I’ve a story to tell, a story of one of God’s creatures, one of His four legged creatures. A dog, but not just a dog, a dog that was created for a purpose. That purpose was to help his adopted family and the humans he came to meet.
He came to my family by way of rescue. When he came to us, I realized he was very intelligent and easy to train. He fit into our lives with ease. He responded to his obedience training like it was the natural progression of family life and quickly settled in. Life was good.
After suffering a heart attack, my wife (Campbell’s true admirer) died, leaving Campbell and me to fend for ourselves. We did good for a while. I filled my time with my job and Campbell stayed home waiting for me. I fed and watered him. We played in the yard and he came in the house at night to sleep in bed beside me. But he ran away on two occasions. I couldn’t understand why he would want to leave. I finally figured out he was bored and looking for something to do.
Campbell was not of show quality so showing him was not an option, but his kind facial expression and personality was personable, laidback yet concerning. He was not truly athletic, he seemed to have developed a yearning to want to meet and be close to people. After much prayer and thought, I remembered while coming home from a visit with my wife at the hospital one afternoon, I ran into a group of dogs and owners at the hospital front door. I inquired as to why they were there with dogs. I was told they were preparing to visit patients with their therapy dogs. I had heard of the group and thought, “how admirable.”
It was the memory of that encounter that sparked a pursuit to find the organization I saw at the hospital. Hoping Campbell would be a good fit as a therapy dog and maybe Campbell would find the purpose he was seeking, the Phoebe Putney Health System volunteer services guided me to the Pet Partners organization in Albany, GA which is called Paws Patrol. After Campbell was evaluated, he began his career as a Paws Patrol Pet Partner. He began to make visits with Paws Patrol at the hospital, in nursing homes, and in local libraries. He visited with hospice patients in their home and in the Willson Hospice House in Albany, GA. He presented programs to church groups and school classrooms. Over the six years as a therapy dog he visited with almost eight thousand patients/visitors.
After the first two years of service the church (Albany Christian Church) I attend, honored him by giving him his own ministry. The congregation had helped train Campbell for his therapy work and followed his progress closely. He attended church and visited with the congregation just about every Sunday.
When he was in church he would go to people sitting down, take his muzzle and work it under their elbow, demanding he be petted. I found when talking to these people after the services that they needed the comfort he was offering them. Many times, they were injured or had been sick, but sometimes he just wanted to make them smile.
He enjoyed going to the hospital and visiting patients in their room and their loved ones in the waiting rooms. He was called Lassie all the time, but didn’t seem to care. He didn’t like to be leaning on the bed with only two paws on the floor, but he was tall enough on all four paws to reach most patients in their bed. He would look at the patient as if he already knew them and was saying, “glad to see you again” or “you’re looking better.” The concern he relayed through his eyes always seemed to be personally directed to the patient.
I remember one gentlemen who didn’t want anything to do with Campbell when I asked if he would like to visit with him. As we were walking out of the room, just by chance, one of the staff went in to the room and asked him the same thing. The patient answered gruffly that he just wanted to look at the dog. I don’t know how Campbell did it, but within four or five minutes the patient was petting and smiling as he explained his pain to Campbell.
Campbell seemed to have enjoyed listening to the children read to him in the libraries we visited. The children would often ask, “is he really listening to me?” I would tell them to watch Campbell’s ears when they were reading. Without fail, Campbell would naturally turn an ear in the direction of the child and I would see a big smile of approval on that child’s face. The children came to enjoy reading to him more and more each time we visited. Campbell would never correct a child’s mistake and he would wait patiently for them to figure out the pronunciation of a word.
Campbell and I ventured to serve those who were home bound under hospice care. The very first hospice patient we visited was one of the most touching encounters we made in his six years of serving. The hospice representative met us at the patient’s house in Americus, GA. After being introduced to the patient’s caregiver, (his wife), we went to the 94-year-old patient’s room. When we walked in the room, the patient was lying on his side, facing away from us and to the wall. His wife announced our arrival and he began struggling to turn over and face Campbell, but was too weak to do it. I tried to get Campbell to stand on two paws leaning on the bed but as I said before, he was uncomfortable on two paws and got down as the patient softly touched his muzzle commenting how beautiful the dog was. I turned to the caregiver to asked if Campbell could get on the bed so the patient could pet him but before I could get the words out of my mouth, Campbell, on his own, had jumped up on the bed. Straddling the patient’s legs, he laid his head on his hips so that the patient could easily pet his head. The visit lasted about 30 minutes. We left with the patient smiling and thanking me for bringing Campbell to visit.
