As I close the car door and snap on Micah’s purple Gabriel’s Angels vest, I notice the window blinds separate, revealing big brown eyes and hear, “Micah’s here! Micah’s here!” I smile. Little Sammy bursts through the front door, diapered and bare-footed with his mom on his heels and runs to Micah with his arms outstretched. Sammy is two years old and has spent over a year seeing Micah every two weeks like clockwork. He can’t tell time, but his teen mommy says that he has been camping at the window all afternoon, waiting for Micah. He reaches up and wraps his arms around my 200-pound therapy dog’s giant neck, gives him a huge hug, turns on a dime and runs to the house, announcing that Micah has arrived as only Sammy can.
We have some changes this week! We visit a group home under protective custody with abused, abandoned and at-risk children. Normally we have about a dozen teen girls, give or take, a smattering of toddlers and a few infants, not counting the ones waiting to be born. It’s not all teen moms. We have had girls from “juvie”, some abused or self-abuse cases and occasionally an abandoned child. This week one of the children has been released, one has turned 18 and has gone to live with a family member and we see three new faces and a brand new six-pound baby.
I introduce Micah to the new girls as Sammy pats the bag I’m carrying, asking for a brush. Two of the girls are perched atop the back of the sofa like baby birds, eyes wide, staring at the behemoth that has entered the room. As I explain the history of the breed, focusing on how the mastiff has protected their families and kept them safe for thousands of years, the girls relax a little. “Safe” is something they crave. But they are NOT getting down or touching him! “Keep that big dog away from me!”
Micah is already seeking out the infants who are scattered around the room in their car seats or carriers. He’s kissing baby toes, and the toddlers are following him with their brushes. The girls watch in amazement as the toddlers lie on top of the “gentle giant” and run their Matchbox trucks along his brindle stripes. Micah doesn’t move a muscle, even when a one-inch dump truck runs over his head and down his nose.
I pull the treats out and announce that we’re going to play “hide the treat”. I give each of the girls a treat and have them hide it in their hand…toddlers included. Micah goes to each child (Sammy FIRST!) and they hold out both fists and let Micah discover which hand contains the treat. The “baby birds” slide down to the seat of the sofa and hold trembling fists out to “the big giant head”. I show them by example how to hold their palms flat when he spots the right one. I stand next to them and give Micah a treat first and coax them to respond. The hand opens, Micah gently takes the tiny treat, barely brushing their palm with his lips, and they are amazed! “Miss! He’s so GENTLE!” The free hand comes up as I encourage them to touch his satin-soft ear. “Miss! He’s so soft!” Their body language changes and they unwind and slip to the floor as I hand them a brush and they begin their relationship with the biggest Gabriel’s Angel.
They have just overcome two huge barriers that are ingrained in their behavior patterns. They have overcome fear and they have begun to trust. Many of these children have lived in fear most of their lives.
I show them how I lay next to Micah on the floor at home, as if he’s a giant teddy bear. One by one they take their turn cuddling their newfound friend. One of the girls says, “Miss, I think Micah’s thirsty. He’s panting. May I give him some water, Miss?” I thank her for being empathetic and noticing Micah’s discomfort. She pours his bottled water into his bowl and she smiles as he tries to take it directly from the bottle. She gets one of the towels that I carry and gently wipes his face when he’s finished. I thank her for being so compassionate and loving to Micah.
I remind the children that dogs’ memories are often connected to their sense of smell, and they hold those memories all their lives. I tell them if Micah sees them somewhere 5 years from now, he will recognize them as family.
Time’s up and Micah gets a hug from each of the children as we leave (each teen making SURE he gets their scent in his nose good and proper). The mother of the newborn holds tiny infant up to Micah’s face so he will smell and remember her baby.
Once again I load my sleepy fur-baby in the back of my car, slide in next to him and hug him myself. Good job, Micah!
Copyright 2013 by Mary Watson