I am Lee Stone. It is not important for you to remember me or know me. What is important is that I remember Daisy, the longest serving therapy dog at the Rehabilitation Institute at Santa Barbara. Recently, she lay down her head as if to sleep and unexpectedly crossed over what pet lovers refer to as “the rainbow bridge.” When I learned that, my eyes welled up and tears ran down my cheeks. My throat hurt terribly and sobs wanted to escape. Visions of my first meeting with Daisy flooded my internal vision.
I met Daisy many years ago. With other paralyzed patients seated at the breakfast table at the Rehabilitation Institute of Santa Barbara, I noticed a beautiful, youthful golden retriever enter the room with her human guardian. She radiated happiness as she tried to contain her enthusiasm for being in a room with all those enticing smells. That was Daisy. The human, Gerda Inger, spoke gently to her, reminding her of her manners, while all of us wanted her to bolt free and run to us for the giving and taking of unconditional love. We knew Daisy would give it to each of us, in hopes, no doubt, of a fringe benefit: the receipt of a tidbit off our plates.
We looked at Gerda with beseeching eyes. May we give her something? If I remember correctly, Gerda kindly gave us a dog treat for her after she performed some action that pleased Gerda and cheered us greatly. My spirits were lifted out of the dim, dark hospital room, away from the sanitary smells of the hallway, and placed high into the softness of Daisy’s coat, drawn into the warmth of her big brown eyes, and melted by the eager wagging of her tail.
Each day thereafter, I looked forward to their visits. When I saw Daisy, I didn’t feel like I lived from a wheelchair. I was mobilized by her strut as the two approached, comforted by her sitting at Gerda’s side, and soothed by the feel of her soft muzzle.
Throughout the years, as an outpatient at rehab, I would sometimes happen upon the two of them. The smile that came to my face was as great as one which would have resulted from a surprise birthday party given by my closest friends. Daisy and Gerda were always friends to both the neediest and the happiest of people.
We last met a year ago when the public relations department of the Rehabilitation Institute of Santa Barbara wanted to take a photo of Daisy and Gerda with a patient for their annual review, which was an insert in the Santa Barbara News-Press. I was given the privilege of being that patient for the photo. Gerda and I were nervous and stiff, but sweet baby Daisy knew her cue and posed beautifully.
I do not know if there is a heaven for humans, but in my mind there is one for critters. There, in a most perfect circumstance, the spirit of Daisy dwells, chasing balls, scratching her back with her four feet in the air, dozing in the warm grass, or chewing a bone with relish among other beloved companions receiving their dues for services rendered to the lives of countless human beings.
I will not say goodbye to Daisy. She willingly gave me part of herself to keep alive forever in the happiest places of my memory. To Gerda, I hope you know what a wonderful gift you gave to so many of us by sharing Daisy. Daisy’s absence from Gerda’s daily life must be huge. I know no words of comfort to assuage that emptiness, though I wish I did. If there exists reincarnation, Daisy has already been returned here to perform her greatest trick: to grow love in the hearts of humans. Gerda was blessed by her guardianship; she served Daisy well. Gerda and Daisy served us all so well. In grateful recognition of all Daisy Inger gave to the human spirit, whether encased by a paralyzed or able body, I write this tribute.