As we were saying our goodbyes, I asked the wife how the patient knew Campbell was so pretty when he had not looked at him? She said he was blind and had been blind every since he was a little boy.
About three weeks after the visit, the hospice counselor called me to tell me how much Campbell had helped the patient. She said after the visit, when someone would come to visit him, he had found the strength to get out of bed and sit in the chair next the bed to tell them about the beautiful collie dog who had visited him. She said that the smile and enthusiasm he told his visitors about Campbell was unequal to anything she had ever seen. During our conversation, I told her that I couldn’t wait to go back for another visit. That is when she told me that the patient had passed. When I conveyed my regrets, she told me that the patient’s caregiver had told her that her husband had been the happiest for some time after Campbell’s visit.
There is a lump in my throat every time I tell the story. Campbell seemed to know what to do and when to do it. He reacted in that manner when he was close to people in pain or suffering. He just seemed to know and sympathize with them. The church congregation knew that Campbell had found them when they were hurting. While they were sitting down, they felt his long muzzle inch its way between their elbow and side looking for, “well, hello, Campbell.” He was quite happy when they would pet him or tell him how handsome he was that day. He didn’t spend a lot of time with one person but, pulled me around before the service to visit as many people as possible. He especially enjoyed the children to gather around him. It seemed he was listening to each one telling him about how their week went and would almost buckle at his knees when they scratched him. Then he would settle in for the service. The preacher would have to keep his sermon timely. You see Campbell was known to moan out loud as the service reached the 60-minute mark, notifying the preacher it was getting time.
We were asked to visit a local church (Unity Baptist Church in Sylvester, GA) on a Wednesday night with the children’s classes and teach them about the proper way to be around dogs, how to treat them and explain what Campbell did when he went to the many places he visited. The teachers had combined three classes to attend. The children listened to every word I had to say, but I could see the excitement and anticipation to interact with Campbell. I made the mistake of not controlling the flow of children petting him and as a result, all the children came up at the same time. Campbell gave me a look as if to say, “can’t you slow them down a little.” I quickly asked the teachers to let four or five at a time come up and we finished the visit by making a lot of new young friends.
Campbell had been scratched in his right eye by an unfriendly cat and in his later years completely lost sight in the eye. When we went on visits, he would heal on my left side much of the time slightly curling his head around my left leg for my guidance. That gesture made me feel like I was doing something to help Campbell. I had come to think that I could never give Campbell enough love for the comfort and love he showed me after my first wife’s death. But he enjoyed going places with me and riding in the back seat trying to lookout the front window like he was making sure I knew where I was going.
Because of Campbell’s loving, personable affection and concern for humans, I decided to adopt a collie puppy. My new wife, Becky and I drove to northern Kentucky to adopt him. His name is Caulin. I didn’t stop there. I have a female, Shannon, who birthed 10 puppies and all resemble Campbell. Caulin is an active therapy dog, and he and I make visits together. Because of Campbell, my wife and I became members of “The Collie Club of Georgia,” who have been a tremendous help guiding, informing and teaching us on so many aspects of the Collie breed. We are grateful to the club for opening our eyes and hearts even more to the collie breed. However, whatever happens with our collies in the future is directly influenced by Campbell.
On April the 9th 2017, Campbell had stayed home from church. My daughter had gone straight home after the services. She called me and said that I needed to come home, something was wrong with Campbell. When I arrived at the house she was on the back porch with Campbell. He was laying down with his head slightly dropping. His eyes were twitching back and forth. I sat down to comfort him as much as possible and it seemed to cheer him up. I spent that afternoon sitting and talking with him as we had many times in the past. He enjoyed the time together. My daughter, who is a photographer, took photos of me and Campbell’s last day together. I didn’t know she was taking pictures at that time and I can’t thank her enough.
The last picture she took of him, he seemed to be saying, “why are you so sad or why the tears?” Even in the last day, he was trying to comfort me, with no regard for himself. A true Therapy Dog to the end.
Campbell is truly an exemplary example of what a therapy dog is. His service was freely given and I believe guided by God to the people he came in contact with and was guided to. He only asked for a pat on the head or a scratch behind his ear. He would work all day if I would have let him, but in his later years he began to lay down between patients for a rest. Campbell will be remembered by a lot of people for a long time. As I think of Campbell’s service to humanity, I can’t help but think the patient he got through so many tough times and celebrated so many good times was me.
He can rest now; his service is done; his love has been passed on.
Author: James McCleary