*Originally posted by The Kite Network, June 14, 2013 at 11:51 am.

The Kite Network's therapy dog, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Hall Photography, www.studiochp.com.

The Kite Network’s therapy dog, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Hall Photography, www.studiochp.com.

I have a confession to make. I’m a little bit of a germophobe.

My friends and family will scoff at this statement, roll their eyes and incredulously ask, “A LITTLE bit?”  It’s true: “a little bit” is an understatement.  I have bottles of pump hand gel everywhere in the house and car.  I carry it in my purse in various sizes and formulas.  I won’t eat the ends of my french fries at McDonalds because I’ve touched them and I have to eat the burger out of the paper wrapping so I don’t contaminate it, too. I have a bit of a meltdown if anyone touches the top of my straw while helping me stick it through a plastic lid.  I carry my own water on airplanes so I don’t have to sip out of a cup that the steward may or may not have touched.  I order wine at the bar because then the bartender doesn’t touch anything that goes in my drink.

And yet, I will let my dog lick my face.

Where my chin meets my neck mostly, but on occasion she’ll sneak a smooch on the lips.  Now I’m sure you’ve heard that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s.  Mmmhmm, sure.

My first career was as a veterinarian.  I’ll admit I’ve never cultured a human’s nor a dog’s mouth in a Petri dish, so I can’t claim that I, personally, have thoroughly researched the veracity of this statement.  But I have caught our Lab cheerfully eating poop in the backyard.  To her, any and all kinds of poop have the allure of freshly baked cookies.  The outdoors provides the makings of a veritable buffet in the eyes of my yellow lab.  The tendency of animals to ingest the droppings of other beasts has the wonderfully scientific name: it’s called “coprophagia.”  Sounds smart, doesn’t it?

And indeed, despite the first impression her unfortunate dietary habits make, my dog is smart.  She’s so smart she knows when I’ve forgotten to buckle on her training collar.  She’s so smart she knows when I’m talking to someone struggling with grief.  When I’m on the phone, speaking quietly, and she is zap-collar free, she knows I won’t (can’t!) yell at her while she merrily snacks on garden treats twenty yards away, eyeing me like a strong-limbed, saucy teenager, and daring me to do anything about it.

My current career is as a grief counselor, and Georgia, the friendly and loving “coprophage,” is my grief therapy dog.

I’m not a licensed therapist, but I do have extensive experience with the subject.  I’m a companion to other moms who are suffering from the recent loss of their child, as I did in 2000 when my strong-limbed, saucy, and perfectly happy 6-year-old daughter, Lauren, was struck and killed by her school bus.  I never got to enjoy her as a teenager.  I would give anything to have that experience.

Georgia is a perfect grief therapy dog (although I do brush her teeth a LOT to prepare her for her day job).  I can tell you from first-hand experience as a mom who has endured extreme grief, a peer counselor who brings her dog to work, and from way back during my vet practice days, dogs can touch and heal us in ways we cannot define with words.

Georgia does this with her happy, goofy presence and her indefatigable sense of humor.  You will frequently find her rolling on her back at my grieving companion’s feet, smiling and wagging her tail upside down as she wiggles on the floor under the stroke of a belly rub.  I’m trying to train her to rest her head on my grief companion’s lap.  She frequently tries that for a few seconds and then employs her lean, flip and flop technique, which actually is working quite well.

My companion will pet her for a while and I’ll gently point out that for some reason, petting Georgia just makes you feel better.  Frequently, after a pause, I’ll hear, “Oh. You’re right!”

My companions have a long walk ahead of them.  When they reach out to our organization, the kite network, for help, it has usually been 4-12 months after the death of their loved one.  It takes time to heal a shattered heart.  I always tell my moms that the holes will never go away, but the edges will soften and become less jagged over time.

I know.  And Georgia knows too.  As well as she knows when she can get away with a quick off-the-menu snack.

And by the way, there’s an extra large bottle of hand sanitizer in our kite network office.

The kite network is a peer support organization. Our counselors are volunteers from the community who have traveled on their own personal grief journeys, and who have been trained to provide a supportive presence to our clients.

We support all types of loss, even those losses not always recognized by society.

Please visit us at www.thekitenetwork.org for more information.

The kite network.  Lift.  Love.  Live.  

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Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is a locally-owned animal hospital operating for over 90 years in Ann Arbor, MI.