My name….Flanagan. I weigh eighteen pounds. Well, to be exact, eighteen pounds, nine ounces. My humble origins, the spaniel. Yes, the spaniel. My mom’s heritage, she reigns from the esteemed and noble cavalier King Charles line. My dad, a proud, pure-bred cocker spaniel. Me? A made up trendy word, I am a cockalier. I was born in New Jersey. I am reddish brown with floppy ears. I am….adorable, just adorable. Well, that’s what this cockalier constantly hears.

As I mentioned, it all began for me in the Garden State. I came into this world with seven siblings on a warm autumn afternoon. Although the details are a bit sketchy, I certainly do remember the day I was whisked away from my Mom and siblings. It was traumatic alright. I departed in a van, an old blue van with dirty windows. I squinted as I attempted to peek through those dirty windows in an effort to see my Mom and siblings one last time. No fancy UPS truck or FED EX vehicle for me. I listened intently to the flurry of unfamiliar, strange voices. Apparently, I was being shipped to a pet store on Long Island.

The day of my departure, December 13th, I was a mere two months old, completely on my own and reluctantly facing a fierce, cold world. Upon my arrival, I was assigned a crate, top tier – thank goodness. Those bottom tier crates, a bit claustrophobic, well at least for me. I had a roommate, a bit of a noisy fellow. I must tell you, I certainly did a lot of “people-watching” from that crate. No different, I suppose, than hopping aboard a New York City subway and watching a kaleidoscope of individuals go about their daily routine. I suppose it’s the same show, different seat.

My arrival at the pet store was exactly twelve days before Christmas. Shoppers marched in and out all day. Like most of my fellow canines, I sat patiently waiting for the crate door to open, a red bow to be fastened to my collar, and then be brought to a cozy, warm house where perhaps home-made cookies were just about to come out of the oven. Visions danced in my head, no sugarplums, but rather of being strategically placed under a beautifully decorated Christmas tree between a talking doll and a new train set. Well, it never happened. There were some serious considerations, some solid maybes, but no takers. Actually, it all worked out for the best, the very best. I might add that I did spend New Year’s Eve at the pet store. Not so terrible. Believe me, the thought of being in a house with a bunch of inebriated people with crooked party hats on their heads, oohing and aahhing over me; I preferred the pet store. Moreover, chatter about a ball of some sort about to drop in Times Square, a ball that I have no ability to chase, to retrieve, not my cup of kibble.

Please pardon my redundancy, but truly it all worked out for the best. It was meant to be. Fate intervened at exactly the right moment.


Hence my story……..

It was a Saturday afternoon in January. A couple came into the pet store, looked around, and proceeded to ask a plethora of questions. Our eyes met. We glanced at one another, first her, then him. And then…they were gone. Yes, gone. They vanished. A week or so later, they appear again. They are asking more questions. Ah, but to their credit, darn good questions, lots of inquiries about proper puppy care. Our eyes meet once more. They disappear…again. Gone. Another week or so passes and they return. What the heck is going on here? At this rate, they might as well work here. This time they come right over to my crate, and she, a petite girl, says to him, a tall fellow, perhaps her husband, and I quote, “I’m so happy, the puppy is still here!” He smiles brightly and adds, “me too.” They are talking about me, yes little me. I understand every word. Then I think to myself, if you two walk away one more time and eventually return for me, I will refuse to go. That’s right, I will refuse to go. I’ll plant my furry little paws solidly in this crate and I will stand my ground. Then I think to myself, who am I kidding? I’ll go. Of course, I’ll go. They seem a bit anxious, but they do seem very kind. Hey, I can help them with their anxiety, especially her. On a selfish note, do I really want to stay in this crate forever? It stinks in here, literally and figuratively. My floppy ears have heard there’s a world out there. I want to run. I want to play fetch. I am just dying to catch a Frisbee in my mouth. I want to be man’s best friend. I want to be part of a family.

My big brown eyes follow the couples every move. I watch as they attempt to catch the attention of Stan, the salesman. Stan approaches the couple. They chat. Stan takes me out of the crate. I begin to interact with the couple. Ah, I can feel the chemistry. They are smiling. Yipee! They like me. I like them. Then good old Stan reappears. Is this the moment I have been waiting for? Should I prepare my farewell bark repertoire for Stan? I hope so. Hey, what is happening? Stan and the couple walk away. Wait. Come back. We were just getting acquainted. Did I, little adorable me, do something wrong? My potential family, please come back. Ah, wait. I see…I see…. Yes, my puppy dog eyes have just spotted a credit card. Well good day Mr. Mastercard, good day indeed. They are taking me, little me. Yipee! And…away we go. I nod to my fellow canines and wish them the very best.

