MY LIFE WITH MARY
Today was a day of reflection for my little Shih Tzu, Mary.
“That’s my girl” I often whispered this phrase to my pup to show my affection and admiration for her. Mary was a constant presence in my life whether in bed, riding in my truck or making her many Therapy Dog visits. As the first Ohio court dog, we were always together on the stand with a child who had to testify against their abuser. Because Mary was so sweet and quite the social butterfly, most folks surmised that training her was a piece of cake.
First, a Shih Tzu is probably the hardest pup to potty train. We spent three years on this and finally one day Mary woke up… DONE!
Second, I soon figured out that training a dog is more about training a human. Third, I had to ask myself many questions: What kind of behavior should I expect Mary to exhibit around others and around me? Should I give her tons of slack, little discipline and never say ‘no’? Do I nit-pick constantly to take her to a higher level of perfectionism?
What I discovered was that my every interaction with Mary conditioned her behavior and obedience to my personal standards. (Dare I say this works with children, too?) To keep her from regimented drudgery, we took daily walks through town and used this time to train her on commands such as: sit, stay and come and gave her lots of praise along the way.
When Mary was 16 years old, she developed congestive heart failure. She still loved to eat, sleep, snuggle and ride in the truck. She still had work to do to with her siblings, Grace, and Joy. As night follows day, Mary died in September. My puppy memories of her have never faded and it was a privilege having her in my life.
She was truly a service dog to our community.
More than once friends have joked with me and said they would like to be my dog. “Ok,” I say, “but remember I will only give commands that I am willing to enforce—with love and kindness, of course.”
Dianne Hammontree, secretary of Homeward Bound Dog Shelter