Chasing clouds and shadows

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 28, 2011 9:35 PM

The strangest thing happened today. We left the house around 12:30 for our lunchtime walk. It had been a lovely morning, with a slight breeze, the air warm and drifting into the house. But as we started down Pesaro, the sun suddenly ducked out of sight. Our heads automatically snapped up in the direction of the sky. What had happened? Where had it gone? Would it be back?

It sounds odd to anyone who doesn’t live in Southern California, or the desert in general. The. Sun. Does. Not. Disappear. Midday. In. June. Certainly not during the day, and even as night falls, it seems to go kicking and sizzling into the sea. It’s an anomaly, a little seen phenomenon, potential cause for alarm. We’re not used to it. We don’t know what to do. We saw Independence Day.

So what impossibly huge element had obscured our precious orb and cast our beautiful southland into near darkness? Clouds. Yep. Right up there in the sky, a bunch of them. Thick and white, some tinged with gray, of all different sizes and shapes, and while there was quite a bit of blue sky drifting around and between, the clouds were big enough to temporarily block the shine.

We soldiered on anyway, under the shade, figuring – correctly – that the sun would reappear shortly. It did, but continued to play hide and seek, duck and cover, allowing all elements on the ground including us to cast shadows before taking them away. It was an odd little ritual, a sort of rumba, one Kevin and I were OK to try. Plus, the no-shadow moments kept the air a little cooler even if did raise the humidity level a bit. That’s another thing we don’t have here in Southern California in the summer. Evidently they did have some humidity up north today, though. My friend Lenni, who lives in the Bay Area (San Mateo), said it rained all day up there. They were also expecting thunder and lightning. She was preparing her cat, Phoebe, for Armageddon. Maguire has never been adversely affected by thunder; doesn’t seem to care when it happens. He yawns and rolls over. Of course, now he can’t hear it so it matters little. When I was a kid, our dog Chaudee, a little black ball of fluff, was terrified of storms. He could sense them coming hours before they’d arrive. The skies of New England would be bright and sunny, but the dog would have stowed himself safely under the coffee table where he proceeded to shake and whimper until the storm finally relieved itself. And then he’d really freak.

We weren’t going to get any of that today, there was no rain in the forecast. I doubt the American Meteorological Society even knew there would be clouds. It simply doesn’t rain here in June. Or July. Or August, September, October. But on those days when clouds dot the atmosphere and accumulate, when they make the sky seem close enough to touch, as the shadows on the ground disappear and the world flattens out… those are the June days I celebrate.

Because those are the days when our shadows get to dance.

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Observations on a Saturday from the vantage point of two wheels

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 25, 2011 11:12 PM

The tires were pumped up to 110 pounds of pressure. Two water bottles had been loaded into their carriers on the frame. In the saddle pouch, a cell phone, a driver’s license, a bit of cash and house keys. The bike leaned against the house, the morning sun glancing off the frame deepening the metallic blue; yellow wheels waited patiently for the rider to snap the straps of her helmet, fit Sony ear buds into her ear, adjust the volume on the iPod strapped to her arm (first up: Rod Stewart’s Handbags and Gladrags). She refastened one of the Velcro straps on her right Shimano shoe, grabbed the bike, swung a leg over to straddle it, snapped one shoe into the pedal and pushed off. It was 9:30.

Small American flags, vinyl and on thin wooden rods had been stuck into the ground at the base of every driveway in the neighborhood. Some had fallen over either because they hadn’t been stuck down far enough or because a gardener, a leaf blower or a dog had made their presence known. The vinyl of each fluttered in the soft morning breeze.

Out onto Lindero Canyon, heading toward Lakeview Canyon, several cars passed heading north, probably towards the Bean Scene or Starbucks. The traffic was still light, the morning still relatively quiet. As the bike turned up Lakeview, preparing for the climb toward the North Ranch Country Club, several leaves floated down like feathers.

An open gate into a very large, very expensive house on the right. A small bulldozer parked on the grass.

