Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hawkeye Leads the Way

Yesterday I had the privilege of receiving a news article from one of my email colleagues.  It was about Hawkeye, the chocolate Lab companion of fallen US Navy Seal Jon Tumilson.  Hawkeye was Jon’s constant companion while he was home on leave and yesterday he laid motionless next to Jon’s casket during his last opportunity to be with Jon at the funeral service.

It occurred to me that in the 21st century, we are becoming aware of just how much our companion animals sense our needs and rise to the occasion.  Be it a trained service dog for the blind or other health impaired, or the certified therapy dogs that are simple companion animals to their people but irreplaceable therapeutic saviors to those in need in hospitals and nursing homes.  That German Sheppard or Golden Retriever who lives down the street and who plays catch with your dog in the park, leaves for parts unknown when disaster strikes to help locate the injured and dead.  Look at what these companion animals achieved during their assistance at Ground Zero and after Katrina.

When I was young, we had Lassie who always found the lost child or stopped the crook, Rin Tin Tin who was a law enforcement canine extraordinaire, or Toto who went on adventures with Dorothy.  It was acting and make believe.  Now, in the 21st Century, it is no longer smoke and mirrors but reality and achievements.  We have come an astonishingly long way from the days of Pete and Toto.

Recently, the laws of this nation were enhanced.  They now give people, in need of the constant companionship of their service animal, the ability to join their human in every venue.   Several types of companion animals can now serve as a therapeutic device and assist an American with a disability in any shop or restaurant.  If they suffer from emotional issues including Autism, Bi Polar disorder and PTSD to name only a few, their companion animal can stand beside them and alert them to an early onset of a trigger or sooth them when their reaction is beyond their control.

This change is due, in large part; to the extraordinary work trainers are doing with companion animals and the animals ability to serve our war heroes coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from head and emotional trauma. 

Companion animals of all descriptions have been rehabilitating people from serious physical and mental trauma for generations.  However, at this time in our history, the wholesale need for animals to be able to get someone out of bed and live productive lives has never been greater.  We are finding that dogs, both pure bred and stray with little or no training, are achieving therapeutic results.  We surmise it is because helping their human companion is in their DNA.  They know what is needed and supply it.

In prehistoric times, when dogs were first domesticated, they provided assistance in gathering live food and providing protection.  In exchange they received shelter, food and a quick rub on the head.

As we evolved as humans we realized these companion animal could be so much more if we just listened to them and followed their lead.  Now we are discovering they can detect some cancers earlier then any man made test, alert their human to the onset of an epileptic seizure or low blood sugar in diabetics, and calm the tremors of PTSD.  They help autistic children and adults to relate on a level so profound there human companions can only stand by and watch in awe.

Why is this so strange to us?  Didn’t Lassie find the child in the well each week, and Rin Tin Tin knows where the bad guy was hiding?  We knew in the 1960’s that dogs were human, or as close to human as they would likely get.  Our companions relate to us on an emotional level that helps reduce our heart rates and brings us out of comas.  Maybe Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Pete knew something we were too blind to recognize.

We are now in the 21st century.  I know what Hawkeye at Jon’s funeral will be the norm and not the exception.  Our companions give us their entire being and relate to us on a conscious and subconscious level we are only now beginning to understand.  I look forward to the PhD & MD companion animals in our future who will be able to diagnosis cancer and find terrorist before they strike, without a naked x-ray.  If we can think it they can do it.  We are only limited by what we think they can do and they are only limited by what we ask them to do. 

For eons our companion animals have done what we have asked.  Now, with our ability to ask more sophisticated question our companions are answering those question and rising to the challenge.  I hope we realize their potential is limitless and that we make their potential a reality.   

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