My black medium-sized labradoodle now wears a tag that says, “I AM A THERAPY DOG.” It took him four years, five courses of study and three states to earn his certification. When he is acting as a therapy dog, he licks, looks you in the eye like you are the most important creature in his life and likes to be petted. But all of his charms can get boring, especially because he visits such a wide variety of people: nursing home residents, healthy children, other clowns (he has a costume) and kids with cancer. That’s a lot of entertaining to do with just a pink tongue and full body of curly black hair.
People who meet Morgan when he is acting as a therapy dog want to believe that he is special, that he is worth all the fuss and attention he gets so I share his specialness when I find an opening. “His name is Mr. Morgan,” I say. “I got tired of people asking me if he was a girl or a boy.” Sometimes they chuckle. “He’s the bravest dog at the dog park. If a couple of dogs are fighting, he will dive onto the pile so he doesn’t miss any action.” Everyone worries that he will get hurt but I tell them he knows when to leave a fight but not until he’s had the last bark. When I tell them he won’t swim they wonder why such a brave dog is afraid of water. I don’t know. My husband is going to swim with him in the Columbia River to see if that helps.
He was truly the world’s worst puppy. No exaggeration needed. He ate five pairs of prescription glasses, three electrical cords, and four pairs of shoes. He even ate a pair I bought to replace one pair he chewed up. He liked to lay in the closet on his back and nip at the bottom of my clothes. My repair bill was almost $200. When guests came over we locked him in a closet. If they insisted we bring him out, they would stare with horror at the wild animal twirling and swirling at the end of the leash. When he grew up he turned into a calm alpha dog who still loves to play. When company comes he runs around the house with someone’s (usually mine) underwear in his mouth. When we are alone he begs me to chase him around the house. When no one is home he examines each piece of garbage in any unsecured receptacle.
There are more Morgan stories. I usually throw out a short story when I can, especially if it fits the conversation. If a child asks if he likes treats I might tell them he loves broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. If a little boy says he wants a dog for Christmas I might tell him that Morgan would like a little boy for Christmas (he would). Most importantly, I always point out that the dog likes whomever is petting him. “He licked your arm. I think he likes you.”
The exception to this dog story telling is when I visit the nursing home. Some of the residents are curious about this little fluffy black dog who is suddenly beside their bed but most want to tell me about the dog they lost or the dog they miss. Morgan is just a stand-in for that dog and I listen to the stories they tell me. Then it is my turn to be entertained.