What I Learned About Graciousness, Enthusiasm, and Bravery—From My Dog

So maybe forming a therapy-dog team wasn't actually Pransky's idea. But once she began working at the county nursing home, she took the lead: in forging friendships, providing comfort, and teaching her own the limitless value of simply being present.

Photo by Ragnar Schmuck/Getty Images

The vet, who was—and I mean this in the nicest way—congenitally chipper, rushed into the sterile examining room where I sat, sans dog, and asked me how I was. I considered this question, then considered the young doctor who was asking it. She was about five months pregnant and all smiles, and maybe her good cheer was hormonal, but it seemed more likely to be the necessary corollary of her job. Dr. K. was a canine oncologist.

“I don’t know,” I said. “How am I?”

The vet looked confused, and then it seemed to dawn on her that whatever news she was bringing to this room from the room where my 12-year-old dog, Pransky, was under observation would answer the question. There had been surgery to remove a sizeable mass colonizing Pransky’s lung, and the hope was that once the tumor was gone she’d be cancer-free and ready to get back to work. That was the promise of the surgery. No guarantees, just hope.

Getting back to work didn’t mean returning home and taking our usual places on the couch in front of the woodstove, an occupation at which we are equally adept. And it didn’t have anything to do with Pransky’s tendency to jump off that same couch after a while and suggest a vigorous trip to the great outdoors, as if she were, in addition to being part Lab and part poodle, part personal trainer and part wood nymph.

Our work, Pransky’s and mine, was at the county nursing home, where we were a therapy-dog team. Every Tuesday for the past six years, I’d say, “Pransky, let’s go to work,” and she’d be at the door in a flash, ready for me to snap on her ID tags, eager to begin our rounds.

It’s an odd thing we do, my partner and I. Odd because, to a casual observer, it may look as if we are doing nothing as we greet visitors and chat with staff and residents about anything and everything. Someone will be stroking Pransky’s fur or scratching behind her soft ears, or slipping her a treat, or hugging her, face to face, telling her about the dogs of their youth, or the dog they had to leave behind, or the dog who visited last week, who was probably her.