Nearly 9 years ago, I went to pick up a 10 lbs. puppy that I was hoping to become my therapy dog. I had just lost my previous dog, Jack, after 16 years, and was still grieving but the idea of having a puppy full of energy was appealing. I took him into my office when he was just 10 weeks old and after the first day, thought I had made the worst decision of my life. He threw up on the carpet, chewed my patient’s fingers to bits but the last session of the day a kid said to me, “Walter is the best thing ever!” That statement is what led me to bring him the next day and the next.
Over the past 8 years, Walter has rarely missed a day at the office. He would pace around all morning, watching my every move until we left for work. He would bound up the back steps at my office and anxiously await every kid (and parent) that I had scheduled for the day. He had some quirks that the kids loved hearing about: he had a sock eating problem, he didn’t eat breakfast or dinner but ate three lunches, he had his own basketball (we called WB for Walter ball) since he chewed on the other ones. He loved to chew on the blanket on the back of the couch, and after eating he would roll around on the rug, wiping his mouth with his paws which always brought a laugh from whomever was in the office.
Over the years, he comforted those who were grieving. He laid his head on the legs of those who were anxious, and became friends with those who were lonely. Walter seemed to make everything better and know just what the situation needed. Colleagues would often ask if they could borrow Walter if they had a patient who had experienced trauma or grief. When I taught classes at Vanderbilt, Walter would be in attendance, walking around the class looking for crumbs and sitting next to the student that would pet him the most. When I gave talks at local schools, Walter would come with me, greeting parents as they came in.
On Tuesday night, it was Walter who comforted me as I had to put him down after a battle with kidney disease. At the pet emergency room, I was distraught and overwhelmed with grief. He laid his head on my leg as I sobbed. Even at the end, Walter was the one to comfort. As grief goes, losing a pet is the hardest loss I’ve had to face. As others have shared recently, it is a different relationship, one of unconditional love and friendship. Thanks to all of you who have loved on Walter over the years. Being a therapy dog was the joy of his life and I am so honored he got to be mine.
Love to you all,