February 2016

Joy Rediscovered:How a dog brought new meaning and purpose to my shattered life

Author: Elisabeth Nantz

Attempting to claw my way out of extreme grief, I sought help to find a place where, just for a moment, I did not cry to have my son alive again.

The words, “What do you love to do?” somehow penetrated my bruised brain. How could I love doing anything ever again? I felt my life was over, done, never to return. But the question my grief counselor asked allowed me to explore this uncertain topic. Slowly I began…

I loved my early morning coffee and newspaper, but most important, I loved having Petey, my deceased son’s dog, by my side. Somehow this gentle nine-year-old Beagle became, for me, my son Regan.

As Petey laid his head on my lap and gently nudged me to pet him, I imagined Regan saying, “You are going to live again, Mom. My Beagle is going to help you get there.”

I would grab the leash, and Petey would bark as we headed out the door for our brisk morning walk. I soon realized we were united in our objective: to run away from all the pain and sorrow we were feeling. Slowly, I began to think that this dog was my path to a new life, because my old life, with Regan in it, was gone forever. Petey and I were going to find a new way to live again, and we were going to do it together.

I have often heard people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Was there some great truth to be revealed to me as a result of my son’s death? I think not. What I believe is that when we are faced with extreme sorrow, it is our mission to search for ways to heal. The answers are always there. We only have to be looking for them.

I kept asking myself that question, “What do you love to do?” One day, I heard the term, “therapy dog,” which piqued my interest. I found Therapy Dogs International, hired a trainer, enrolled Petey in classes, witnessed him pass the stringent therapy dog test, and we were on our way to finding a purpose.

I saw the delight Petey brought to school children, especially those with disabilities. I often observed as many as 20 children sprawled on the floor hugging him, asking him to do his tricks, and having their picture taken with him. I watched as he jumped on the beds of nursing home patients, urging smiles from the demented as he nudged them to scratch behind his ear.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes about his observations of prisoners in concentration camps. He learned that those who managed to survive were the ones who were able to find meaning in their wretched circumstances. They could focus on what they would do when they were free or recall pleasant memories of what had once brought them joy.

Petey and I, at last, rediscovered our joy. When you hear an entire classroom of children scream, “Petey’s here!” and they come running, how can you not smile…again?

Two years ago, when Petey’s job was complete, I held him in my arms as he died. He was 16, and I believe he knew he had helped lead me from despair and sorrow into a new life full of meaning and purpose. 

Could your dog become a source of healing for you and others?

Therapy Dogs International (TDI®) is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, schools and other institutions where their services are needed.

TDI registers all breeds of dogs. Some dogs have pedigrees, while others have been adopted from local shelters or are rescue dogs.

To belong to Therapy Dogs International, all dogs must be tested and evaluated by a certified TDI evaluator. A dog must be a minimum of one year of age and have a sound temperament.

Local training and testing is available at Leader of the Pack. For class schedules and more information, visit leaderofthepackhhi.com, call (843) 290-0345 or (843) 384-2931, or e-mail alisona@hargray.com. See below for info on their trainers.

  1. Excellent Article. I hope it helps others who have experienced a tragedy move forward with their lives just as Elisabeth has done.

    — Loretta H. Washam    Feb 1, 05:05 pm   

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