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Finding faith in canine companionship
February 26, 2014 - Dawn Bliss
When you lose faith, it shatters. So when rediscovering faith it must be done one shard at a time. For me, the first shard, and the linchpin of reconstructing a healthy connection with family, friends and the world-at-large, is dogs. Guess I am a bit ahead of the scientists. Neurologists recently published a study where they determined through brain scans of dogs that dogs can recognize and understand tones and inflections in our voices that express our different emotions. Basically, dogs tune in to our feelings and respond to them as well as any human BFF. No duh. I mean, I understand that researchers wanted to document the “how” of such phenomena, but personally how dogs know whether we hurt or are happy really is not as relevant as the fact that they do. People seek hard proof before they believe, and that’s fine. For the rest of us, experiencing a relationship with a dog solidified our faith long before this study quantified the matter. For instance, Scooby, a white Westie terrier that belongs to my friend, Mary Ann Haas, is particularly sensitive to people, as I recently came to find out. I was visiting them and still carrying a bit of frustration from a prior disillusionment. I was talking about it and was close to launching an angry rant when Scooby leaned against me and put his paw on my hand. He looked up at me with his warm eyes and seemed to say, “Hey, it’s cool. You don’t have to fret anymore. I’m here.” Turns out, Scooby is a bit of an expert at comforting people. He is a Good Canine Citizen and trained therapy dog that regularly appears at the BLAST after-school program at Butler Elementary School on South 18th Street. The children there read out loud to him as they practice their literacy skills. Udders, a stray dog I sent home to my parents from Afghanistan during my last Army deployment, is sensitive, too. He’s just not as smooth as Scooby. He is a rush of energy and happiness, sharing his joy with you by draping himself across your lap and looking up at you with an open, confident smile. But if he senses another’s distress, he will turn tail and tip-toe around as if waiting to be scolded. At just two-years-old, Udders is still learning, but then so are my parents who are trying to help Udders navigate the human world. Together they are attending basic dog obedience classes at the Fort Dodge Kennel Club, 210 10th St. N.W., with Mary Ann as their trainer. “A lot of people come to class and don’t know how to work with their dogs,” she said. “We try to help them be more social with their dogs by teaching them how to handle their dogs in a very positive way.” Judging by the way Udders prances around the ring with his tail wagging, he enjoys the treats, praise and canine socialization of his Wednesday evening classes. He has already made friends with a few of his fellow classmates, particularly a standard poodle named Fletcher. Fletcher belongs to Rebecca Hanson, a Kennel Club member. He, too, is a therapy dog, one that visits the residents of multiple nursing homes each week. “When you have a bad day, dogs know it,” Hanson said. “They will come up and just lean into you, soothe you. They really make a difference in people.” Dogs definitely make a difference for me. They give me a place to begin as I reclaim my shattered faith.
Fort Dodge Kennel Club member Rebecca Hanson gives a command for her standard poodle, Fletcher, leave the treats on the floor as they pass them. Obedience class instructor Mary Ann Haas watches as the pair successfully completes the task.