Recently, I have had three close friends lose beloved dog companions; I ache so much for each of them, knowing all too well the depth of grief I have experienced-- the emptiness, the silence, the moments that the grief takes hold in unexpected ways--the length of time it takes to be able to function without our soulmates.
As a professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY for 31 years, I continue to turn to literature to cope, to know others actually have felt as deeply as I do about such intense loss.
I invite you to take a look at Mary Oliver's Dog Songs, a collection of her dog poems from numerous collections, now all in one book. Not all of them are about grief and loss; many will make you laugh, others will have you nodding in agreement with her understanding of these precious companions.
Very recently, Linda Pastan has also published a collection of her dog poems, A Dog Runs Through It, where she shares the joy, the laughter , the responsibility , and the pain of having a dog in our lives.
Get ahold of a copy of these books and others, or just pull up some examples from the web, and let me know what you think. The first poems that comes to mind that I want to share with my friends I mentioned who are grieving are from Mary Oliver's collection; they are "The First Time Percy Came Back" and "Her Grave."
I have, on a number of occasions, been in a moment with my dog(s), where I feel they know more than I do, where they "speak" to me in a way I can only describe as "spiritual." Have you had such an experience?
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
Fire to Fire by Mark Doty
Doggerel edited by Carmela Ciuraru
If You are Holding this Book
"You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book you should know
that of all the sights I love in this world
and there are plenty--very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes." Mary Oliver
Have you ever seen a therapy dog at a nursing home, college, or library and thought, “I bet my dog would make a great therapy dog”? This kind of volunteer work truly enriches you and your relationship with your dog ALMOST as much as enriches the people you meet and spend time with.
My previous golden retriever, Morgon, and I loved our biweekly evenings with the wonderful staff and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester. Morgon and I ended up part of the House family and enjoyed rich, moving experiences for several years before Morgon passed in 2012.
For the last year, though, my three year old golden retriever, Gretta, and I have traveled to libraries to be part of a wonderful Tales for Tails program, where young children read books to several therapy dogs who love to listen to the children read, all while soaking up the attention.
After learning so much about the expanding use of therapy dogs at colleges all over the country and participating in a Campus Canine program at the University of Rochester, I approached the President of Monroe Community College about bringing therapy dogs to campus this past semester (Spring 2016). Shortly after, we had two wonderful events, one in the library during the last week of classes, when students’ stress levels are particularly high and one during Field Days, outside on the campus lawn, where administrators, faculty, and staff stopped by to sit with, talk with, and pet the six or seven dogs present. Both events were terrifically successful!
The big news is that MCC President Kress is piloting a Program this Fall 2016 semester so that my therapy dog Gretta can be on campus daily, spending regular hours in the campus Counseling Center, in the library, and in my office when I’m not teaching.
If you’d like to know more about getting your dog certified, please go to the Therapy Dogs International website: www.therapydogs.com or check out their face book page. If there’s much interest, I will, in a future blog give the names of trainers and testers in the Rochester area.