The story of Annie’s life and service as a volunteer therapy dog for the Red Cross is one of courage and patience. “She’s a once in a lifetime dog, and my very best friend in the whole world. I cherish every day with her,” says Annie’s owner and caretaker, Lindsey Lee. Annie, a graduate of therapy dog school at the age of six, and only graduate of the six in her class, has served on two continents. Serving both the old and young and in-between, from grizzled warrior, to young children. She has comforted doctors and patients struggling with the realities of war at Landstuhl Medical Center, and grieving families as they said goodbye to their loved ones. She spent from a few hours to entire days patiently giving her undivided attention to the person she was comforting.
She can elicit not just a smile, but joy from people who are lodged in very dark places of the soul. Soldiers coming to terms with lost limbs, those under psychiatric care, brain injury patients, end of life patients, and PTSD victims, to name a few. She provides a calming presence during hurricane approach and recovery, constancy with her weekly visits to VA patients, and a calm presence at Suicide Prevention Classes. She calmly allows people to run their fingers through her hair, scratch her ears, play ball, play hide-and-seek, nap with her, and reconnect to their own vitality through her unconditional love. Lindsey reports that she cannot count the number of times Annie’s eyes were poked, and tail pulled, but she shrugged it off like a trooper. It was all worth it to her for the “good-girl” reward. Annie thrived when she could make people feel better. When she put that scarf on, it was time for adventure and play.
What kind of changes has she made in the life of others? She has provided a distraction for soldiers in pain, through their loneliness and sometimes suicidal thoughts. She has helped them learn to walk again or use their arms. She has been there to help grieving families say goodbye to their loved ones and fulfill the dying wishes of those who were losing their battles. She has helped children who were afraid to read and or open about traumatic experiences, and they found comfort in her and the courage to open-up.
Lindsey recalled some of the most memorable of Annie’s therapy jobs: 1. The dying patient who wanted to see Annie because he had owned Golden Retrievers his whole life. 2. The patient in the psychiatric ward who had attempted suicide, but is doing much better after her visit. 3. The soldier who had lost everyone in his unit, that cried with Annie for nearly an hour. 4. The VA patient with Alzheimer’s who couldn’t remember his own children’s names, but would call Annie by name and walk her when she visited him. These are just a few. Annie’s work is sometimes hard on Lindsey, her owner, but she says that it reminds her how blessed she is when she sees first-hand the suffering of others. She suggested to those considering therapy school for their dogs, to understand the emotional commitment that must be made. She said, “You will see things you can’t un-see or un-hear.” A dog, like Annie, with a calm comforting temperament works best for this job.
Annie at thirteen, after seven years of service, will be retiring soon, and why we remember her work and her courage. We honor her and Lindsey as Annie steps down gracefully. She has survived four of the last ”four to eight months” left of her life. Annie has terminal liver cancer. Job well done, Annie! Thank you for your service. Thank you, Lindsey!