The central California sun beat down relentlessly on the parking lot. Most of the curious, and a few buyers confined their excitement to the shade of the awning extended from the pet store out over the sidewalk.

After going to several kennels oohing and awing over the many puppies we came to a kennel with a shaggy frightened puppy described to us over the net as a golden-doodle. He was clearly a rescue dog.

I knelt down in front of the kennel and tried to coax the pup to come to me. He shivered and stretched while eyeing me suspiciously. But after repeated tries he did come forward towards me. I could read the hope and despair in those gold eyes.

I stayed with him for about 10 minutes while my wife stood above us. We disagreed right away. She wanted to take a pass on him as he was too frightened and maybe traumatized. I saw that, too, I thought we could bring him out of that and he’d probably make a wonderful pet.

An hour later driving north through the central valley, Judie was in the back seat with our new shaggy, somewhat leery puppy. We immediately discovered the kennel cough and began ringing up the dollars we’d likely have to spend.

Judie agreed with me to call him Dylan after my favorite 20th century Irish poet, Dylan Thomas, most famous for his poem, “Do not go gentle into the night/ rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan spent the first month with us under our bed, only to come out to eat, what little he did, and  taken outside 3 or 4 times a day. We had all sorts of medicines we had to feed him to route all the disease pups pick up in the wild. Dylan was found wandering the streets.

From the beginning I felt an unusual draw to Dylan as we quickly fell in love with him. As he began to trust that we weren’t going to abuse him he began to warm to us.

He was a skinny 25 pound 6 month old pup with shaggy light brown fur that covered him from muzzle to tail with gold rings around the black pupils of his haunting eyes. And Dylan was amazingly calm and after warming to us, incredibly loving.

It wasn’t long before I began taking him on my daily 4 mile walks along the water works canals near us. On the trails I would keep up a running patter about whatever entered my mind, a kind of free association a patient engages in during psychoanalysis. The bond between Dylan and I grew ever stronger.

After about six months we recognized that Dylan was really a therapy dog for me. He had the uncanny ability to sense when the pain in my body began to ratchet up. It took me a while to notice, but whenever I began to feel badly, Dylan would stand next to me patiently waiting. It finally occurred to me that he wanted me to pick him up and put him on my lap.

He would lie across my lap and chest with his muzzle buried against my neck and stay in that position for nearly an hour. After a time, it slowly came to me that his presence on my lap gradually diminished the pain that started before he came to stand next to me.

As it became clear how Dylan related to me we obtained the papers and tags designating him a therapy/companion dog for me, including a recommendation from my pain physician.

Shortly after this, we decided to move back to Chicago. In talking with the airline about transporting Dylan we learned that as a Therapy dog we could buy a seat for him on the plane. On the four-hour flight to Chicago from San Francisco, Dylan lay on the center seat between my wife and me with his sleepy head on my lap for the entire trip.

It wasn’t until a month after we moved to downtown Chicago that we began to hear from people on the street about Dylan. Whenever went down the elevator in our high-rise other residents would ask us about him while fawning all over him. He clearly garnered attention as he seemed like “every” dog, a compilation of all beloved dogs.

Every few weeks someone, usually an out-of-town tourist, asks me if he or she can take a picture of Dylan. It happens so often we had a hard time understanding what it was about him that attracted such attention.

On my daily walks up the lakefront and through the Gold Coast parents with small children stop me every few blocks asking to pet him. If I’m walking along and hear a small child squeal “doggy” I always stop and let the child and parent pet Dylan. Dylan, for his part stands still and patiently takes in all the petting and admiration as if it is his due.

At night when we tumble in to bed Dylan hops up on the mattress to lie between us. In a way it reminds us of having our young son occasionally sleep with us. For me, his presence for is a combination soporific and analgesic. Like many of us, lying in bed isn’t always pain-free. With Dylan lying next to me and my arm draped over his body, the pain along my spine gradually subsides to the point where I can, with the help of modern chemistry fall asleep.

Over the last 2 years when I’m writing in our spare bedroom, Dylan lies quietly on the on the corner of the bed just off my left shoulder. Every 30 minutes or so, he stands up. reaches out with his right paw and drops it on my shoulder. I’ve learned that he does this when he senses I’ve been sitting at my computer long enough and it’s time for me to take a break and let the pain dial back.

I don’t know how to recommend how to find such a therapy dog other than to advise to follow your heart. If your heart reaches out to the pet, that pet just might be the one.


About left0089

Columnist at American News Report. Pain care activist. Poet, memoirist.
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  1. Dear Mark,
    thank you for this lovely article about your therapy dog, Dylan. In my experience with Fibromyalgia (et al…) I’ve also had the good fortune to discover first hand, the therapeutic effects of sharing my life with pets. I have two cats and, although I haven’t noticed whether they possess any specialised therapy skills, my quality of life has improved immensely thanks to them. Most of all, they distract me from my ailments, they make me laugh, keep me company and their constant interruptions ensure that, like you, I take frequent breaks from the computer. And, when I lie on the couch or go to bed, the warmth of a furry body is extremely comforting.
    With best wishes to Dylan and you!
    Christine Guthry.

  2. Nick Wilson says:

    I also had a good bit of luck with our recently departed friend of 14 years, Rascal. An American mixed breed of Black and Tan and Blue Tick Coonhound, he had the pleading eyes of a saint and the ferocious nature of a bear if he sensed any threat to his family. I had trained dogs for years when I was young and after we rescued him at age one, he took quickly to the lessons and did his jobs until the very end. We noticed early that his personality and intelligence made him the perfect assistant with my wife and I, with our different conditions. When my wife had an issue Rascal was there to help her through. When I was down and out, Rascal was watching and telling his mommy to check on daddy. He even was able to sniff out cancer on my mother-in-law. I don’t think that there is a breed of dog or cat that isn’t able to do the same job. It’s just dependant on the intelligence and empathy for the one you find, or the one that finds you. It’s been a few months since I built his casket and buried him here at home. He is a hard act to follow. One day I will find another dog who will learn the first three jobs; watch mama, the house and the garden. The rest is almost natural.