Sasha the Therapy Dog
Sasha on bubble wrap
Sasha was an amazing dog. She was a tri colored, Shih Tzu who weighed approximately 10 pounds, but her personality far outweighed her size and stature. Her endearing face and magical demeanor won over cats, shy dogs, people afraid or scared of dogs, and she even gave English lessons.
I first met Sasha when she was approximately 6 years old, my mother drove with Sasha from Long Island to Boston to be present for the final fitting of my wedding gown. After the long drive, my mother didn't want to leave Sasha in the car. She got permission from the sales staff at the bridal shop to bring Sasha into the store. Everyone's heart melted when they met this sweet, loving little girl -- including mine. I was in love.
Sasha was rescued by friends in central Pennsylvania. Kicked out of her previous home and living under a porch for over a year, poor Sasha was so loyal and devoted to people that she did not run away. She lived on scraps. Our friends found Sasha in awful condition. Her coat was matted and she only weighed 8 pounds. Even through the neglect, they could tell Sasha was a great dog. Sasha's rescuers took her to a local groomer, had all of her mats clipped and brought her to the vet -- and presented this 'new friend' to my mother who had been looking for an animal companion.
I saw Sasha regularly over the next year and a half. At family gatherings, I noticed how she loved all the hustle and bustle and wanted to be in the middle of it all. When, my mother said she could no longer care for Sasha. I eagerly adopted this sweet soul with pleasure. She became part of my family. The day she permanently became a part of our lives, we went to visit friends who were guardians to an emotionally-challenged woman named Mary. Sasha went exploring around the house and found Mary, who shouted, 'A puppy!' Sasha jumped into her arms, and they were instant friends.
Our friends also have cats. We weren’t sure how they would all get along. That same day she made friends with Mary, she also made friends with their cats. Sasha was face to face with a large white, short hair mostly deaf cat. Sasha inched very slowly towards this cat. Then when Sasha was approximately 6 inches away, she rolled onto her back in submission as if to say she wasn’t a threat to the household and wanted to be friends.
Becoming a Therapy Dog
I had never seen Sasha jump into somebody's lap before. The experience gave me the idea that Sasha would make a great therapy dog. She had terrible separation anxiety and was very attentive to people. I thought it would be a good fit and searched for a pet therapy group. Sasha passed their certification test and became a registered therapy dog. We later became the founding members of a pet therapy group, Caring Canines Visiting Therapy Dogs, Inc. Sasha went to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, a local mental health hospital, and adult day care facilities. In total she made 100 visits. Sasha was so excited every time we went to work; she couldn't wait to go to get started! She was the 'lap dog' and complemented the other dogs that did tricks, entertained, and chased toys. She gave kisses and put a smile on people's faces on every visit, including staff. She sensed loneliness and gave people the loving attention they needed.
Sasha Helped Me Care for My Mom
Sasha’s experience as a therapy dog came in handy when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I took Sasha with me to visit my mother as often as I could. She came to the nursing home and the assisted living facility. The only place I didn’t bring Sasha was the hospital. When she curled up next to my mother, her powerful presence was magical. Sasha's cute, flirtatious hips were noticed everywhere.
Sasha Retires from Pet Therapy
Sasha worked so hard during the year my Mom was sick that she no longer had the energy to work as a therapy dog. I retired her from Caring Canines. However, she still had an active social life both with people and with dogs. I took her to my local park at least once, sometimes twice daily. Big muscular men, with pit bulls, fell all over her. Some of her favorite dog friends were a rottweiler and a greyhound. She used to shake her little hips and flirt with a mini poodle and a bichon frissee.
Sasha continued to work her magic. She can instantly win over a person’s admiration, especially those who are afraid of dogs. My step mother was hesitant about having Sasha stay in her house. When she looked into Sasha’s eyes, she knew Sasha was no ordinary dog. Sasha stayed by my step mom’s sore feet and gave her love and the nurturing she craved. After that, my stepmother put out a rug for Sasha when we stayed over so Sasha didn’t have to sleep on the cold floor (shih tzus love pillows).
Sasha's Other Talents
My Dad sang Sasha’s praises to his next door neighbor who was quite fearful of dogs. Even after looking at Sasha my Dad's neighbor was hesitant to be near her. Then their timid friend worked up the courage to sit down in a chair. Sasha came over and rolled onto her back. The neighbor, relieved of his anxiety, finally leaned over and gave Sasha a belly rub.
Now Sasha is teaching English. We had a neighbor who was originally from Russia and loved Sasha. Just about anyone I met who was from Russia promptly explained that Sasha is a nickname for Alexander or Alexandra. Our neighbor didn't speak much English and always tried to tell us in expressive sign language that she loved Sasha and felt sorry for her when we left the house (she heard Sasha scratch the door). One of the last times I saw our neighbor, stroked Sasha and instead of speaking to Sasha in Russian she said,
“g o o d d o g, g o o d d o g.”
I was always amazed by Sasha’s power and ability to bring out the best in people. She made sure I never took her ability for granted.
Sadly, Sasha is no longer in our lives. She passed after living with us for 8 wonderful years. She will always have a special place in our hearts.