Gardeners pushed lawn mowers, wielded weed whackers, blew leaves and grass clippings into piles to be picked up later. To the right, a tree trimming truck hummed loudly ready to splinter freshly cut branches. The smell of new wood intoxicating while Airborne Toxic Event played through the iPod.

Legs and lungs burning on the climb before the lovely descent.

There was a family, mom in the front with two young daughters, dad in the back with an older girl walking along Westlake Boulevard. They trudged on the rocky sidewalk, talking and laughing amongst themselves. Further on, people walking dogs: a big brown lab, small terrier and a small mutt, a cross between a dachshund and a Corgi and a Chihuahua.

A peloton flew by, all men, all young with huge legs covered in varying shades of spandex from white to purple to blue to multi to ordinary black. Soon they were nearly a speck in the distance as they pushed up and over the boulevard heading toward Lang Ranch, disappearing as they pedaled furiously down the hill.

Riding up Kanan Dume, a student driver came dangerously close. The little white Toyota screaming STUDENT DRIVER in red, which doesn’t help when they’re approaching from behind. Runners approached from ahead, gray shirts drenched in sweat as the Doobie Brothers Keeps You Running played in the iPod.

Birds, black and ornery, crows, dive bombing the street searching for road-kill and whatever else. A big orange sign screaming MOVING SALE next to a real estate sign for an Open House with an open door and people streaming toward it. A golden retriever lounged in the front yard.

The sun was warm, not hot, though the temperature was rising. As cool water dribbled down her chin from a missed spray from the water bottle, another cyclist pedaled by on the opposite side of Kanan going the opposite direction. A nod of acknowledgement between two people who don’t know each other and will never see each other again. In the air, kids could be heard splashing in a pool as summer played forward filling the air with the fragrance of freshly cut grass and a hot road. Breathing it in, smelling it, seeing it, living it. Riding it.

She rode in and out of shade provided by large untrimmed trees, watching the pavement for glass and anything else that might pierce a tire, riding through Westlake and North Ranch and back into the OP, celebrating a Saturday morning on two wheels as Garth Brooks sang about a long ago love That Summer.


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What happens on date night ends up as a blog post

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 24, 2011 11:42 PM

My husband and I go out on a date on Thursday nights. It’s our way of reconnecting at the end of the week, of spending time together doing something we both really enjoy. We get to talk, and laugh, tell stories, sometimes complain. Most importantly, we’re not working.

Last night was date night and we have both had just a horrendous week of work. Too much to do with much of it not going right and thus not getting done. I’ve also been in several meetings and any time I’m not in my office, I’m not really working. While I’m getting more work to do – always a good thing – having to fight traffic to get somewhere, meet, and fight traffic to get back is not productive.

Kevin had a number of deadlines that weren’t being met because his programmers were late on site development and that meant clients were going to be unhappy. Maguire has been a little under the weather. We were both a little down. We thought about not going. But ultimately decided to go anyway just to get out of our space.

I’m so glad we did. We went to The Wineyard, a little wine tasting place in Thousand Oaks where they have vineyard specific tastings on Thursday night. Often the winemaker is there so we can ask questions and learn about a particular vintner’s thoughts as to how he or she makes wine. Last night, the tasting was Boeger, a little winery northeast of Sacramento on the way to Lake Tahoe. They tasted four reds ranging from a Barbera to a Primitivo to a Zinfandel to a Syrah. Interestingly the Primitivo is actually a zinfandel vine from Italy but it’s processed differently and tastes nothing like a California zin.

As we were sitting at a pub table near one of the windows I happened to notice a black BMW with a vanity plate. I said to Kevin I thought I recognized the plate but I couldn’t place it. There weren’t a lot of people there last night; usually it’s packed. Kevin ventured over to the counter to get some bread and cheese and when he came back to the table he informed me that there was a lady selling jewelry and that I should go see if anything struck my fancy. It was mostly silver and some pieces were very cool. I decided I really liked a bracelet and my husband promptly bought it for me, along with a pair of earrings. I was feeling special.

