Changing Lives

Debra F Guajardo
Screenshot 2015-06-25 00.26.25Lately, I’ve found myself marveling at how powerful and life-changing the simplest of moments can be. At a recent volunteer visit to a local pediatric facility, my therapy dog, Lily and I spent some time with a young boy who was working on coordination tasks with his therapist. While normally eager to unilaterally approach and meet new people, Lily patiently waited for this particular boy to initiate their interaction, as if understanding that they needed to meet on his terms. After what seemed like a long time, the boy slowly leaned forward and touched Lily’s paw, and then pat her head. Lily reciprocated with a gentle nudge and lick on his hand, followed by a celebratory tail wag. After visiting with another child, we encountered the same boy again in the hallway. As Lily approached him, he lay down on the floor and extend his arm toward her. Mirroring his movements, Lily slowly rolled onto her side in front of him and extended her paw toward his hand. This little moment of theirs in the hallway was fascinating to watch, and left the boy’s therapist nodding and smiling and saying, “Yes, Lily has to come back.” That one little moment in the hallway seemed to epitomize the human-animal bond that is the cornerstone of animal assisted therapy.

Last year, when we added Lily—a pit bull— to our family, I had that same feeling that the simple act of adopting a dog would prove to change my life and the lives of others in unforeseen and powerful ways. Lily was surrendered to the Montgomery County Animal Shelter (MCAS) by her breeder who found her litter’s markings undesirable. Ironically, I am pretty sure that Lily’s markings were the last thing on that little boy’s mind as he reached for her in the hallway that day.

In addition to visiting a variety of facilities through our therapy dog work, Lily and I partner with local organizations to collect donations for MCAS. Russ Angell, Director of Tennis at the Woodlands Country Club Tennis Pro Shop, has generously donated several hundred tennis balls to benefit MCAS and the pit bulls seized from the Spindletop sanctuary. Lily also participated as one of the “Dogs of Character” in Healing Species of Texas’ assemblies at River Oaks Elementary and James Berry Elementary. Students heard Lily’s story and learned how making assumptions based on physical appearances can be harmful to us all.

Fortunately, for the people Lily has positively impacted, MCAS recognizes that, just like people, dogs are individuals and that any breed or type of dog has the potential to do great things when given the opportunity. Even the rejected and misunderstood can overcome adversity and show true beauty in helping others and make a positive impact on another’s life.

Lily is a registered Pet Partners therapy dog, a certified Reading Education Assistance Dog through Intermountain Therapy Animals, and works locally through Montgomery County Pet Partners. Follow Lily’s journey on facebook: Lily. PitBull Ambassador.

Originally published January 2013.