I saw the man, clad in Harley Davidson apparel with wild long hair, walk into Smith’s. He caught my attention because of the beautiful German Shepherd that accompanied him into the store. The dog had a vest on and a clear sign stating, “DO NOT PET.” I continued down the aisle and told Rizzi that when I’m older I want to get a therapy dog for my anxiety. I began to imagine what it would be like to have a dog assist me in panic attacks … even thinking about it calmed my over-anxious mind.
We rounded the corner of the aisle and the man and his dog were walking up behind us. I waited for the pair and as they approached me I told the man I loved his dog. The man was large, standing at least 6’3″ and weighing at least two of me. He smiled and became soft instantaneously. The brawn disappeared as this man introduced me to his dog, who sat between me and the big man. Her name is Ruzzo. As we talked she began to lick my hand and her tail swished across the tiled floors. Without thinking I patted her head. I stopped and apologized to the man. He smiled broadly and told me I could pet her as much as I liked. I knelt down and began to give Ruzzo full body rubs and kisses on her narrow head, her tail never stopped wagging.
I asked the man if she was a therapy dog. The man told me that he is a therapy human for his dog. Turns out Ruzzo was a dog in the Iraq war and she was so traumatized that the military released her from her duty. She suffers from anxiety and PTSD. The man went on to tell me that he and Ruzzo had a lot in common. I immediately understood that this man also suffers from wounds unseen. I stood up and hugged him. He hugged me back, tightly. He then told me that Ruzzo had the worst of it and I should give her a hug, which I did without hesitation.
When I stood back up the man introduced himself as Garth. We shook hands, but each of us probably could have used another hug. I began asking questions about how he got involved with his work with dogs and if he had other dogs he’s helped with anxiety. He told me about on dog so far gone that many people thought he was putting himself at risk living with her. He never mentioned the dog’s name but I knew she was special to him and that she was no longer around. His eyes hurt and loved in ways he couldn’t articulate.
Garth then spoke German commands to Ruzzo and she promptly complied by laying down. He gave another command and Ruzzo sat back up with an alert look in her eyes. I told him I was impressed. Garth then told me that one of the reasons he took her to the store at that moment was because a thunder-storm was on its way and the thunder “freaks her out.” He said that the music and amount of people make it hard for her to hear the thunder.
Ruzzo was primarily used as a bomb detection dog, which meant she was shot at often. Though never receiving a bullet wound, Garth said that Ruzzo had so many near misses that any loud noises trigger her into a quivering mess. The 4th of July is especially difficult for her. Ruzzo started licking my hand again. I bent down and kissed her on her head and gave her scritches on her back. She leaned into me while she took a piece of me.
I thanked Garth for his time and told him I would be on the look out for him again. He said, “I see you’re married.” I told him I was. He looked disappointed. I told him we could still remain friends. He said, “I was hoping for someone who could spend time with me and my dog.” I told him anything is possible. He smiled and nodded. I smiled and walked away. I should have hugged him one more time and kissed Ruzzo again while I had the chance.