As I sit down to write this, I’ve come to realize that I have been blessed by my German Shepherd Dogs over the past 36 years, the last 5 have all been therapy dogs.
I would now like to tell you about the one that changed my life….
Smokey’s Bryar of Thornbird, CD, RN, CGC, THD,* call name “Bryar.” Born May 8, 2000, and came into my life 7 weeks later. It was at a crossroad of a career change and a life dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s. A quiet, laid back puppy that her breeder, Beth, worked diligently with, while she was a newborn.
Bryar was different than any other puppy I ever had. She needed no training collar, she did nothing quickly, and when it came to a crate she would have none of it. I always said, “She did more damage in the crate than out.”
We worked hard, both her and me, as a novice team. We were able to get her two obedience titles of CD and RN, but she had had enough of the obedience thing. Then we found our calling as a “Therapy Dog Team.” She received the Therapy Dog certification on her 1st birthday, May 8, 2001, and the rest is history, as they say. I had been doing therapy dog work with two other Shepherds since 1994 and realized how important my dogs were becoming in other people’s lives, in nursing homes, in hospitals and with children. Bryar started just like her sisters – a little at a time, getting to know the routine of visiting. We also did special events during that summer. Then, as you can imagine, all our lives were about to be changed forever.
September 11, 2001. One of the darkest days in all of history. Along with many of our closest friends, Bryar and I were called upon as a therapy dog team. We thought we were being called to help heal the survivors, when in reality we helped heal the victims’ families and first responders. We arrived in vans, some personal and some donated, everyone wanting to help. Unfortunately, the first day we arrived, we were turned away due to all the chaos.
We were called upon again, October 27, 2001, to meet at the family center, which was in Manhattan, close to Ground Zero. This facility was a dock that was used for cruise ships leaving New York City, and it had been turned into the family center. The families arrived to try to reconcile the fate of their loved ones, and learn how to move on.
As we arrived, our cars were searched and our ID had to be just right. I will say all of the police and officials were thankful and kind to us. We were one nation…. that had been attacked!
* AKC Titles: CD-Companion Dog, RN-Rally Novice, CGC-Canine Good Citizen, THD-Therapy Dog
I will never forget the first time I arrived at the family center, all my ID and Bryar’s credentials in hand. As we entered the building, the Star Spangled Banner was being played and a hearse was carrying urns with ash from the towers, for the families. A lone bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” ushered the hearse with two therapy dogs in the lead, guiding them into the family center. We stopped for a moment to take stock in the surroundings and it was abundantly clear: WE HAD A JOB TO DO.
Over the next 3-4 hours, Bryar and I walked up and down the aisles, trying to comfort as many people as we could. The families were waiting in lines and more lines. Near the end of our first shift, Bryar, at a little over a year, was drained and exhausted. I stopped in the middle of the Social Security line near two small children. They started to pet her and within a minute she was fast asleep. As the line moved slowly, the people leaned down to pet her. She didn’t stir, and for a brief second I saw the smiles that she was bringing to these lost souls. One second of relief.
We were talking with the families, and I remember how kind everyone was. From a family member wanting to hold Bryar’s leash while I used the ladies room, to the exceptional people who were serving with the Red Cross, there was no lack of people wanting to help. There had been a full service cafeteria erected with anything and everything you could imagine – hot and cold meals, snacks of every shape and size, and drinks from any company you can imagine. After our shift, we stopped to get a drink and the Red Cross ushered us in, and I remember saying, “But the dogs, are they allowed?” “They are volunteers too, and they are more than welcome,” was the response I got. We were served by the Red Cross and we got water for the dogs. I also remember feeling that we shouldn’t be in here, this was for the families. A Red Cross volunteer said, “You’re helping both the families and us, more than you know. You deserve to be here.”
The people we met remained nameless. We were not permitted to ask about their circumstances, but sometimes, as they stroked our dogs, they just seemed to open up. I remember being able to see some of the tension leave peoples’ bodies as they petted my special girl.
We again returned during the holiday season when the families were invited to try to capture some holiday spirit and further the healing process. The therapy dogs were there, and so were Bryar and I…. an honor again to serve.
