The reason I am bringing a new Labrador Retriever puppy home is because I lost Hannah in September. She was 12 years old and had done 11 years of therapy dog work with me. She accumulated well over 1200 hours of therapy visits and earned the AKC honor of Therapy Dog Distinguished. Some dogs touch your heart deeply, and Hannah was one of these. Their presence in your life is a gift. When I lose a beloved animal companion, I always want to open my heart to a new one. To me, that is the highest honor we can pay to the one we’ve just lost.
So that being said, I want to share my tribute to Ridgeway Moonshadow Hannah, often referred to as “Waggles” or Hannah Banana.
She was five weeks old the first time I saw her in June of 2007. She was the smallest puppy in the litter wearing an olive green rick-rack ribbon around her neck. When I picked her up, she was very calm and not squirmy like the other puppies. She turned her head and made eye contact. My heart melted. I continued to interact with all the puppies in the litter, but when I picked up Hannah a second time, again she turned and made eye contact with me. She seemed to be a wise old soul right from the beginning. I whispered to her, “Would you like to come home with me?” Luci, the breeder overheard me, and she kindly honored my request.
Hannah was smart, but she had a mind of her own. She was the first puppy I socialized and trained, and she was challenging, often exasperating. I used to tell people that she’d take a message and get back to me. We started at Old York Road Dog Training Club in the weekly intermediate class in 2008. She was a friend to all, including canines. And she also had what we humans would call a quirky sense of humor.
She passed her AKC Canine Good Citizen and therapy dog tests after she turned one year of age and started to work as a therapy dog in the Nor’wester Therapy Dog program. She was very intuitive and easy to position for maximum effect when working with students. She loved her kids and her work.
One September, when we arrived at our 5th grade class for our first visit of the year, Hannah walked into the classroom and was adamant that I allow her to approach a boy in the class. I followed her lead, and she sat down beside him and stayed there at least 5 minutes. She leaned against him and allowed him to stroke her. She did the same thing the following week, and again in the ensuing weeks for about 4 months. He was always the FIRST student she approached. The teacher quietly told me that the boy had lost his father very suddenly over the summer and was still grieving.
Another year Hannah worked with a 3rd grade intensive learning support class. There was a boy who had a brain disorder which caused him to have uncontrollable spasms. These spasms also affected his eyes and his ability to read fluently which made it difficult for him to acquire information. One day I asked the teacher if I could try something, and she gave her permission. I had the student sit on a cushion on the floor, and I positioned Hannah tightly against his body and suggested that he stroke her while he was reading. He did, and he was able to read more fluently with a huge decrease in his spasms. The teacher’s jaw literally dropped, and this became part of our routine each week. It makes you wonder how the contact and energy from a calm therapy dog affects the energy of a person.
Hannah’s first passion was water. Puddle, lake, stream, pool – she was in! She would take flying leaps from the side of a pool to retrieve – she would have been great at dock diving.
But most of all, she was a wonderful companion. The name Hannah means “chosen one.” Not only did I choose her, she also chose me.