The people at the table beside us got up to leave and must have heard us talking. They stopped by and we struck up a conversation about wineries and how fabulous it is when you can go to new places and drop someone’s name to get specialized treatment. Often when you do this, especially if you know about wine, suddenly the person who’s pouring the tastings will reach under the counter and pull something out they reserve for true wine lovers and connoisseurs. The man we were talking to introduced himself, gave us his card and told us to use his name at several local places we hadn’t yet been to, particularly a place up in Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara, called the Wine Ghetto. We love it already because of the name. This man and his wife looked so familiar to me. They said their goodbyes and soon we saw them get into the black BMW with the familiar license plate. We finally realized that we knew them from the ‘hood here in Oak Park, and that we had first “met” them when they stopped at one of our garage sales several years ago. The guy at one point was even interested in hiring Kevin to build his website.

Small world.

The lady from the jewelry table stopped by with a business card and we talked to her a bit. Turns out she’s friends with one of our neighbors across the street. It was like OP-neighbor night at The Wineyard.

Came home and Kevin’s developer who had been horrifically late on a project called just before 11 to announce that he had made tremendous progress and was close to being finished. Crisis averted.

Mark Twain once said: “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” Last night we went out even when we didn’t want to and it ended up being one of our best date nights ever sharing stories with new people and just enjoying each other’s company.

Tonight friends will be arriving shortly and we’ll celebrate the end of a long and stressful week with good food and yes, more wine. Next Friday, I’ll be in Maryland, celebrating with a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years. Kevin asked me today if we’d recognize each other. I have no doubts whatsoever. True friendships transcend time and space, and I am blessed to have several friends – including my husband – who do just that.

Welcome to the weekend. Make it a good one.

Walkin' after midnight: A vintage puppy tale

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 20, 2011 10:35 PM

It happens nearly every night. As darkness descends and all the day creatures snuggle down into nests, dens and beds, the night warrior emerges. Fearless and possessed of a vision not known to mere mortals, this warrior roams the hallowed halls and walkways, searching for predators, searching for prey, searching for the meaning of it all. Searching for the perfect tail.

I speak of course, of the supreme vintage puppy, the commanding dog squire known as Maguire Michel.

Every night, as Kevin and I get into bed, Maguire rambles through the house into the kitchen were he has a little snack followed by much slurping of water, most of which is dispersed onto the tile floor. He then saunters back into the bedroom, rams his bed with his head a few times, wipes his whispers on the sides of said bed and settles down in front of the open window to feel the breeze and the night ruffle through his fur. He is content. For about three and a half hours.

At about 3 am, he begins making slurping and munching sounds in his sleep. This apparently wakes him – as well as his parents – up. He then rises, shakes everything back into place, including his dog tags which sound like the equivalent of a marching band at that hour, and proceeds to leave the bedroom on patrol. We have never quite been able to figure out what he’s looking for, if he’s in fact searching for anything. Kevin is convinced that Maguire is actually the reincarnation of my beloved Tori Lynn, my beautiful gray tortoise cat whom I lost to cancer in 1995 when she was just 10. She stayed with me through my divorce, and through my subsequent dating years before I met Kevin. I like to think that she stayed until she knew it was OK for her to go.

Kevin didn’t want to get another cat, and since we both loved dogs, we decided to get a slightly older female, adopted from the local animal shelter. We ended up with an eight-week-old male puppy. From the beginning he had nocturnal tendencies, cat-like grace and night vision. Hence the Maguire-as-Tori scenario.

Last night he rose just before 3, and with his nimble cat feet, he proceeded to prance about the house. He pranced to the kitchen for a bite and a slop, then back into the bedroom, then once again out into the living room where he began pacing back and forth, huffing and puffing. Eventually Kevin got up at around 3:10, thinking that maybe if he took Maguire outside, it would calm him down.

It didn’t.

He proceeded to prance and huff and grunt and puff. He came into the bedroom and started into the bathroom. He came back out, did a turn or two around the bedroom again, then went back into the bathroom before backing out one more time. Kevin and I were awake the whole time, waiting for him to settle down and go back to sleep. The minutes became a half hour. Maguire went into the bathroom again and stood there in the dark, in front of the mirror, something obviously on his mind.