The tall fellow, he carries me outside. The sun is setting. The sky is a beautiful amber color. The cold air feels so good on my little snout. This is so exciting! I have dreamt about this day. It has finally arrived. It is a new beginning for me, for the couple, for us. Unbeknownst to them, I listen very carefully. I take copious mental notes, every syllable, every word, every sentence. I want to learn all about my new world. First, I learn the identity of my newly beloved owners, their names, Edna and Patrick. They are married. No children. We arrive home. Ah, home sweet home. Edna and Patrick happily escort me into their backyard – oh, my backyard. How wonderful that sounds, sweet music to these floppy ears. Just then the phone calls begin. I am flattered. Edna and Patrick are so excited. They are announcing my arrival, practically shouting it from the rooftop. I hear lots of correspondence with family, friends and neighbors. They are overjoyed with me. Who could blame them? It’s nice but I am a bit shy, bashful. Folks, this is a bit embarrassing. I fear there may be a stork on the front lawn announcing my height, weight, and name. Wait, do I have a name? Just then I hear some chatter about a potential name. With very little deliberation, the verdict appears to be in. Envelope please and the name is…Flanagan. They name me Flanagan. I like it. I’ll answer to it. I’m not fussy. I’m just not sure how to spell it. It’s official, that’s all that matters.

We are a family. They take wonderful care of me. I am happy. They are happy. Life is good, actually perfect, until that day. The news is tragic, horrific. I listen carefully to the endless flurry of phone calls. I hear Edna…sobbing uncontrollably. It’s her Mother. Oh God, her Mother. Our home has been shattered with the saddest of news. Edna’s ailing Mother has passed away. Quite often Edna sits motionless on the very last step of the basement stairs. I snuggle next to her, reminiscent, I hope, of her favorite stuffed animal from years gone by. You know, the stuffed animal that a child clutches, ever so tightly, for comfort, solace, security when his or her world is turned upside down, saturated in turmoil, uncertainty. Edna does not realize my ability to console, however, she will someday. I am at Edna’s side now…forever. Like my fellow canines, my loyalty and love is unconditional. I see Edna’s sorrow, her pain. She is grief-stricken. I will accompany her through the inevitable dark days that lie ahead. Why? Because that is what we canines can and will do. She is in a world of mourning, a world cloaked in sadness. I am going to help her. You’ll see and eventually she will too.

Trust me, these winter days are solemn and lonely. Edna awakens in the early morning; it is dark. I sit waiting for her. Her mood is predictably melancholy. She leaves for the day and arrives home at night. It is dark once more and in silence she takes me outside. The daily routine is somber. One particular morning we venture outside and my eyes immediately behold a rather large white blanket. In fact, this white blanket has covered just about everything. I step cautiously on to the blanket. Edna begins to tell me all about snow. I’m not sure I understand. With all due respect, I’m not all that interested in the scientific explanation of snow. I am much more interested in the fact that Edna is interacting, conversing with me. The snow, I embrace it. I begin to romp in it. It feels so nice on my fur. Suddenly, I see a ray of light, emerging through Edna’s darkness, a smile graces her face. I make the connection. I romp in the snow some more. She smiles again. I romp some more. The snow, well it eventually melts and maybe, just maybe, a bit of Edna’s sorrow and pain melts too. I hope so.

The days fade into weeks, into months and suddenly I am hearing about a new season, called spring. The air, it smells so sweet to me. It is my very first spring. I go to the park with Edna and Patrick. I hear the bark of fellow canines, refreshing indeed. I actually retrieve a ball for the first time. Edna smiles, Patrick smiles. They are amazed. By golly, by their reaction you would have thought I launched the space shuttle. They are proud. Hey, who could blame them?

One evening, I hear a rather intriguing conversation between Edna and Patrick. I hear my name mentioned a few times and naturally my floppy ears immediately perk up. My beloved owners, they are discussing obedience lessons for me. What? A few days pass, the doorbell rings and a dog trainer arrives. She is nice, a bit tough and boisterous. I’m told to sit. I sit. To stay, I stay. To come, I come. Hey no problem here. No extra help for me. I’m enjoying the attention and most especially the treats!!! I’m okay with everything. Just don’t ask me to jump through a hoop, especially one on fire. Quite frankly, I’m not much of a daredevil. Another thing, please don’t ask me to balance a ball on my nose. Leave it to the seals. My dog training days eventually end. I receive a final farewell treat. We wave good-bye to the trainer and add her to our Christmas card list.

