Don't Believe Everything You Read About Rottweilers
By Carol Bogart
"Bo's here! Bo's here!" As the announcement came over the PA system at Fairview Health Systems in Cleveland, people in white coats swarmed the lobby, each hoping for just a minute with big Bo. Bo, a Rottweiler who made weekly rounds, was a canine success story in more ways that one.
He'd been a breeder dog for his first year and a half of life. When I got him, it was clear the puppy mill must have mistreated him terribly to try to break him of his gentle spirit (not a quality in high demand from those who wanted Rottweilers as, say, guard dogs for their drug stash). In the beginning, if I reached out to pet him, he flinched. If someone he didn't know entered the room, he cowered behind a bed.
It was so sad.
Housebreaking him went more slowly than usual because I never raised my voice to him, just hustled him outside if I caught him in time. I knew if there was any chance of re-establishing his trust in people, I had to be consistently patient and kind.
Over time, he became a dog that loved attention, and dedicated every waking moment to pleasing me. When Bo was 3, Fairview started its pet therapy program. Dogs had to be certified by the Delta Society, and of more than 200 that "auditioned" – just 20 made the cut. Dogs, they said, "with halos."
The audition was scary for Bo. He had to accept being left alone in a gymnasium full of strange people and dogs while I went out in the hall, out of his sight, for three minutes. Before I left, I turned to him and said, "Bo, sit." He sat. And, "Bo, stay." His eyes looked worried and unhappy, but he never moved an inch.
They signed him up, gave him a silly pink T-shirt to wear, and he began to make his "rounds" – laying his big block head in the laps of children who'd just had their tonsils out, bringing a measure of comfort to an elderly woman whose husband was having heart bypass surgery, and even becoming a turning point for a 19-year-old schizophrenic in the psych unit who never reacted to anything – until Bo sat on his foot and leaned against his knee week after week.
Although the youth didn't acknowledge him and, in the beginning, would turn and walk away, each time, I would say, "You can pet him. He'd like that."When we'd been dropping by weekly for about three months, there came a day that the young man briefly, without directly looking at Bo, reached out and touched him once on the top of his head. I knew it was a break through. I said, "It's nice that you're so gentle with Bo. Bo's had a very bad time of it and when he was a young dog, people hurt him very much. So it's nice of you to be so kind to him. He's easily frightened."
The following week, the young man's hand rested on Bo's head, and he stood looking at him – for just a moment. Again I told him how much it meant to Bo that he was so kind. The next time we went, he knelt down and looked Bo right in his eyes and said, "You're a good dog, Bo." Then, he immediately got up and hurried away. I was worried. I thought maybe it was too much intimacy too soon. I had never pushed when he'd failed to engage in the beginning. As I'd done with Bo, I had tried to gauge when he might be ready for more interaction by the cues he gave.
Just as I was about to ask one of the attendants to check on him, the young man came rushing back. In his hand was his drawing from that morning's art therapy session. Again, he knelt down in front of Bo … and showed it to him. I remember it was a picture of a locomotive.I said nothing else. I knew this relationship was between the young man and Bo.
When we returned the following week, we learned the young man was so much better, he'd gone home. I always took Bo a little early each week because the staff loved him so. Once, one of the other human pet partners (a little jealous of Bo's popularity, I think), said, "These dogs are here to help the patients." I said, "Don't you think it helps the patients if the staff is a little less stressed?"
Bo loved everybody. Shared his big, big heart with each and every one who needed a little lift. And enriched my life in ways impossible to measure.Big gentle Bo. A dog with a halo.
Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at www.bloggernews.net. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.