Then, out of the night came my husband’s voice, speaking as Maguire: “Does this fur make me look fat?”


I’m celebrating a rollicking laugh at 3:33 am, and the fact that, after being assured he was still his svelte self, Maguire finally settled down and went back to sleep. For another three hours anyway.

Maguire versus the squirrel

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 9, 2011 10:30 PM

The first time it happened was several years ago. I was in my office; Kevin was in his studio. Maguire, much younger then, was patrolling the back yard. It was mid-morning. Suddenly the quiet burst open with the sound of a snarling squirrel, screeching, and a snarling dog, growling and barking. Rrrr, eeeee, grrrr. Ruff!

I came downstairs from the loft, Kevin had already come out of his studio. He was standing on the walkway, one hand shoved into his pocket, the other holding his half full coffee mug. He was smiling, amused at the scene in front of him. I walked over to the slider and behold: one crazed dog, on his hind legs, reaching desperately for the trees where one teasing squirrel sat perched on a branch, back feet curled around to leave the front feet/paws free to gesture and irritate. It reached down out of the tree, dressed in its little squirrel fur, its thick, bushy tail sticking straight up into the leaves as it yelled at the helpless big dog below.

Maguire danced and pranced, bouncing around, huffing and puffing, pawing at the air, his head back, eyes focused on the branch above, arguing back. They barked at each other for at least 15 minutes, the squirrel taunting the big dog below, daring Maguire to climb up and get him.

Carrie Bradshaw, the prolific heroine of Sex and the City, once went camping with her boyfriend Aiden. For anyone who ever watched Sex and the City, it was a known fact that Carrie was not a camper. I suspect that her idea of camping consisted of a four-star instead of a five-star hotel. But she was trying to fit into his world so she journeyed from New York to somewhere outside of New York. She was in the kitchen when she spotted a squirrel and freaked out, thinking it was a rat. Aiden told her the squirrel was a friend. Her response: “You can’t be friends with a squirrel. A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.”

She’s right. They do sport a cute little outfit with a fur coat and a lovely muff-like tail. They also have little beady eyes, like a rat. But they’re more brazen than rats, more optimistic. They sit out in the open, unlike rats that hide in the shadows. And they yell. Loudly.

Maguire is older now, but he and the squirrel still go at it. Today, the cuter rat was in the tree in the front yard, hanging off of the trunk, defying gravity, and Maguire was in the front window. He doesn’t hear so well anymore, but his eyesight is fine. He caught a glimpse of the squirrel and he started to dance, fuss and fume; huff and puff. He was going to get that squirrel, once and for all.

It didn’t seem to occur to him that the squirrel was outside. He put his head down and started to back out of the kitchen, his eyes never leaving the tree, and then –



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Dog twins

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 5, 2011 10:24 PM

I’m a big dog lover as anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows. I find canines to be the purest of creatures, with focused hearts and minds that track cookies and other dogs with unwavering purpose. I think that dogs should be family members and treated with love and respect (for you cat lovers, I think the same; I just don’t happen to have a cat at the moment, largely because of my husband. Subject for another post). I think dogs are the good children who never grow up to ask for money, stay out past curfew, or demand a new computer or another car.

Dogs, in short, rule, with my Maguire leading the pack.

In addition to loving dogs, I also do some writing for a dog rescue organization up in Washington called Second Chance Dogs. I’ve written many stories about abused, abandoned and neglected dogs; dogs that people treat like something less than garbage. Starving them, refusing to get medical treatment when required, beating them. It breaks my heart but I write the stories because it helps to bring attention to their plights and helps to get good people to adopt them. In the case of Second Chance Dogs, to give them a second chance at a good life, with a loving family, something they all deserve. Once the new website is up – which we’re working on – I’ll talk more about this inspirational organization and what they accomplish on a daily basis.

Puppy, a Second Chance Dogs rescue, and Maguire's twin

But tonight, I’m going to write about one dog that they’ve recently rescued, a nearly starved little guy they’re currently calling Puppy. Hopefully he’ll get a better name soon, something a bit more majestic and deserving. When they sent me a photo, I literally gasped. I was in my office, in the loft, and I had to stand up and go to the stairs to make sure my own dog was still splayed out on the rug in the great room.

