“I got my first dog at 76. Childless, this experience had eluded me, and seven-week-old Rocky change my life.”
There was never a dog in my life until my 70s.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, it was human interaction I was starved for. I wanted to communicate deeply with people. And touch them physically—a hug, a pat, a cuddle.
In my mid-30s, divorced and childless, the click of my biological clock suddenly propelled me to think about getting a puppy. Age had humbled me about the variety of unexpected ways I could have my needs met. Then a new man entered my life and rekindled my hope of becoming a mother. That relationship didn’t last. Four decades later, I was still without a child—or a dog. But I did have Lee, my husband. And Lee loves dogs.
We are in our third decade together, with a full life. That, combined with Lee’s passion for his work as a clinical psychologist with no plans to retire, eliminated discussion of having a dog. Until three years ago. I suggested we volunteer for Canine Partners for Life, which trains dogs to be service dogs for people who have physical or emotional special needs.
“I want more time together doing fun, new things,” I said to Lee. “And you love dogs. Besides, we’d be helping people—maybe even changing their lives.”
Without hesitation, Lee agreed. We started the training with what is called the “cuddling” phase. In a small room outfitted to look like a living room, we each had a dog to stroke from head to foot, brush, and give treats to when they followed simple commands.
The most thrilling part for me was seeing the look of pure joy on Lee’s face when he interacted with the dogs. It’s as if he were a young boy again playing with his beloved collie. And to my amazement, I would leave a cuddling session still feeling myself staring into my dog’s eyes! An afterglow.
I now look differently at dogs. I read articles about dogs having souls. I even suggested we watch Marley and Me.
Recently, I heard that a new training program was added for those who completed basic cuddling and walking. It is working with brand-new puppies. The thought of holding new life thrilled me, as did the experience of training these dogs from the time they were born until they are matched with a human.
The first newborn puppy I held was Rocky. He had been named after the boxer character created by Sylvester Stallone. It was especially meaningful to me because the movies were filmed in my home town of Philadelphia. Seven-pound Rocky, a black Labrador, was very frisky as I held him in my arms. Then, instinctively, as if I had done it a million times, I started rocking him from side to side.
Childless, this experience had eluded me. Finally, at age 76, I had the joy, quite unexpectedly, of experiencing what I had yearned for my entire adult life—holding new life against my breast and hoping I could transfer some of the love I have to the development of a young one. A few minutes later, Rocky dozed in my arms. Rocking Rocky brought me a personal peak experience.
And holding this little ball of fur, I knew he would continue to be socialized by others. Then he would be matched with a person with special needs. Not only did 7-week-old Rocky change my life, I knew he would ultimately change the life of his partner as well. My peak experience of a few minutes with Rocky would pale in comparison to the person who would have Rocky by their side for years of service, love, and afterglow.
Read about learning spirituality from animals.