It was a Monday morning at the hospital. I was working with my canine partner, Cluny, and a small group of pediatric patients. Cluny was still fairly new as a therapy dog but and already demonstrated an instinctive affiliation for children. The morning had gone well with our usual activities that focused on taking turns and following directions. Nearing the end of our session time, the screech of a power tool suddenly sounded overhead. The sound pierced his concentration. His eyes scanned the area searching for the source of the noise. There was nothing out of place in the room. Cluny started to ease back into a Down when the tool shrilled again. He sprang to his feet, prepared to flee.
I could see the children begin to startle and back away in response to his panic so I quickly explained that Cluny is afraid of thunder and other loud noises.
The experienced counselor seized on the teaching moment. “What does Cluny do when he is afraid?”
I said that at home Cluny has a safe place, a corner that he goes to until he feels better. But here in a strange place he doesn’t know where to hide.
“What do you do when you’re afraid?” the counselor asked the children one by one. They responded quietly, reflectively.
“And what helps you feel better?” When one child replied that she sings, the counselor suggested they sing to Cluny. The session ended peacefully with the little group gathered around the big brown dog, softly singing a lullaby, stroking Cluny’s silky fur.
We went to the hospital that day so Cluny could bring some comfort to the patients. Instead they were given the opportunity to comfort him. And that, sometimes, is the greater gift.