They say dogs are Man’s best friend. So what could be better than being on a journey with your best friend while giving to those in greater need?
Onyx and I have been a therapy dog team duo for eight years. For the first two, we volunteered alongside other handlers and therapy dogs, providing dog therapy to folks in need. We visited nursing homes, hospitals and schools.
In our third year of service, I wanted to try working on our own. The reasons were simple. Working by ourselves would mean better conversations with patients and focusing on their needs. I wanted to serve in a more patient-focused setting.
Around the same time, I also noticed changes in Onyx. While he had always possessed a calm demeanour since he was a puppy, he now exuded a more sensitive disposition and revealed a gentler side when he senses someone is in discomfort or pain.
We were at a funeral, paying our last respects to a friend’s mother. Many of Onyx’s friends were there too but instead of going to them for pats and cuddles, he kept trying to pull me over to a corner, where an elderly man was sitting on his own. I later found out he was the husband of the deceased. Witnessing his acts of empathy gave me the confidence to try and work with patients in palliative care.
Onyx is a wonderful ice-breaker. With him around, I never have to worry about how to keep a conversation going with total strangers. He does all the work! When he enters a room, gasps of happiness from patients and caregivers fill the air. That gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, and it’s also an affirmation for us to continue what we are doing.
I have had the privilege to get to know some of the most courageous patients, and seen a lot of things that have greatly touched me. Many a time, it gets difficult to know that the hand you hold today may not be there tomorrow. It happens so frequently, yet one can never truly get used to it. Managing my expectations is something I have had to learn.
Entering a room and seeing an empty bed, instead of the patient you saw last week is a common occurrence. At moments like that, I take a second to remind myself that we have done what we set out to do, and brought the patient comfort, even if it was for just a few moments.
One day, we received a call from the volunteer manager. We were told of a patient’s last wish — he wanted to spend time with Onyx. When I heard it, I was touched, honoured and overwhelmed by my feelings. I mean, how do you feel when you hear that someone’s last wish was to spend time with your pet? Life doesn’t prepare you for that.
We made arrangements to go down and see Uncle T. I placed Onyx on the bed with him and on a few occasions, stepped back so the two of them could spend some time alone.
Uncle T doesn’t talk much but he shared with me the name of his late dog and said she was affectionately spoiled (‘manja’ was the word he used) like Onyx. He had a twinkle in his eyes.
When it was time for us to go, he looked straight at me and said, “Thank you very much.” I held his hand and told him, “Thank you for loving Onyx.”
Uncle T passed on the next day.
Another memorable patient we journeyed with was Mdm L. She doesn’t remember my name, or the names of the nurses, doctors or therapists who visit her. The only name she remembers is Onyx’s.
I am very grateful for the chance to do what we do. It is a privilege. And every extra minute we get to spend with the patient is a bonus.
This journey has been crazy, sad, rewarding, and so, so fulfilling. Nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, and you know what? I can’t wait to do it all over again.
Hi, I’m Onyx! It doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life. A smile, a pat on the shoulder, or a hug. Sometimes, even sitting in the same room without saying a single word can mean so much. When you truly give without expecting anything in return, you feel the lightest, and happiest. Smile at a stranger today. No, in face, smile at 10 strangers today!A little something from Onyx’s POV
Photo: Serene Loo, Roy Pek