Labor Day was created to honor American workers, but the winner of my August photo contest, Annie the working collie, might like it if we acknowledge working dogs as well.
Because of their sensitive noses, we’re able to use dogs to find missing people, including survivors of disasters such as collapsed buildings. We’ve all seen bomb-sniffing dogs, but did you know some actually parachute onto land potentially rigged with mines? We frequently hear of dogs alerting their owners about invaders or house fires or other emergencies, but have you heard that they’re also being used for conservation? Conservation dogs can sniff out invasive plants or help keep track of animal populations such as bear or gorilla by locating scat or carcasses.
I marvel at the medical dogs who can sniff out people with cancer or those who have dangerously low blood sugar. Annie, the pictured collie, is not only beautiful and patriotic, but she’s hard-working and smart. Once, while visiting residents at an assisted living center, she alerted Terry by barking. Annie led Terry into a room where a woman was vomiting. Staff were assisting her already, but if they hadn’t been, Annie would have raised the alarm.
Annie has her VCX (Versatility Companion Excellent) title, which recognizes collies as versatile working dogs. Terry, who grew up watching Lassie shows and loves the breed, has taught her many things, including how to strike a Lassie pose in which she sits with her paw in the air. Annie can also walk backwards, play dead, retrieve a credit card from the floor, sing, “talk,” and pull a tissue out of a box and bring it to her.
Many people who have poor vision or have a disability depend on dogs to help them live independently. And we often use dogs in therapy or to comfort those who are lonely or depressed.
My sister-in-law, a nurse, tells the story of a 51-year-old man who suffered a heart attack and was then sent to a rehab facility following a long stay. He wouldn’t eat or engage with anyone. My sister-in-law called the hospital chaplain, who had a therapy dog named Gracie. The chaplain greeted the man. Gracie was on the floor and when the man sharply asked, “What do you want?” Gracie jumped up into his bed. The man gasped. He stared at the dog and then began to weep.
After a short while he told stories about his own pups and then opened up to what he was going through. It was a breaking point for him; the start of healing, and the chance for him to regain some joy in his life.
Similarly, my husband and I got to see the joy on elderly residents’ faces when we brought Josie, our Cockapoo, to an assisted living center. We had Josie perform tricks such as, “What does the firefighter say?” Josie would stop, drop, and roll. Many of the residents wanted to cuddle with her and they often joyfully told stories about how much they missed their old life on the farm with the animals or told favorite pet stories. For a short while, they were vibrant again, reliving happier days.
This Labor Day, Annie and I would like to extend our appreciation to organizations such as Canines for Independence and mention that they’re looking for volunteers to raise puppies, support them financially, and care for breeder dogs. We’d also like to honor all America’s workers, including the four-legged ones. Salute!