I’ve been putting off writing this post for well over a week now.
Partly because I don’t feel like anyone needs anymore bad news right now, partly because I don’t really know what to say, but mostly because I don’t want to examine this too closely because it’s still raw and it hurts. But I’m also a psych and a massive believer that we have to practice what we preach (at least some of the time), so here we go…
One of our very first therapy dogs, Ralph, passed away last week.
Ralph was nearly 16 years old and started working with us at the stereotype defying age of 11! Despite his age and the adage about old dogs and new tricks, Ralph took to therapy work like the proverbial ducks in the arboretum lake and he gave us an absolutely amazing 4 years of love and cuddles and quirks. Not just for the staff and his clients either, anyone sitting in the waiting room could expect to get some Ralph love on most days. Although he did save the truly snuggly stuff for Megan and his clients (because they were HIS, not Megan’s!).
I still remember the first day Megan brought him in. We’d only just opened Crown Court up and the plan was to put Ralph through a few of the training exercises that he’d have to do to get his therapy dog certification and see how he went. Given his age we weren’t sure he’d be up for such a massive lifestyle adjustment, but this funny, fluffy little dog strutted into the clinic, his nose covered in dirt from where he’d been playing in the yard and his tongue lolling out of his mouth like something out of a looney tunes cartoon and made himself right at home. Within 2 minutes he had adopted what would come to be known as the “ralph” pose; sitting at attention next to the seated client’s feet where his back was easily accessible for pats and scratches.
We figured he’d do ok. 😊 And he most certainly did!
Ralph personified the real joy and the real magic of animal-assisted therapy work as being found in the bonds you see develop between your animal and your clients. These bonds and these relationships are special and unique and utterly precious. And while the loss of any companion animal is devastating, it would seem that, with the loss of a therapy animal, the grief is compounded. You lose the animal and your relationship with them, but also all of those relationships with clients you’ve had the privilege to witness, leaving you grieving while at the same time trying to support your clients through their own grief reactions.
And this is why I don’t want to look at it too closely, because I know, one day, that will happen to me too. I can only hope, when that day comes, that I can derive some comfort and solace from knowing, that just like with Ralph, the reason it’s so complicated and painful is precisely because of how important these therapy animals are to so many people. There is no-one who knew Ralph who isn’t saddened by the loss of his jaunty little trot, floppy little tongue and cuddly little body, because there was no one who met him who wasn’t brightened, comforted or amused by his very existence.
And that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.
If anyone would like to talk to someone about anything that has been brought up for them here, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to work something out with you.