Here's my winning story:
Disciples Of God
by Susan Hartzler
by Susan Hartzler
Before she died, mom bought me a rescue dog, a living memorial of her eternal love for me. This wasn’t just any rescue dog. Baldwin turned out to be a Puli, part of the herding group, a high-octane ball of fluff.
After I brought him home I realized he needed a job. I learned Pulix are sheepherders from their native Hungary, marveled at pictures of them driving hundreds of sheep from one spot to the other, their dreadlocks flying. I immediately signed up for sheep herding lessons, agility classes, canine freestyle, obedience training and just about every dog sport I could find but my little black mop of a dog needed more. That’s when I discovered Therapy Dogs International.
Baldwin turned out to be an ace student in the classes we took to get certified. When we completed the training to become a therapy dog team, I couldn’t wait to see what we could do.
Groomed and dressed in his new doctor’s scrubs costume, Baldwin squealed when we entered the parking lot at County USC Medical Center. He wiggled in the back seat, ready to get to work. Before we even got out of the car something changed. I could tell Baldwin knew therapy work would become my sweet dog’s life mission. Now I knew too.
Baldwin’s first assignment? To visit a special little girl recovering in the playroom from a round of chemo earlier that day. She sat there alone, couldn’t be around any other kids because of vulnerability to germs. The seven-year-old looked gaunt and tired, her complexion pale, almost transparent. With a frame so thin from her treatments, her cheekbones stood out, her eyes sunk in.
When Maria saw Baldwin, she took a deep breath and laughed out loud at my Muppet dog which brought some color back into her face. Before I could stop him, Baldwin hopped on the couch next to her and stretched his entire body across her lap. Maria loved it. She rubbed under his chin, he sighed, put his head down then closed his eyes, his breath a steady cadence. Maria inhaled deeply with him, looked better, healthier with every breath.
Baldwin spent an hour in that playroom on that little girl’s lap. Maria stroked him the entire time. Her boney hands moved over him in perfect rhythm, like someone praying the rosary: Hail Mary Full of Grace.
I realized later I witnessed a miracle. This high-energy dog who ran agility courses herded sheep and played ball for hours lay still doing exactly what this little girl needed. I thanked God for showing me grace in action, combined with mercy, awe, gratitude and unconditional love all wrapped up in Baldwin, my little black rescue dog. At that moment, I understood life is a gift.