Riggs is a therapy dog. Our ambulance service moves him about between various divisions to boost responder morale. I met him for the first time on Friday. They brought him out to one of the hospitals, and he came over where I sat in my fly car, and he let me take his picture.
When I was a boy I was scared to death of dogs. I grew up in Turkey where packs of wild gypsy dogs roamed the streets. The first word I ever spoke was “enginar,” which means artichoke in Turkish. Gypsy women carried baskets of them on their backs, and shouted “Enginar!” hoping to entice people to buy. I had an unusual childhood. One of my first memories was of a dancing bear in the streets and holding a small cup of coins. I remember fires and dancing to music, and the ever present growling dogs.
I came to America in the early 1960s when John Kennedy was still alive. I was in the Indian Guides, which was an alternative to cub scouts/boy scouts. The theme of the Indian guides was “Like father like son, Pals forever.” My father’s Indian name was Big-Elk-that -Walks the High-Places, Mine was little frog that hops on lily pad. We were on a bike outing when I was attacked by a German Shepard. The German Shepherd raced across a farmer’s field, and picked me out of the Indian Guide peloton like I was the smallest wildebeest in the great herd. He leapt up and tore a hunk out of my pants and left teeth marks in my hide. Later, a neighbor had a German Shepard named Stormy, who lived in a big cage in their garage. The neighbor let him out in the evenings to run the neighborhood (and hunt small boys like me). Stormy would come at me, and then jump up on his hind legs and bark, showing his teeth as I would break out in tears. My sister would have to come out and chase him away. At night I dreamed of poisoning his meat.
It was only when I was in my middle twenties and a girlfriend of mine had a dog, a small runt Shepard, who was the only animal that the SPCA in her Iowa town had to put a picture in the paper twice warning that she would be killed if no one claimed her, that I learned to love dogs. I would walk Elizabeth of “Bibs” early in the morning and feed her biscuits. She got old and started having seizures after which she would have ten minutes of energy like she was puppy and I could hold a biscuit up and she would jump in the air like Flipper for them. My girlfriend took her twice to the vet to have her put down, but came back the first time because she could not bear the sorrow of losing Bibs.
All of this is to say that I learned in time to hold my hand out and let a dog lick it. I learned how to pat them and feel some sort of bond. I learned how to love a dog and let the dog love me back.
I don’t know Riggs that well yet, but he seems like a good dog, and I think having him around could lift some spirits on sad days.