The days continue to march on, the seasons change once more. I now experience summer for the very first time. Yes, the dog days of summer. Not sure why they are called dog days. Should I be offended? The beach and the boardwalk prove to be, for the most part, lovely destinations. Hey, I am not complaining but I would have welcomed a bit more shade and perhaps the golden opportunity to chase an ice-cream truck.

Next up, a season referred to as fall. I embrace the cooler temperatures and I take note of the landscape now donned in rich, vibrant colors. Burnt orange and amber leaves seem to constantly crunch beneath my furry paws.

Sometimes I hear Edna on the phone talking about her Mom’s kindness, her genuine care for others. I hear her using the expression, “pay it forward.” Well, we canines, we certainly can relate. Perhaps we “play it forward.” We “play it forward” in many different ways. We play fetch. We make you laugh. We calm you. We respect you. We protect the ones we love. We don’t discriminate. We lower blood pressure. The end result; we make the world a better place.

One evening I eavesdrop on another conversation between my beloved owners. These floppy ears hear my name repeatedly mentioned. Edna and Patrick are discussing therapy. What? Me, in therapy? I think not. Alright I do chew on furniture from time to time. And yes, I have growled once, okay maybe twice. But really folks, is my behavior worthy of having me sit on a couch in a stranger’s office, stare at diplomas on a wall and try to figure out why a ceramic fellow canine is holding business cards in its’ mouth?

I listen carefully. This particular conversation, well it requires my undivided attention, and perhaps a decoder ring. Eventually I get it. And you will too. Edna is completing lots of paperwork, documenting my shots, my height and weight. I am going to be evaluated, lots of red tape. Why red tape? I digress. I hear Edna ask Patrick, “Do you think Flanagan will make the team?” The team? We canines are a team, a team that lifts the human spirit. Ah, naïve Edna, she does not realize, at least not yet, I’m already on the team. That’s okay. I’ll indulge her. She’ll eventually understand.

Ah, no surprise here, after lots of evaluations, a battery of tests, and lengthy discussions, I make the official team. Edna and Patrick are so proud, just beaming. I, Flanagan, am a certified pet therapist. Pretty impressive, don’t you think? Actually, I can’t wait to chew on my tassel. What does this mean? It means that I’m going to nursing homes to spread goodwill. Between you and me, what does it really mean? I think Edna is trying to pay tribute to her Mom, to honor her. I suspect it may be part of her grieving process.

I’ve been cleared for takeoff and away we go to a local nursing home. Upon arrival, I am an instant hit. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but beep, beep world! I’m pretty much akin to the Beatles at Shea Stadium. Edna and Patrick approach an elderly couple. They seem so despondent. They are together, but yet seem so very alone. They glance at me and they smile and then they laugh. For them, perhaps I’m the Frank Sinatra of the canine world. If only I could bark to the tune of New York, New York. Ah, what a showstopper, I’d bring the house down. Hey, I’m caught up in the moment. The excitement and the sheer satisfaction from fueling mankind’s soul overwhelm me. Next, we see a fragile, petite woman, sitting in a wheelchair. She has an angelic face; her eyes are a beautiful blue color. I hear Edna say to Patrick in a weepy voice, “She reminds me of my Mom.” Patrick nods in agreement. We approach the woman and her blue eyes grow wide and quickly brighten. A smile lights up the fragile woman’s face. I’ll be perfectly honest; I see the fragile woman and I ham it up. Why? Well, for Edna and of course for the fragile woman. The afternoon passes quickly and we, the pact, have made a difference. We paid it forward and we played it forward.

And now… it’s another Sunday afternoon. It’s a beautiful day and we are on our way to a nursing home in New Jersey. Hey, perhaps not far from my birthplace. Folks, I’m returning to my roots. Ah, returning to open my heart. We have taken this show on the road. We are scattering kindness in the tri-state area. As we arrive, Edna leans over and picks me up. She hugs me and then she…winks. Yes, she winks. I am honored. You see folks, the wink, it is very meaningful indeed. These floppy ears have heard Edna sharing the meaning of the wink. The wink, it was her Mom’s way of expressing, I love you, thank you, I’m okay. Edna winking at me, quite meaningful, it speaks volumes. I have made a difference. That’s what we canines will do, if given the chance. I think Edna has truly realized all I have to offer. I am proud. I feel as though I have just completed my victory lap at the National Westminster Dog Show. I look at Edna and I try to wink back. Hey, harder than I thought. For now, I suppose she’ll have to settle for a lick on the nose. She laughs and hugs me once more.

I’m off…. off to scatter kindness and to perfect my winking.