Thursday, March 26, 2009

The repellent Gus

L. and I have been struck by how… nontherapeutic some so-called therapy dogs are.

Take Gus, for example. He has flaxen hair. He wears clothes. He is groomed weekly, if not hourly. He has a human being who outweighs him by a factor of 30 completely at his service, challenging the theory of evolution. From her volunteer work to her leisure time, this woman is completely devoted to this animal. He’s like the brazen calf, only much smaller.

I’ve come across Gus a few times at our hospital near our home. A typical interaction goes something like this, “Would you like a therapy dog visit with Gus?”

“Sure," I say, thinking, “No, I would not like a therapy dog visit with the repellent Gus."

At this, the lady turns from me operatically. “OK, Gussie! Let’s visit the nice man, come visit the nice man!” Gus wiggles around a bit, stops, regards the woman as if she were a turd, and barks peremptorily.

“Oh Gussy, that’s not nice!”

Gus strains to the end of his lead as far as possible from me and begins sniffing the lineoleum manically.

“OK, Gus, here’s a treat. Up!”

The rat ambles over and hops dismissively into my lap, staring at his treat the entire while. I pat his turned back while the woman launches into a long soliloquy about his beauty, intelligence and bowel movements. Gus starts edging away, then lets out another yap.

“Oh Gussie, visit the nice man!”

Gus ignores me. I too am calculating how to end this humiliating and bizarre exercise.


“Oh, he’s hungry today. One more, Gus.”

We part ways as soon as feasible, the interaction leaving me feeling rejected and smelling heavily of dog shampoo and Purell.
We had a similar interaction in New York with a minature poodle named Blackberry. Her owner wore poodle earrings, which is more revealing than anything I could say about the occasion.
My most recent and, the way things were going, possibly my last dog therapy visit came yesterday, with lovely Lily the bull mastiff. After she creakily made her way into my bed (it’s higher than some, Lily’s owner reported), she settled in close to me, as if for the night.

I wouldn’t have kicked her out.

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