We were allowed at the entrance of the family center to greet the people as they entered. Behind temporary walls, a site for only the families. Some of the companies that were in attendance that we could see were: Disney with all the characters (Mickey and Minnie of course were having their picture taken with the families), Mattel, Tonka, and so many more. As to her true nature, Bryar laid down and people continued to be drawn to her. She was petted for hours and listened to stories of loved ones lost. Time had passed since 9/11, and people were healing or trying to come to terms with what had happened.
My Life was changed forever those few months, thanks to this wonderful dog.
We returned home and continued our therapy dog visits, sometimes up to 3 visits a week, bringing our unconditional love to those we could. MDA Summer Camp, school reading programs, fairs, festivals, parades, hospitals, schools and nursing homes were among the places we visited.
We then fast forward 10 years (where did the time go?), and we’ve been invited to Liberty State Park for a 9/11 Memorial Service on September 11, 2011, for all the dogs who helped during that horrendous time. These included handlers who had Service Dogs, Search and Rescue Teams, 1st Responders, SPCA, Veterinarians and Therapy Dogs. Many of the original dogs were no longer with us. As we lined up for the procession, on our left were 50 flying American flags and in between the flags were members of National Dog Breed Clubs. On our right, the Statue of Liberty. Emotions were high. I had come to realize that there were only about 15 living therapy dogs that had served 10 years before. Bryar was one of them. She was still with me, while other owners had lost their companions. How lucky and honored am I! A little slower, and slightly gray and older in the face, but she’s still by my side. We marched with the other surviving therapy dogs and were announced as such. Bryar and I were the first team to cross under a salute of drawn swords. People were applauding, crying and mouthing, “Thank You!” I didn’t feel we had done anything special. I was just one of the lucky ones that, during that time, was able to help and share my “Oh So Special!” friend, Bryar, with others. As we sat through the ceremony, true to Bryar’s nature, she again fell asleep.
A true therapy dog, through and through! I am yet one more person she has worked her magic on.
She now reaches her 13th birthday…. a little slower, hard of hearing, and slightly wobbly in the hind end, and still holding the core of my heart in her paw.
Do you think she realizes how she changed my Life?
Mary E. Minnich
June 8, 2013
The Final Chapter
Where does the time go?
As I sit here to write the final chapter, “Bryar” still holds my heart in her Paw, as a memory. She lost her battle with age 3 days shy of her 15th birthday.
All of my dogs have been special in their own way, and everyone is aware of that one dog that comes into your life, and holds that special place. BRYAR was mine.
I work in a veterinary office and Bryar shared the journey to work with me everyday. We both didn’t realize the effect she had on so many people, whether it be the clients throughout the years or the special people we worked with. Some mornings, she struggled near the end, but she always wanted to make the trip to the office. She continued to accompany me until 2 months before she died.
The year without her has shown me just how many lives she touched. A month or so after her passing a gentleman came into the office, (I didn’t remember his name), he looked over the counter, then looked at me and said “Where’s your friend”, the expression on my face must have told him what had happened. As he looked back at me, a tear shone on his face. I know that very special client’s name Now, again because of her.
Bryar allowed me to accomplish so many things. I’m hard pressed to total the number of hours we logged doing therapy dog work. We showed in obedience and she loved herding sheep, but both of those events were a little taxing on her, she was as laid back as it gets. She enjoyed the therapy dog time the best.
We had been recognized for our accomplishments for our service during 9/11 many times, most especially by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, at their 100th Anniversary in October 2014. Because of her, to be honored by the parent club is a once in a life time achievement.
After I wrote,”My Life belongs to Bryar”, I took time off from therapy dog work to spend time with her. She had given so much, it was time to give back to her. We played in the snow and in summer with the hose, some days I would just sit on a beautiful day and watch her beautiful coat blow in the breeze. Little did I know during that time when I felt the days were limited, she would prove me wrong and we had another two wonderful years together.
The hole in my heart is now being filled by to other very special German Shepherd Dogs, Devlyn and Keyda. Devlyn is the spitting image of Bryar and is following in her footsteps, they look so much alike that sometimes it’s like Bryar is still keeping watch on us. I know with her help, the hole will be filled by another Special friend. But until that time the memories will last a life time.
Mary E. Minnich
June 12, 2016