Puppy could be Maguire’s double, his twin, his brother. He looks so much like Maguire, both when he was younger and blonder and now that he’s grayer and wiser. I’d think they were separated at birth if it wasn’t for the fact that Maguire is older.

Maguire when he was younger, blonder

Puppy was so starved when he was rescued that he couldn’t eat. He was hand fed and given water with a bottle. Now he’s more or less able to eat on his own, scarfing down kibble, eggs, beef and cottage cheese. He’s filling out, he’s happy and he’s getting better with age. Just like his dog-twin, Maguire.

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Dog is my shepherd; I shall not want

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:10 PM

Most days our lunchtime walk takes us past a house in Westlake that has two Australian Shepherds who come running to the fence as we approach. As soon as they get to the fence, they immediately sit down and move their heads in unison, watching us closely. There’s never a bark or a growl; just attention and fascination. We speak to them; they do not speak back. One is brown, black and white with expressive light brown eyes. The other is gray and black and white with icy blue eyes. It’s difficult for us to pull ourselves away but then we remember that a) we’re on a walk and b) we’re being disloyal to our own half Aussie back home.

When we adopted Maguire 14 and a half years ago, the shelter thought he had some German Shepherd in him. But it quickly became evident that he was probably more Australian Shepherd and Golden Retriever with some other bits and pieces mixed in for flavor. He has the eyes of a shepherd, and the coloring; the temperament of a golden. He did some herding of Justin when both were younger, but he’s always been fairly mellow, easy, almost docile. He looks more like a shepherd though, and has the shorter legs and the movements of one.

Interestingly, the Australian Shepherd isn’t even from Australia but rather from the Western U.S. No wonder Maguire feels so at home out here. They got their name because of the imported Australian sheep they were so good at herding. They also quickly got a reputation for being extremely intelligent; another reason that we’re sure Maguire is part Aussie.

We’ve become very partial to the breed, especially the mutt versions, for obvious reasons. But when I come across stories like that of Shep, I know that these dogs are truly blessed creatures.

In 1936, a sheepherder near Fort Benton, Montana became ill while tending his flock and was brought to St. Clare Hospital. In those days, the west was still untamed with cowboys riding across the high plains and through the mountains and shepherds tending to many different herds. Shepherds lived on the prairies, moving from place to place with their sheep, traveling in wagons and sleeping in tents. They would go for weeks without seeing a single person, and their best friends and constant companions were their dogs. When they did need to travel, they did what others of the time did: they went by train. A train is how this one particular shepherd was brought into Fort Benton, along with his faithful dog, an Australia Shepherd, who waited, the legend says, by the hospital door. Three days later, the man died. His family in Ohio requested that his body be sent home to them via train.


The dog, who had become known as Shep, followed the casket to the train station and watched as it was loaded into the baggage car. He whined when the door was shut and as the train pulled away from the station, he ran after it until he could run no more. He watched until it was long gone, and then returned to the station. He dug a hole under the train depot and he waited for the train bearing his master to return. He waited for five and a half years, rising to meet each train. People fed him and cared for him; some tried to adopt him. But he wanted none it.

The long vigil took its toll on Shep. His legs became stiff, and he was hard of hearing. Perhaps that’s why he failed to hear Train 235 as it rolled into the station one cold winter morning. When he moved to get out of the way, he slipped on the icy rails and his long wait was finally over.

I’m not religious, but I do find a lovely synergy in the idea that dog is god spelled backwards, or perhaps it’s the other way around. Like that wayward shepherd in 1936, I too believe in the loyalty of a dog, and put my faith in one daily and for the rest of his life. And mine. 

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Saturday night's alright: Vintage puppy version

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:07 PM

Maguire is on patrol. He ventured out into the backyard a short time ago, stood with his nose in the air to get a good sniff of something and then stepped off the patio and away from the tiny white lights that line the patio cover, illuminating the darkness. Into that darkness he disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. At least for a few minutes.

