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How My Life Went to the Dogs

Have you ever been perfectly happy with what you are doing and then--bam!-- life throws you a curve ball and changes everything? That’s how my life went to the dogs!

Don’t get me wrong, I have always had dogs in my life. From the cocker spaniel, Jinx, who guarded my carriage when mom left me sleeping peacefully while she dashed into the corner store for a forgotten item (can you imagine doing that today?) to the gigantic Great Dane, Gretchen, on whose back I tried to ride (there’s not much to hold onto on a Great Dane!) to the devilishly comical Basenjis that I trained and showed in my teens, dogs were always a part of my growing up. But they were always respectfully in the background, providing solace and companionship. They never threatened to influence my career—until now.

A friend made a plaque for me that reads:

Sometimes a dog comes into your life – and changes everything.

It now hangs on my wall and below it a photo of the twelve-pound Shih Tzu, Dandi, who was the change agent or maybe a catalyst for healing from one of the biggest changes in my life.

If you have ventured onto this website, you may have noticed my book You Cannot Change the Wolf: A Mother Struggles with the Suicide of her Soldier Son. The book will give you the whole story of my son’s death and how I healed from this devastating event. I will give you a teaser here and hopefully you will want to know ‘the rest of the story’ (anyone remember how Paul Harvey made that phrase popular?).

Before my son died, I was teaching human services at Fitchburg State College (now University), living with my husband and three great kids (off and on depending upon who was in college or the military). I knew who I was, where I was probably going and was pretty content with all of it.

It will probably not surprise you that my middle son, Jamie’s death shook my world. I was a college professor for almost twenty-five years and had decided to go to seminary to follow in my minister father’s footsteps when my son returned from the military with PTSD and chose ending his life over the pain he was feeling.

Fast forward a couple of difficult years (for the full story, I suggest you read the book) that find me a seminary graduate but feeling like I was not in a position to minister to anyone. Enter Dandi Lyon, a twelve-pound bundle of exuberant fluff placed with me as an Assistance Dog for Ministry by a wonderful service dog agency called NEADS.

If you have ever had a dog when you desperately needed comfort, you will understand how I felt. In my children’s sermons I explain that D-O-G is the mirror image of G-O-D which I believe explains a lot—at least to me.

Dandi and I had fifteen great years together until he passed away in my arms on September 5, 2020, fifteen years to the day that I appeared at NEADS to train with my future partner. Having Dandi led me not only into working with a dog in ministry but also into designing a program for NEADS to place specially trained service dogs with veterans—like Jamie—with military PTSD. It also led me to work with Assistance Dogs International (the accrediting body for service dog agencies) and other service dog agencies. It has become clear to me—and most who know what I do—that I am hooked on dogs and service dogs in particular.

After Dandi’s death, I lasted three months without a dog in my life and that was all I could handle. So at the end of November 2020, I brought home a three and a half pound ShihTzu puppy destined-- I hope-- to be another ministry dog. Of course he needed an appropriate name for his future, so he became Gabriel after the angel who brought good news in the Bible.

At this writing, Gabriel is just a year old and a strapping fourteen pounds. He has a lot to learn but he is a very willing learner—as well as a clown. I have high hopes for our future together. All in all, a lot of worse things can happen to one in life besides going to the dogs.

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