sunny and up to six other dogs sit in a row and wait their turn for a treat, taking it gently from the young disabled people. It is a moving experience to watch.

He now visits a private hospital, and sits with people during their chemotherapy sessions, and a public hospital, where he is a favourite with people in every ward he visits. Very strict hygiene protocols are followed, of course.

He goes to the public hospital’s rehabilitation ward, and to the waiting area for those awaiting an operation – their blood pressure and anxiety levels drop significantly, thanks to him. He’s definitely a favourite in the children’s ward. Last visit, nursing staff used him to calm a frightened two-year-old so they could administer asthma medication through a mask. The terrified child stopped crying at this amazing distraction.

The joy of seeing him “at work” is a highlight of my week. The hospital staff love seeing the dogs as well – they frequently stop everything for a cuddle and some comfort themselves, for their work is stressful. He has been to “mental health days” at various work environments, to a jail, and to many other one-off events. He loves doing what he does and becomes very excited when he sees me dressing in my uniform and put his special bandana on him.

And the other days? He unofficially does his therapy dog work seven days a week. His personality means that loving life and loving people every day, whether “officially” or not, is simply expressing who he is.

Surely, he has some bad habits? Yes, he is a manipulator – and I am a pushover. He is training me to adapt his cuisine to suit his refined palate. He’s taught me to accompany him outside for his last bathroom break each night. I’ve learned the clever skill of putting on his harness for a walk while he is lying upside down expecting a tummy rub at the same time. And yes, I can tie my shoelaces while giving him a tummy rub as well.

My retirement lifestyle is not what I planned – outings are to dog-friendly cafés, holidays are in pet-friendly accommodation, and I miss him if I’m out all day… but I wouldn’t change a thing. I have love, companionship, loyalty, and together we have a common purpose in sharing love.

So, what made me ... say that? What made me ... get a dog? That phone call about a kitten!


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