There they sit, so attentive, so eager, quivering with anticipation, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and their eyes … those sparkling eyes, what do they see? Surely in all those liquid brown pools must lie secrets of the universe. What are they wanting to say?
Introducing, for your pleasure, Darla and Harvey. Darla is a matronly sort, with a healing touch. Harvey is much like that fabled 7-foot-tall invisible rabbit. Together they form a tandem of healing and comforting. They are therapy dogs. They give a whole new meaning to the word lapdog — Darla weighs 95 pounds, and Harvey checks in at a svelte 105.
They make the rounds of hospitals, retirement villages, health centers, and college campuses, and as soon as they set paw on the welcome mat, patients and residents materialize out of their apartments.
They are Bernese mountain dogs. From a distance, they remind you of a pair of bears. Their formidable size belies a gentle soul. They ooze personality and have a genuine fondness for humans.
I have seen their effect on the halt and the lame, whose eyes light up and blood pressure goes down. Is there anything more enchanting than an ear being scratched and a voice cooing, "Good doggie. Good doggie."
And I swear I have seen their effect on Al, my nemesis and the face I have put on Alzheimer's. They ease the pain and the sting of the issues with which I struggle.
When Darla and Harvey make their rounds, Darla instinctively goes to the walkers and wheelchairs, while Harvey poses for pictures. Meanwhile, Al mutters and stews. For all the meds that are forced on us, for all the surgeries and rehab, none are quite as soothing as a dog's nuzzle.
We are tethered to each other, man and dog. They reach the deepest part of us.
Some years ago, we returned from a two-week vacation and picked up our dog, Missy. Upon our footfall, she began to bark, a shattering noise that would not be stilled. In a flush of anger, I yelled at her, and the vet looked at me and said words I'll take to my grave. He said, "Do you think that all your life through you'll ever find someone that happy to see you?"
They ask for nothing except for your company, and they are quick to forgive, and when you leave, they look out the window and there is that forlorn expression and the question: "Are you ever coming back?"
Darla and Harvey reside with their humans, Babs and Dan Winicur, at Wesley Enhanced Living here in Media. Darla and Harvey occupy the third floor. All of it. They work for breeding, rescue, training, and showing. They are certified therapy dogs, and their humans are fervent believers that if you think people who have dogs should treat them like dogs, you probably shouldn't have dogs.
Take that, Al!
Retired Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon dictated this article about his ongoing fight against Alzheimer's. It was edited for style and clarity by assistant sports editor Gary Miles.