Hundreds of children wander in clutching teddy bears, giraffes, floppy-eared bunnies, and every other type of stuffed animal one can imagine. This is not a stuffed animal convention though it often appears so but the aptly titled Teddy Bear Clinic aka TBC; this annual event helps youngsters overcome their fear of going to the doctor and everything associated with it. Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel man dozens of stations where they warmly greet the children and their stuffed animals who will be receiving the best medical attention available. The young attendees are exposed to many aspects of medical care from vaccinations to x-rays in a gentle manner thus the child will be less afraid when a real doctor visit is needed. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, helicopters, horses, food vendors, etc plus a handful of selected therapy dogs are on hand which is how Erin and myself became involved in this wonderful event.
For several years we showed up on a spring morning with the purpose of allowing kids the opportunity to socialize and/or overcome a fear or leeriness regarding dogs. Straight from Mrs Lori's house to the hospital after being bathed and groomed Erin is in her element at events involving children and when the therapy dog vest is slipped over her head she knows it's time to melt some hearts. In the parking lot her long flowing coat is brushed one last time while I plant kisses on her freckled nose and offer words of encouragement then it's showtime. Arriving early allows Erin to garner attention from familiar faces wearing scrubs of every shade; remembered from our time tending to kids on the pediatric ward they greet their ole four-legged friend with kind words and affection. Events involving children were the most personally rewarding for me while Erin's body language told me that she loved them as well and the multitude of youngsters at the TBC always made the day very special.
The children ranging in age from infants in strollers to 10 years old stop at The Coastal Therapy Dog table where they have the opportunity to interact with the dogs of their choosing. The youth of the Savannah area visit Erin where they hug her neck, exchange kisses, gently stroke the flowing soft coat, or sit beside her for a more intimate extended encounter while some repeatedly ask her to "shake" as if she's a circus performer. Stuffed animals with bandages affixed on limbs are thrust in Erin's face in an effort to entice her to play but she's much more interested in socializing or the treats being consumed. Kids munching upon popcorn or pretzels clumsily drop morsels which are quickly vacuumed by the nearest dog while some kids find it amusing to toss treats on the ground where the four-legged garbage disposals are waiting. Erin was always more than happy to oblige and gobbled whatever came her way; while these actions were publicly discouraged I was secretly urging them on as I knew this brought my girl happiness :)
Though most kids were respectful of Erin, unknowingly some were heavy-handed or acted in a reckless manner as they invaded her personal space, shoved fingers into the mouth area, smacked her snout or tugged on an ear as if it were a toy but there's a reason one is a therapy dog and that is tolerance. Erin maintained a smile and took everything in stride while parents offered apologizes to whomever would listen. Education is a function of any therapy dog group and I certainly did that with these naive youngsters as they were shown the correct way to approach and interact with a strange dog to minimize getting bit in the process. They ball up their tiny hand and a fist is held under her snout..."Good. Let her sniff you and get to know you." Only after a bond was established are the children allowed to stroke her back prior to petting the head which Erin shows she approves of via a huge smile and rapidly twitching tail. It was a valuable lesson for uneducated parents as many dogs would snap thus sending their youngster to the emergency room for medical attention while hopefully the kids would remember to approach a dog with respect and gentleness.
Erin received so much attention whenever we left the therapy dog area to walk among the crowd; arms were extended while hands were clapped in an attempt to get her attention. Mingling with the public as they went from booth to booth allowed my fur kid to get the maximum amount of loving in the shortest span of time; it was very endearing to watch Erin with the children as everyone had a smile on their faces. Earlier this year I was invited to the TBC by members of the therapy dog group and while it was great to see familiar faces again it didn't feel quite right without Erin. After a hour of having people whisper "he lost his dog" and casting sympathetic looks in my direction I excused myself. The TBC was special to both of us and I have many fond memories of sweet kids being charmed and educated while we strengthened our bond though helping others. Good days indeed. RIP Erin!!