In a way, the seeds of this book have been lying dormantfor many years. Ever since I was a young child,dogs have been an important and influential part ofmy life. My passionate belief in the transformationalpower of the human/dog relationship came to a head inan exciting way about a decade ago when I founded andbecame executive director of The Good Dog Foundation,a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to all aspectsof dog-assisted therapy. Good Dogs bring comfortand joy to people receiving chemotherapy, restore a senseof control to people whose lives have been upended by anillness or disability, serve as the perfect audience to helpdisadvantaged children practice and improve readingskills, comfort the bereaved and victims of disasters, andmuch more.
When I founded The Good Dog Foundation, I wasbursting with enthusiasm, and today I am reinvigorateddaily with the ideas, challenges, joys, and love that comefrom working with all the terrific dogs, volunteers, staff,and clients of the Foundation. Now I feel it is time forme to share some of the incredibly special moments andstories surrounding the relationship between peopleand dogs that have blessed and enriched my own life overthe years.
First, I want to emphasize my firm belief that each andevery dog is a therapy dog. That’s not to say that everydog has gone through a specially designed training programso he or she can behave appropriately in a clinicalsetting. I’m saying that all dogs inherently have the powerto heal, and they all want to give love and to be loved inreturn, even those who appear to act frightened or vicious.And what better therapy is there than love?In this book we hope to illustrate the power, magnitude,and magic of that love as told in stories that inspireand move readers. I say “we” because without the cooperationof the volunteers and staff at The Good DogFoundation, the people who have been the recipients ofGood Dog visits, and people from all walks of life acrossthe country who have shared their special dog storieswith me—and of course the dogs themselves—this bookwould not have been possible.
Make no mistake . . . this is not “just” a collection ofstories about dogs. I have found that when you are dealingwith the relationship between dogs and people, the storiesgo much deeper and stir up more primal, universal emotions.Although we have attempted to group the stories inthis book by theme—healing and teaching life-changingsituations, and the special relationships dogs have withchildren—we know these divisions are artificial and thatevery life story straddles several domains. Still, it is ourhope that these categories may provoke readers to gain anew perspective or open up possibilities for expandingtheir own relationships with their canine companions.With that concept in mind, I have also included asection with practical information, called “Closing Tails,”at the end of each section. Each of these sections offersreaders a variety of practical information that ties in withthe part’s main theme, including, for instance, activitiesparents and their children can engage in with their dogsat home; training tips; information on volunteer opportunities; contact information on organizations that providetherapy dogs, service dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs;and suggested reading materials.
My goal in sharing these stories and related activitiesis to help people become more engaged in the relationshipthey have with dogs and to help them enhance thatrelationship for themselves and beyond, into the lives oftheir family, friends, colleagues, and others in the community.My hope is that the stories in this book will notonly make people stop and think about dogs in a differentway but also introduce them to some of the manyconstructive, loving, and joyful opportunities there areto interact with dogs in their daily lives.
Why I Wanted to Write This Book
As a child growing up in Mississippi, I understood intuitivelythat dogs can play critical roles in our lives. I knowit was true for me. I have a sister, Ann, who is fifteen yearsmy senior, and I looked up to her. When I was about threeyears old, Ann went away to college. I was crushed andfilled with a great sense of loss. My salvation was UncleBud: a French bulldog who became my constant companion and confidant. When Uncle Bud was stolen, I felt asif my best friend had been taken away—again. Shortlythereafter our family adopted a standard poodle, Fifi,and from then on, all through my teen years and college,and as I entered the work world, dogs continued to be apart of my life. And then a shift occurred.
I was working as a producer for film and televisionwith my own company, Southern Voices, which produceddramatic adaptations of southern literature, among otherendeavors. In 1984, one of my documentaries, SignalsThrough the Flames, was nominated for an AcademyAward in the best documentary film category. In the mid1990s, in preparation for a documentary that wouldfeature therapy dogs, I began to conduct nationwide researchon therapy dogs and the work they do. AlthoughI thought I was already a passionate dog person, I wassoon to discover new depths to the incredibly positiveimpact that one-on-one interactions between people anddogs can have, not only on the direct participants in suchrelationships, but on close family and friends. I becamefascinated with therapy dogs and the healing powers thatseemed to magically take hold when an ailing, dying,emotionally distraught, physically challenged, or otherwisehurting or traumatized individual was paired with atherapy dog.
In the midst of my research I learned that it was againstthe law to take dogs into a hospital in New York. To me,this was an absolute outrage. Here we had the means tobring comfort, joy, pain relief, and love to people inneed, essentially without cost or risk of drug-relatedside effects, and patients were being denied that care. Iknew I had to do something. That something grew intoseveral projects, but none of them included the documentary.Rather than do a film on the subject, I decided todevote my energy to creating The Good Dog Foundation,which was founded in 1998, and changing the lawthat barred therapy dogs from visiting hospitals andother health care facilities. We succeeded on both counts,and today Good Dogs make more than 260,000 visits topeople in health care, social services, and community organizationsand schools in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts,and Connecticut each year. After the workthat Good Dogs did at Ground Zero helping the familiesof victims of 9/11, The Good Dog Foundation created adisaster-response training course for its volunteers. Becauseof that training, Good Dogs were enlisted by theMississippi Department of Mental Health to assist familiesafter Hurricane Katrina. The Good Dog Foundationhas been honored on the floor of the WestminsterKennel Club Dog Show because of its work with HurricaneKatrina survivors, and has received awards from theAmerican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(ASPCA) and the American Red Cross for its workin New York City in the aftermath of the September 11attacks.
All the accolades in the world cannot take the place ofthe satisfaction I get from working with Good Dogs—and all dogs—and seeing the joy, healing, and love thatoccur and blossom when dogs and people interact. Thisbook is just one way to share that satisfaction, and I wantto offer it to the world.