I can hear him now, mixing it up with Kobe, the wire terrier mix next door. I know the routine because I've spied: Maguire walks to the side of the yard, up against the wall. He pushes his nose through some of the brush, rattling it up a bit, just enough to get Kobe’s attention. Then he starts down the side of the house into the bluish black of the evening. When he was younger, he’d run down the side and Kobe would run along with him, albeit on his own side of the wall. They couldn’t see each other but they could hear and they’d bark back and forth.

Now Maguire simply strolls, breathing heavily. At his age, simply rising from the floor can cause him to pant. His patrols elicit much the same. I fear he has congestive heart failure; I hope I’m incorrect.

On this night, he huffs along, puffing, stopping occasionally to snort. Kobe, who's several years younger, paces on the other side of the wall, worried that the big dog, the self-proclaimed dog-mayor of the OP, will pass some sort of judgment. What that judgment could possibly be, no one knows, but it would obviously be bad.

Now a bark. Then another. A shaking of the fur; a jingling of the tags. The vintage puppy has completed his survey of the property and his terrorizing of his neighbor; Kobe is left pacing. On this Saturday night, all is well.

And Maguire rejoices.

I’m rejoicing in my Saturday, too. A day spent having coffee, then going for a bike ride, cleaning, working, shopping, cooking. Cajun shrimp with garlic and green peppers, and cauliflower with garlic/mushroom/blue cheese butter toasted with a lovely Rutherford BV Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007.  Kevin worked most of the day, and Maguire prepared for his nighttime walk around the back yard by sleeping.

It wasn’t a typical Saturday but it was still a Saturday, and there’s little to complain about and much to celebrate. Saturday night’s alright.

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A vintage pod-puppy story

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 9, 2011 6:53 PM

A couple of weeks ago, we trimmed the palm trees on the side of the house, cutting down the dead fronds. There was a tree-trimming crew in the neighborhood and we had hoped to pay them to either feed everything through their wood chipper or to throw the branches on top of the load they were taking to the dump. But because the limbs were dead they were no longer “green,” which means they can't be "dumped" in the environmental section.

Who knew?

So we stacked everything on the back patio, right outside of our bedroom slider, and we’re slowly making use of our trash pickup every Friday morning. Last week, we managed to get all of the dead fronds into one can. But the hard pods are taking longer. They’re inflexible so we can only stuff a few into each barrel at a time. We still have quite the little pile on the patio.

Maguire didn’t seem to care much about the pile when it was bigger but now that it’s smaller and more manageable, he has decided that he must don his Super Dog cape and protect us from whatever it is that is obviously hell-bent on invading the house. These pods could lead to our destruction. Worse, they could lead to us being replaced by pod-people and pod-dog. I suspect his biggest concern is that should these pod-people materialize, his access to cookies and treats might be restricted. And what if they’re here, what if they’re already here! Mom! Dad!


Each evening he decides to venture out around the time we’re sitting down to dinner, which is usually around 9 pm. Standing at the back slider, gazing into the darkness, his head tilted slightly to the left in order to see the pods lying to his right, he stares first, then growls. He then looks to Kevin. Dad? I need to get out there. NOW! Kevin, good vintage-puppy dad that he is, rises from the couch, leaving his food to cool, and slides open the door. Maguire pushes his head out, keeping his body safely in the house. Then, after some prodding, he quietly eases into the inky blue of night, straight out into the yard his eyes never leaving the threatening palm pods.

Barking ensues. Eventually he gets up the nerve to walk right up to that nasty, mean pile of dead palm parts, sticks his nose inside and barks some more. Muffled, like a mute muffling a trombone or tuba. He paws at it, then decides that it’s good and scared and probably most definitely dead. Crisis averted.

Back to the door, and one bark for re-entry. This one’s for me. It says: Mom? I need to get in there. NOW!

And so we celebrate being safe from the palm pods until the same time tomorrow.

Maguire. The vintage pod-puppy. 

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by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 26, 2011 10:25 PM

He is blonde, short and stocky, strong, with melting brown eyes.  At a relatively young age, he is already a veteran of nearly four years of working in therapy, visiting the sick and sometimes dying children of the Kapi`olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, Hawaii. Each day, he arrives with his “mom” and together they go about their day’s work. His main job: providing love, a snuggle where needed, and some joy in lives where there is often too much pain.

