A New Friend

Riggs Ministry Minute: When there’s only a minute for ministry

Have you ever met someone and almost immediately you knew you could be friends? What about meeting this person and knowing not only will he seldom speak more than a word or two to you; that you could never travel physically anywhere together? Yet, somehow there was, in the sparkle in his eye, a warmth that bid me welcome. Everything seemed to be transmitted in those amazing eyes. When his days are tougher, you can see it in his eyes. Even though  I and my other ‘pal’ have only visited a few times; never have we been asked to step away; always it is, come closer I want to see you. I want to feel your closeness, even if I cannot feel you more closely..                                  

Gunner and Dad

Slowly I am beginning to learn more about this new friend. For example, long before his hospitality wears out; I find I am struggling with my emotions for my new friend. I have just found out that, like my son, my friend was in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper – he during the Viet Nam War, my son, of course, now in the War on Terror. My friend wants a picture of my son – to remind him to pray for Daniel.

A closer bond than I and my new friend is that between my ‘pal’ and my new friend. My ‘pal’ is Gunner – my black Lab/Chow/Shepherd mix. Gunner and I proudly serve as part of the Mercy Hospital Pet Patrol – a Delta Dog certified program that permits me to follow Gunner along as he visits patients; one room at a time. Most of the time, Gunner saunters up and allows the patients to pet him on the head, tell him how strikingly handsome he is; then returning to a stretched out position on the cool linoleum floor, he waits while I and the patients share pet stories; stories now Gunner has heard a hundred times. Still he never tires of it because every time I say to him, Gunner, time for work; or I bring out his special harness and Delta Dog vest. He knows only too well where we are headed and his anticipation is palpable. He can barely wait for me to sign in or for the elevator doors to open.

Sometimes the nurses or patients give Gunner a small treat (usually the ones I carry in a treat bag for him). But with our new friend it is a little different. I have always believed that dogs (and some other special animals) can sense when we do not feel well or when something or someone requires a very tender touch. My new friend enjoys giving Gunner treats now too but with us it is a little different scenario.

Gunner ‘patiently’ waits while I take a treat from the bag and I place it right where my friend’s fingers curl into a partial fist, laying still and immovable on the bed. The height of the bed and the position of my friend’s paralyzed hand on the bed puts the treat just barely in reach of Gunner’s searching nose. Once he finds it, by nose and not eyes, Gunner seems to understand that if he snaps it up, his teeth could graze those fingers that lay so still. But yet he must have that treat. Ever so slightly he inches his nose closer to the prize to just where he can touch it with his nose and then so gently with his tongue he pulls in the treat; much to the delight of my friend.

Gunner and this new friend, whose injuries have left him completely paralyzed, have a special bond. Perhaps it is because Gunner suffered a near fatal encounter with a car or truck along U.S. 62 one year ago that left him lying along the road in the snow for almost three days with a broken pelvis. Now fully recovered, Gunner runs and plays with Lilly his good friend the Boxer/Rottweiler mix and pads his way along the halls of Mercy Hospital in Canton Ohio. My two good friends speak the same language without a single word uttered between them. The joy of finding a new friend is one of the many advantages of Pet Patrol but it may be its greatest.

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