By Eileen Bona, M.Ed., Registered Psychologist
Director of Operations, Owner and Founder of Dreamcatcher
I started an Animal Assisted Therapy program in 2003 and bought two loving puppies to assist me in my journey: Axle, a bounding black Lab and his companion Brandy, a tan-coloured Border Collie. Axle and Brandy (shown below) were attached at the hip — literally. Whenever you saw them they were touching each other; whether they were standing, sitting or laying down. Axle was so much bigger than Brandy when they got older that when they stood together, Brandy would always be just underneath Axle’s hind leg, peeking out. They groomed each other, played together, shared their food and snuggled when they slept.
One day, Brandy became very ill. Axle spent the day grooming her because Brandy did not have the strength to play. Axle’s big brown eyes found mine constantly as he sat beside me while we both looked helplessly at Brandy. She had to go to the vet. Axle walked us to the door and looked longingly at his best friend and then at me as if to say: “Bring her back, k?” I nodded a shallow nod.
At the vet, the news was not good. Brandy had gotten into antifreeze somehow and her kidneys were shutting down. She was not going to make it through the night. I couldn’t not bring her back home. What would Axle think? Against the vet’s recommendations, I packed little Brandy back into my truck and headed for home. Once there, Axle met me at the door and as soon as he saw her in my arms he began to whine. I put her down for him and he gently licked her face as she closed her eyes.
The next morning, Axle was lying next to Brandy with his paw over her back. He was still licking her face gently but Brandy was gone. Axle looked up at me with the saddest Labrador Retriever eyes I have ever seen. I sobbed from the depths of my soul. My beloved therapy dogs — one lay dead and the other lay broken.
For five nights Axle howled as if his heart was tearing into a million pieces. We slept with him, comforted him, fed him his favorite food, played with him and did everything we could do to help. Nothing worked. He needed another dog. We didn’t know at this point that when your dog loses his companion, picking the right dog for him is important as well as ensuring he has time to grieve the loss of his friend.
We learned about a dog who was being given away. We were told that he was a cat killer and a fighter, that he would pee all over our house and that he could never learn to be different. Although he was 5 years old, this dog had never been neutered. He wore a thick Harley Davidson spiked collar and was big for a Lab. Yup, another Lab.
This dog, called Thor (see picture above), met me at the garage door when I went to see him. He wagged his tail incessantly and cocked his head to the side as he looked laughingly up at me. I thought of Brandy instantly. He had that same curious look. I sat down on the steps to talk to his owner and immediately Thor climbed into my lap, all 90 pounds of him! He flopped over on his back so that I could rub his belly and when I looked into his eyes I saw a shining, innocent, loving spirit. “Cat killer!” I thought “No way!”
I took Thor home. His owner told me that Thor had been attacked when he was a puppy by his mother dog and that she had fractured his skull on the left side and he received extensive surgeries to repair his cheek and eye socket. The owner believed that Thor may have gotten a brain injury and that was why he was so unpredictable and “hard to manage.” I said: ‘I’ll find out how hard to manage he is and if he is, I’ll give him back to you ok?” This relieved the owner as he was afraid of what would happen to Thor if I decided I didn’t want him.
Once at home, Thor turned out to be more of a Thorpuppy than a Thor. The minute he bounded out of the truck, him and Axle took off together, smelling each other and wagging their tails. Thor was loving and sweet and it took 10 minutes a day for a week to train him not to harm the cats or chickens. He is now a chicken babysitter and he does a wonderful job. He never did pee in my house or any other place we have taken him and he has been to many places in his job as a therapy animal. Strangely enough, Thorpuppy has many of the same qualities that Brandy did and Axle takes great care of him and worked hard to help him understand his role here.
Thorpuppy excels at helping people to laugh and play and remember the good times even when they are feeling sad due to their life events. Due to his brain injury, he is also good at helping people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as he appears to suffer from both conditions.
Thorpuppy is never cross and serves hundreds of children and youth, making their lives a happier, gentler place. He was intended as a last-minute, in-the-moment fix for a grieving dog; said to be an ill-mannered, aggressive and disrespectful canine; and turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Axle and the hundreds of children and youth whom he’s helped with their overwhelming life issues.
For more stories about Thorpuppy, the other animals at Dreamcatcher, and the Animal Assisted Therapy programs it offers, please visit www.dreamcatcherassociation.com. For more information about Dreamcatcher or Animal Assisted Therapy please call 780-922-1047.
Dreamcatcher is a Psychology Private Practice located on a 40-acre ranch in Ardrossan, Alberta. Dreamcatcher offers specialized services to help people who have not found success in other forms of treatment. These services include incorporating animals into the counselling environment in an open and natural setting or indoors if the individual prefers. Dreamcatcher has 35 animals who work in the co-counsellor role and each of them have been donated or rescued, were once homeless, ill, injured or abused.
Therapists at Dreamcatcher work in the present to heal the past and to make a positive influence on the future. They are committed to helping people find healing, balance, joy, hope and confidence through the immediate feedback that animals and nature provide.