Tucker Hirsch is a golden retriever therapy dog, five years old, and one of more than 21,000 such dogs in North America according to Therapy Dogs International.

Tucker on the job

According to his Facebook page, he’s a Chief Canine Officer. According to his mom, Dr. Wendi Hirsch, a Child Psychologist on staff at the hospital, he is the facility dog, donated by Hawaii Canines for Independence after training for about a year and a half, and before he was two. He graduated with the Class of 2007. And according to Tucker himself, he’s a friend to the sick children at the hospital, many of whom have cancer. He arrives every day, Monday thru Friday, by 8 am, to begin his job of waiting with them while they undergo chemotherapy or other treatments, providing a distraction when they get shots, playing with them in the playroom and helping to relieve some of the anxiety of both the kids and their families. He visits kids in pediatrics, the ICU and the Emergency Room. It’s scary to be sick; it’s even scarier to be sick in the hospital and Tucker makes sure he’s there with a friendly paw to help.

Tucker as a pup

His job is a special one. It can also be a sad one. Today one of Tucker’s friends, a little boy named Kendon, died of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a horrible disease that he had fought bravely for as long as he could. Tucker posted this message about Kendon today: "Rest in peace my buddy, and know that I will work hard to make you proud of me."

It is days like this that can make playtime for therapy dogs as important as work time. Tucker spends his down time at the beach, running with his best friend, Leo, another therapy dog. Running away from the sadness, running so he can continue to be there for his kids. Running to be the best dog he can be.

With best friend Leo on the beach. 

Therapy dogs are different than service dogs. They’re not trained to help the blind or the deaf, or the disabled. They’re trained to provide affection, which seems like a natural ability, and to help people make physical contact, something that’s especially important for older patients. Golden retrievers like Tucker are often trained as therapy dogs because they’re calm and gentle.

During World War II, a corporal named William Wynne found a Yorkshire Terrier abandoned on the battlefield. He named her Smoky and Smoky accompanied Wynne on combat missions, providing comfort to troops. She even helped the Signal Corps by running a telegraph cable through an underground pipe. But her true service as a therapy dog began when the corporal was hospitalized for jungle fever. As he was recovering, friends brought Smoky to the hospital to visit, and she had an immediate and positive affect on both Wynne and the other patients. Dr. Charles Mayo, who founded the Mayo Clinic, was the commanding officer at the time, and he allowed Smoky to go on rounds and to sleep with her master. Wynne recovered and Smoky’s work as a therapy dog continued for 12 years.

But it was a registered nurse named Elaine Smith who established the first training program for therapy dogs in 1976. She noticed how well patients responded to visits by a chaplain who was always accompanied by his golden retriever. In 1982, Nancy Stanley began taking her miniature poodle, Freeway, to the local hospital to help the severely handicapped. She founded Tender Loving Zoo, a nonprofit organization that introduced animal therapy to severely handicapped children and to convalescent hospitals.

Today’s therapy dogs, like Tucker, fall into three categories: Therapeutic Visitation (household pets who have been trained), Animal Assisted Therapy (dogs who assist physical and occupational therapists) and Facility Therapy. Facility therapy dogs are highly trained and skilled at enhancing the quality of life for their patients. They provide motivation, social interaction, comfort, and safety.

Tucker is a facility therapy dog, but he’s so much more than that. He’s a gentle, furry, blonde bear, a lover of all people and his mom, but especially the children at Kapi`olani Medical Center, the only children’s hospital on the Hawaiian islands. He has helped so many kids, brought some measure of comfort to the frightened parents. He helped my friend Lisa’s little boy, Xander, who was diagnosed with cancer last year, and I can only imagine how he also helped Lisa and Rene, Xander’s parents. It’s how I first met Tucker on Facebook, and just one of the many reasons I honor him today and celebrate his service, his work and his short, stocky, furry self.

Rock on, Tucker. The world is a better place because of dogs like you.

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