MY DAL ROMANY
by George Lee
Romany waiting to make his next visit.
I met Romany October 24, 1999 at the Animal Humane Association of New Mexico (AHA) shelter in Albuquerque. His little clown face appeared in the Albuquerque Journal that morning as one of several dogs ready for adoption. I already had one Dalmatian, but he was nearly 12 years old, and I knew time would inevitably bring our loving companionship to an end. I felt that another Dalmatian in the house might ease the approaching loss of Coach.
My first visit to the shelter was tentatively auspicious. Romany was sitting forlornly in his cell, a picture of dejection and misery. He responded apathetically to my overtures and limped despondently to the wire mesh that separated us. He sniffed my fingers through the bars, and desultorily licked them. I took him on a leash to an outside pen and checked him over. His left ear was bloody, bitten and torn. I examined him more carefully. He had innumerable nips and bites on his face, neck, hindquarters, legs and belly. Fortunately, all were superficial and had been treated.
Next, I phoned my wife and asked her to come to the shelter to see the young Dal and asked her to bring Coach. When she arrived, she promptly fell in love with the 10-month-old pup, even as I had. Coach was less enthusiastic - no animosity, just indifference. When the visit was over, volunteers tried in vain to tug Romany by the leash back into his cell. They finally gave up, and the girls - one at his head and the other at his tail - picked him up and bodily carried him back inside.
After completing the necessary paperwork, I returned the next afternoon to pick up our freshly neutered young Dal. I named the newcomer Romany, which means male gypsy. AHA papers revealed that he had been picked up while running wild with a pack of strays, a tribe of gypsies as it were.
Romany does not fit the popular concept of Dalmatians as attractive, but boisterous, hyper, and difficult to train and to handle. Initially timid in his new surroundings, he quickly displayed a gentle and affectionate disposition plus an eagerness to please that suggested to me a possible career as a therapy dog. But he was also a real dog, and soon showed a love for outdoor life as he accompanied Coach and me on forays into the foothills of the Sandias. He eagerly raced along arroyos, scrambled up and down canyon walls, and gave brief, but hot, pursuit to any resident wildlife he encountered. And he learned to discontinue a hopeless chase in favor of returning to the call of my police whistle for a treat given with appropriate body pats and a hymn of praise for being a good boy.
But I knew he was meant to be a therapy dog! I arranged for a personality and basic obedience test at AHA. When I brought him, on leash, into a room full of strangers, he sat on command, and then, with tail wagging like a metronome, sedately approached the seated gathering one by one. Neither boisterous nor shy, he paused to accept a pat on the head from one outstretched hand, rested his head on a lap here, or leaned comfortingly against a leg there. He was perfectly relaxed, gentle, affectionate, and absolutely gorgeous. He passed his personality and basic obedience test to a chorus of admiring exclamations.
The next step in Romany's education was a two-month course under the auspices of the Southwest Canine Corps of Volunteers (SCCV). Again, his friendly, relaxed behavior and handsome physical appearance helped him through all obstacles. He graduated Magna Cum Daug in a class of K-9 cadets.
Since then, Romany and I have visited the V.A. Hospital, University Hospital, Health South, children's wards, and a regular schedule of retirement/nursing homes on a weekly basis. I find the latter most satisfying because the long-term residents have gotten to know Romany. Both staff and patients call him by name. They hug, kiss, fondle, and talk endearingly to him, and he responds with wagging tail and an all-around sweetness that has made him a most welcome visitor. A little bit of probing on my part has revealed that all of his most enthusiastic admirers have had dearly loved dogs in their lives, and seeing Romany regularly satisfies to some small extent a very real need for the love and affection of a pet.
I will just give one example of my beloved Dal at work. I took him to an Alzheimer's ward where I had worked as a volunteer. One elderly woman had sat in a chair without saying a word for months. When I entered with the dog, her eyes focused on the spotted body, and she looked at me and said, "My grandfather had a dog like that when I was a little girl. He would take the dog to work with him." Gnarled fingers fondled a velvet ear as she continued, "He was a teamster. He drove a team of horses hauling a freight wagon out of Syracuse (N.Y.), and the dog would get up on the seat beside him. Sometimes he would run behind the horses." I would love to say that she continued to speak after that. Unfortunately, that was not the case. But that one event was special, and I will never forget it.
Romany's next assignment was in church. He accompanied me as I gave a brief "Children's Sermon" one Sunday morning. Children trooped to the front of the church at my invitation to meet and interact with Romany. My topic contained the following ideas and concepts:
1. A brief history of the man/dog relationship through history. The concept of stewardship rather than dominance by man, and the variety of ways dogs have helped men throughout history.
2. Romany's story.
3. Romany embodies two Biblical edicts: "The greatest of these is love" and "Judge notů" Romany is the very spirit of friendly, non-judgmental, outgoing love. He cares nothing about skin color, age, state of health, sex, or physical/mental ability. He is affectionate and gentle with all.
Both children and adults love Romany and appreciate him as a representative of "man's best friend" and for his contribution as a therapy dog.
George Lee, a retired insurance professional, lives in Albuquerque with his wife and Romany. Coach, Mr. Lee's first therapy dog, died recently but not before passing along the tradition to Romany.
If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very few persons. - James Thurber
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