admin On July - 15 - 2013
Lucy taking a much earned lunch break on the mountain.

Lucy taking a much earned lunch break on the mountain.

I found myself unexpectedly overwhelmed today. I decided to head up Mont-Royal with Lucy today (yes, topographically-speaking, it’s not a mountain, but it’s still a perfectly lovely oasis in the middle of the city). Along the way, the usual number of drivers whipped out their smartphones to snap pics of the “scooter dog” in action (some quite perilously). And we then set out on our walk of several kilometres.

Despite being over 16 years old, and not in the best of health, she never ceases to amaze me on these walks. But what really hit me was the interactions I saw with children today. It’s the height of tourist season in Montreal, so the mountain was teeming with visitors. I usually take the more rugged off-path route to avoid the swarms of people, and to give Lucy a few more ‘sniffing stops’. But before getting to the more wooded and peaceful areas, we usually encounter a fair number of families out for weekend strolls.

Admittedly the little bow Lucy has sported ever since she began doing therapy (which she bizarrely asks to wear) is quite endearing. But even without it, there just seems to be something undefineably special about her. Maybe it’s that ‘puppy-like’ look that from a distance belies her many years, or those ridiculously soulful eyes. Whatever it is, adults and children alike seem to find her irresistible.

The years we spent as a therapy team have fairly keyed me in to recognize the ‘I really want to pet her, but I’m not entirely sure’ look that crosses children’s faces when they see her. Sometimes, like today, they’ll be less subtle and simply scream out when they want to stop to see her. At which point I usually engage the parents and tell them that their child is more than welcome to approach—after all, it’s a brilliant opportunity to teach kids how to engage with animals in a safe environment. And I’ve also gotten prettune atuned to Lucy’s moods and know instantly if she’s had enough. Admittedly her tolerance for kids’ shenanigans has decreased as she’s entered her senior years.

Today, as we neared the end of our hike, I saw an adorable little boy of perhaps four, straining at his father’s arm towards Lucy. His father rightly prevented him from bolting over to a strange dog (and human), but once I’d given my assent he allowed the boy to come over. I told him to extend his hand and that it was always a good idea to ask the owner for permission.

I felt strongly this might be his first time up close with a dog; he was incredibly timid and clearly leery of this strange creature. But we stayed there as he wound his way over to her side and gingerly patted her fur. I cheered him on for doing such a great job and his face began to positively beam as he extended his hand to stroke her fur again.

His older and younger sister soon ran up. Each were less fearful than he—the latter since he’d likely encountered his share of dogs already, and the former too young to have developed any reason for apprehensiveness. They too asked permission and soon Lucy was inundated with the kind of incredibly unsatisfying pets kids are wont to give. But still, she stood there and bore it all. Not once did she even give me the tell-tale look that signals it’s time for me to make up a story to get her out from under their tugging and poking fingers.

In those moments I watched that little boy transform as he told his siblings all about this dog he had just met. The smile that crept across his face as he looked at Lucy suddenly overwhelmed me, and I was grateful for the cover of sunglasses. I’ve seen this scene countless times before, but it never ceases to affect me. Over the seven years of ‘official’ therapy Lucy has did, there was no shortage of ‘heart in throat’ moments. But as time wears on, I grow ever more grateful for each one I am privy to. She may be ‘off the clock’, but even in retirement this dog still turns it on, still knows when there’s an opportunity to be taken—we should all be so devoted to the well-being human community as our dogs are…