(55) Hidden Treasures

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)

Miss Molly Scores a Bone

When temperatures fall into the single digits, Molly’s out-door trips take fewer than five minutes. Unusual for a cold-weather animal, our Saint Bernard dislikes snow and freezing temperatures. I checked for her a couple of times on one sub-zero day but she disappeared. I left the door ajar so she could come in when ready. I heard scratching at the door a while later and found Miss Molly trying to push the door open with her special find that stuck out of her mouth on both sides.

“Drop it, Molly.” I repeated the command and barred the door until she gave up the gooey two-boned deer leg.

She followed me to the garage and whimpered, as I dumped her treasure in the trashcan. Looking disappointed, I substituted one treasure for another, giving her a rawhide bone. She appeared to enjoy the substitute treasure.

The Human Treasure Chest

Molly accompanied William and me to the VA Hospital yesterday to see his primary care physician. Months passed since Molly last made the trip with us. I am not sure why other than it takes energy to bring her along even though her behavior honors her profession as a working girl.

Usually, I participate in all the medical appointments with my husband. VA doctors like that because they can get better information from the spouse than the veteran, I am told. Molly and I spent most of the day together in waiting rooms while William saw his doctors alone.

This time, I am the one who found hidden treasure thanks to Miss Molly. Our first visit to the Lab/Emergency Room left us together waiting for my husband. A haggard ER nurse caught a glimpse of Molly. In a free moment, she shared with us her love for big dogs and told us about her Newfoundland. She bounced back to her office, appearing refreshed after her visit with Molly.

A second visitor sat with her head in her hands, rocking on her feet in her chair. She saw Molly when the nurse came by. The veteran got on her knees and petted Molly, despite her “Do Not Pet” label on her vest. Before saying goodbye, she kissed Miss Molly on the nose. The fear fled with each stroke of Molly’s fur. She thanked me for letting her pet Molly and went back to her seat smiling and relaxed.

Our third visitor spoke to us from across the room, telling me he lost 347 pounds. He shared a story about his mother’s yipping dog that once got under a Saint Bernard, nipping at the belly of the dog. The Saint Bernard responded by plopping down on top of the dog.

“No drama. The dang dog just dropped on all fours right on top of the little yapper.” He chuckled along with half of the waiting room.

At our next destination, with every seat filled, Molly and I waited for a vacancy on an end so as not to inconvenience patients. Molly stole the morning with her politeness and gentleness. As we sat down, I watched the expression of an older veteran that told me to keep Molly from bothering him, which I did. After waiting in the same room with him for nearly three hours, the veteran warmed up to Molly, telling me why he hated Saint Bernards. His experience provided plenty of justification for avoiding Miss Molly. By the time we left, the man told me he felt differently about Saint Bernards after watching Molly. While he did not kiss her on the nose, he spoke to her with kindness and petted her without flinching.

Molly and I met a young female veteran, who loves dogs and wants to certify her big dog as a service dog. She told us how her dog keeps her from eating anything that contains nutmeg, an allergen that is difficult to detect in food. She shared dog stories with us until her appointment. As she finished with her doctor, she winded her way back to Molly, squatted to pet her, and thanked us for helping her remember the good times with one of her dogs she just put to sleep.

Our favorite visitors sat next to me–a Vietnam Veteran and his wife. Both love big dogs but do not have a dog. They eyed Molly and talked to her, commenting on her disposition. I shared with them a Molly lolly (a Molly Blog business card wrapped around a Tootsie Pop) and told them about Miss Molly’s blog. We talked about Vietnam until the veteran shed tears. I mentioned the tragedy of young men serving in a war labeled as a war we lost and then being treated horribly when the warriors returned home. The wife asked me to share more about what happened when they returned home. As I shared, her husband cried. She held him tightly and said she had no idea that happened. I changed the subject to tell him about one of Miss Molly’s goofy adventures; others laughed and shared similar stories. Then, a veteran would share a homecoming story of equal tragedy, coming over to pet Molly.

More than a Service Dog

Molly waits for WilliamWhen I woke up yesterday morning, I figured my purpose was to support my husband in his trip to the VA. I did not realize it would be to accompany Miss Molly as she provided therapy to a host of veterans and health care workers. Although her primary responsibility is to assist William with brace and balance, her job yesterday was to love and listen to a dozen or more veterans tell their story. I think they all went away with more than just a fistful of fur—they went away feeling better than when they walked into the hospital.

As for me, I met remarkable men and women, who accept the cost of war and struggle to survive despite having lost so much in serving our country. I found hidden treasure in the men and women sitting around me in a hospital waiting room. If it wasn’t for Miss Molly, I am not sure I would have met the people I did or heard their stories.

Molly earned herself a hamburger on the way home. Exhausted, she slept for hours after getting home. Therapy is hard work. Maybe Molly should renegotiate her contract.

Did you know that a service dog is not a pet? A service dog is an assistance animal.

Petting a service dog is taboo because it treats the animal like a pet and distracts from the dog’s work.

Post your Comments:

Do you ever listen to the stories of veterans or share your own story with others? Please comment below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.