Today my Dad took me on a therapy dog visit to Fair Acres Geriatric Center in Media, PA. Fair Acres is a long-term care facility for older adults, many of whom require skilled nursing care 24/7.
One of the residents I met was a blind elder who sat in a wheelchair parked in the day room. My Dad carried me over and laid me down next to his chair to visit.
The elder could not see me, so he knew nothing about my physical appearance or the breed the shelter labeled me as. He smiled as he pet me, saying how nice and gentle I was. I sat next to his wheelchair the entire time, giving and receiving love. The room was filled with movement and sounds, but he and I were in our own world together.
Eventually I shifted positions, so the elder began petting my shoulders. He noticed how broad they were, so disproportionate to my body. He felt the golf-ball-size bump on my back, the uneven shapes of my ears, and the scratch-marks along my head and limbs where the hair no longer grows.
He asked my Dad what happened to me, why did I feel this way?
My Dad explained that these were external injuries from my former life when I was abused and exploited.
Still, the elder pet me as I sat next to his wheelchair, both of us giving and receiving love.
“What kind of dog is he?” asked the elder.
“He's an elderbull,” said my Dad.
“Well, he’s a good dog,” the elder replied. “I can tell he has a kind soul.”
My experience today reminds of the tale, “The Blind Men & the Elephant.” (Yes, we dogs have heard this one, too.) In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it’s like. Each one touches a different part and learns they are in complete disagreement. The man who felt the head said an elephant is “like a pot.” The man who felt the ear said an elephant is “like a basket.” The man who felt the foot said it’s “like a pillar.” None could agree, yet each man was convinced he knew the truth.
Imagine if the elder I met today had only felt my shoulders? Imagine if he only felt my scratch-marks? Or just the bump on my shoulder? Imagine if he had not spent time with me – giving and receiving love – to know that I’m more than my external scars? To learn that as a whole, I’m just a gentle, loving dog with a kind soul?
Too often people look at victims of abuse and only see a part of us: they see our scars, but not our hearts.
And too often people look at dogs and only see labels: they see the stereotypes, but not the individual dog.
My Mom likes to say that there’s a lot we can learn from our elders, both human and canine. I bet my Mom is proud of what the blind elder and I taught each other today.