Halpern: I entered the nursing home with a certain amount of trepidation and was shocked to find out how much fun it was to be there with my dog. By the end of our first day, most of my preconceptions were blown to bits, which was a very good thing, since most of my preconceptions were not only wrong, they were grim. The literature on the positive effects that dogs (and other animals) have in hospitals and nursing homes is getting more robust every year. Dogs lighten the mood for everyone, staff included. Pransky dispenses the best medicine there is, indiscriminately and without a co-pay.
La Farge: The first part of the book is about what you teach Pransky—the complex matrix of training and behaviors required for a professional therapy dog. What did she end up teaching you?
Halpern: My dog has taught me that with her by my side, I can do things that my normally reticent self would never be able to do, like spend time with infirm strangers. But more importantly, and somewhat paradoxically, she’s taught me that by following her lead and being more like her—which is to say, not seeing people as a collection of disabilities, but simply as potential friends—I become a better human.
Annik La Farge is a writer and web project manager. Author of the blog LivinTheHighLine.com and the book The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do It Yourself (and you can!) or You Work with Pros, she lives in New York City and Hudson, N.Y., with her partner and their seven-year-old Springer Spaniel, Bucky. anniklafarge.com