DOWNTOWN ALBANY WAS AS busy as usual that blustery January day last year, with no place to park on the street. My husband, Mike, pulled into the underground garage of the state office complex, 40 city blocks of concrete buildings and four office towers connected by tunnels and a windowless concourse. “You good?” he asked.
I wasn’t good. My heart was pounding. But I said, “Sure.” Sweaty palms, a knot in my stomach. We were six floors underground, and the cold concrete walls were already closing in on me. Our golden retriever, Ernest, tossed his shaggy head and wagged his tail in excitement. Easy for you, buddy.
We were here for Ernest to do his job as a therapy dog, providing stress relief to employees at the New York state budget office. Mike and I rescue senior golden retrievers and together do therapy work with them. It feels great taking them places where they can provide the love and comfort that’s unique to dogs—nursing homes, schools during exams, colleges on freshmen’s first day. Just interacting with our goldens helps people feel calmer and happier.
We first got involved with therapy dogs several years ago, when Mike was in the hospital in serious condition and I was worried sick. A Bernese mountain dog loped into the room, but instead of going to Mike’s bedside, he came right up to me, knowing I needed comfort. From that moment, I knew I wanted to work with therapy dogs. Our first was Ike, a sweet older golden. Then we rescued Ernest three years ago, when he was nine. We enrolled him in therapy dog training, and he took to it. “He was born for this work,” the instructor told me. Ernest passed his test with flying colors.
A manager at the state budget office had requested a therapy dog visit several weeks before. Mike had immediately said, “Let’s do it.” But just the thought of those huge, confusing buildings with their underground garages and elevators filled me with dread. The security checkpoints with the futuristic-looking metal detectors and imposing guards unnerved me. I wanted to ignore this request. After all, we didn’t have to go. But Mike kept bringing it up. He worked in one of the connecting legislative buildings, and I knew he’d be proud to bring Ernest there. So I agreed to do it. For Mike. For the people in that office. And for Ernest, so he could do what he was meant to do.
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