Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fairy Tails

It has been anything but a quiet week around these-here parts.  On Wednesday, one of the students in my care had a complete meltdown, suffering a full-blown, adult-sized panic attack.  She sat in my office sobbing, nearly howling as she talked about her feelings and her fears.  It turns out that she had already been through two panic attacks, one Saturday evening, one Tuesday.  On Friday, she was back in my office with another one. 

When the girl first came into my office, Cleo responded with her usual peppiness.  She hopped down from her perch on the back of my couch—an ideal spot because it affords her a panoramic view of the lawn where students hang out and chat, as well as of the canyon where hawks flit around looking for an afternoon meal.  As is her practice, she pounced on the first toy that met her eye and carried it over to our visitor to show it off.  No wonder that the girl, face buried in her hands, didn’t even notice Cleo.  So Cleo nudged her in the shin with the toy, then stepped back, peering up at the girl.  No reaction.  Nudge, a little harder this time.  No reaction.  It was at this moment that the poor girl began to wail in earnest.  Cleo hastily backed away, dropping her toy and nearly tripping over her back feet.  Her ears forward, her tail fully extended, a small furrow in her brow, she regarded the girl from a safe distance. 

Then, she walked quietly up to the sobbing child and slipped behind her legs.  She lay down and pressed the length of her body against the girl’s calves.  I wasn’t sure the student had even noticed, and she may not have, consciously, but in a moment, one hand dropped away from her face and reached down to rest on Cleo’s head.

As the child calmed down, she was able to talk and tell me what had been going on during the week.  Panic attacks are painful and confusing for so many reasons, not the least of which is that there may be no single incident that triggers them.  Nothing specific had happened to the student, she just kept falling to pieces.  And when you don’t know why something is happening, what is causing it, the fear of the next episode can be almost as overwhelming as the episode itself.

Eventually, the student talked herself into a more peaceful state, and I thought some glorious October sunshine and fresh air might help her even more.  We took Cleo up to the athletic field and watched her chase her ball, hunt for gophers and just generally bound around, ears flopping in the clean joy of being alive.  We sat on the grass and talked for a couple of hours with Cleo, obviously in seventh heaven, stretched out between us.

I wish I could say that the student is completely recovered,  but that’s not the way of anxiety issues.  She was back in my office again on Friday.  As she sat on the couch weeping, Cleo snuggled up beside her and quietly licked her hand, a soothing, if somewhat damp, gesture.  The student’s advisor joined us this time, and after the child had gone home, the advisor turned to me and said, “Cleo was just awesome!  Is she learning to do this in her classes?”  For a moment, I couldn’t figure out what she was referring to, then I realized: “Oh, no.  Those are obedience classes—sit, down, come, stay.”  No, caring and compassion just come naturally to this therapist in dog’s clothing.

After a week of working very hard, Cleo deserved some special romps this weekend.  Both Saturday and Sunday, my husband and I took her to walk on one of her very favorite trails.  It’s wooded and grassy and must smell like a dog’s candy store.  She can really put on some steam on this trail, running ahead of us, then loping to catch up when she stops for a prolonged sniff.  Our favorite spot is an open lawn that abuts the trail.  It always requires a thorough inspection, nose hoovering the blades of grass for every iota of scent.  Suddenly, on a signal known only to her, Cleo jackrabbits into a run and flings herself at top speed around the lawn.  She is a blur, ears streaming behind her, mouth open in laughter, her hind feet reaching forward far beyond her front feet as she propels herself, banking into the turns, back to the trail and to us.  It is as if she has to express her joyful exuberance or burst.  Watching her in this ritual is one of the happiest moments of my day.

And so, tomorrow for Halloween, Cleo is going to be a woodland fairy.  It seemed fitting.  She is the beautiful bringer of love, the grantor of wishes, at home in the world of green.

Cleo's first Halloween (6 weeks old)
Cleo, Halloween 2011


  1. I had to get the tissues out for this story, just hearing what a wonderful and caring therapy dog she has become. I am so proud of her. Last week I took Sterlings picture by the pond in his pumpkin suit before going to the nursing home and I thought back to last year when I took the babies pictures there. Give her a hug from me. Jan

  2. I bet Sterling looked very handsome in his pumpkin costume! The folks at the nursing home must really love seeing him. It's hard to believe it is almost a year since Cleo came to us! The time has flown.

  3. I am not ashamed to say that I teared up reading this, thinking about how I actually did tear up when I worried about my dear friend.

  4. So glad you found this, Grace. We've all come a long way since then.