One of the developments I’ve been watching with interest in the news has been the rising presence of therapy dogs in libraries. From Monty, the certified library therapy dog at the Yale law library, to Beck at the W. Gordon Ryan Public Library in Lucasville, OH, therapy dogs are becoming widely embraced as a means of bringing people of all ages into libraries and engaging them (Meredith Schwartz did a really nice piece on this on Feb. 6, 2012, in LJ).
The main reason I’ve been following these stories closely is because I got my first dog a year and a half ago. I’ve been a cat person most of my life, and I never thought I’d get a dog, at least while I was working, because I have a huge daily commute.
My sister is involved with a rescue group, however, and events conspired together the summer before last such that I found myself with a 2-month old border collie puppy who’d been abandoned and then rescued. It was supposed to be a temporary situation—my sister was fostering the puppy but she’d gone on vacation, the person sub-fostering the puppy couldn’t keep him. He—the puppy, that is—was evicted on short notice, so I picked the puppy up to keep him for the few days remaining in my sister’s vacation.
That was 18 months ago, and as I sit writing this, a wriggling border collie is trying to get me to stop writing and start throwing his stuffed bison to him. I don’t know what you know about border collies, but they are very smart and very active. I was told early on that “they need a job.” I’ve been trying to figure out what this particular border collie’s job should be, when it struck me that he’s been doing a job for the past 18 months—and that’s to teach me how to relax a bit and go more with the flow.
I’ve spent my life trying to keep things in order, fairly tidy, and well-organized. Some would say I was, for many years, a picture-straightener (and they would be right). Much of this behavior I attribute to sharing a bedroom with a sister who was (and is) a complete slob—she kept her entire wardrobe on the end of her bed and liked to drop items on the floor rather than doing anything else with them. I had the bunk bed under her, and I kept my area meticulously neat, clean, and uncluttered. I tried to keep the rest of the room tidy, but she subverted my efforts continuously, dropping even more clothing, books, and impedimenta at our feet. So I also credit this sister with turning me into a librarian, since, at the time, the profession was all about indexing, cataloging, arranging, and ordering materials for easy repeated access. It offered a beautiful contrast to the complete welter that had been my formative years.
Fast forward … quite a number of years. My two cats and I were living well-adjusted, low maintenance lives. We had a routine and followed it—whatever they wanted, I did. They tolerated me, let me feed and pet them, and picked their favorite places in the house which were then theirs ever after. And I went to the library, worked all day, came home, fed the cats, played with them, petted them, and went to bed, with a cat on either side of me.
Then the border collie came into the house, post-sub-fostering-eviction. I had to put gates in various rooms to contain him, since he considers every bowl of water his personal swimming pool and immediately upends it so he can swim. I had to put down puppy pads for the accidents that continue to happen. I had to find the right kibble to keep him regular (but not TOO regular). I had to purchase many, many squeaking, throwable toys—then quickly altered my toy buying habits to get toys he could not eat complete with squeaker (did you know that you give dogs a teaspoon of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to toss their cookies? I didn’t—but I do now). And so on and so on. I learned that dogs are quite a different proposition than cats. Yes, of course, I knew this intellectually, but I hadn’t internalized it until I mopped up the 147th bowl of upended water). I learned a lot.
I also learned to accept the unexpected. Whereas I could pretty well predict what my cats would do, Mr. Puppy was a whole bag of new tricks. He can open gates in creative ways. He can get through doors faster than a speeding rocket. He can take something apart in less time than it takes to write it. Many things. We’re still in training mode, but I’m assured that he’ll calm down after he’s two… or three….
But he’s different from the cats in other ways. When I speak to him, he (sometimes) seems to listen (the cats ignore every word except “breakfast,” “treats,” and “dinner”). He likes to have his face smoothed, and licks me while I’m doing it. He’s good company in the car, and on a walk, and watching television (he watches, too—he especially likes The Vicar of Dibley CDs). And when I get home each day, he greets me at the door jumping high into the air, as if it’s a special occasion. I think for him it IS a special occasion.
So the cats and I have adjusted. In bed they’re still on either side of me, and he’s at the foot of the bed, hoping to sneak a bedtime cat treat. He touches noses with one cat; the other seems to delight in taking paw swipes at him through the kitchen gate, but I think it’s a game.
And I truly can accept the unexpected: today, when I walked out into the kitchen and found him standing, quite still, atop the kitchen table, looking at me, I just walked over and pulled out a kitchen chair so he could climb down. I have no idea how he got up there, but figure maybe he’ll show me sometime. He’s shown me so much else.
So I hope you, and your library, are able to have a therapy animal of some sort, whether canine, feline, fish, fowl, or porcine. The positive benefits of animal therapy continue to be shown, and I hope to see the effects of animal library therapists begin to register in qualitative and quantitative library metrics. Talk about measureable positive outcomes! They’re a win-win-win solution all round.