|t was a Tuesday afternoon, our weekly visiting day at Portsmouth Regional Hospital on New Hampshire’s seacoast. Fawn and I were making our regular rounds as volunteers for the chaplain’s department. A physician wearing a white lab coat looked up at me as he knelt down and stroked Fawn’s long back.
“These greyhounds are very special dogs,” he said. “I trained to be a cardiac surgeon by operating on them. They all have big hearts.”
I nodded my head. This dog with a big heart was a very special animal. Let me tell you about Fawn and the blessing he’s been to our family and to the people in our community.
A Bit of Background
First a little background. Greyhounds date back to ancient Egypt. Their ancestors are pictured in the pharaohs’ tombs. They’re even mentioned by name in the Bible. Read Proverbs 30:29-31 in the King James Version: “There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: a lion . . . ; a greyhound; an he goat . . . ; and a king.” Even though “greyhound” is translated as “strutting rooster” in several other versions of the Bible, I find it exciting to think that Joseph or Moses might have had one for a pet. Now, 4,000 years later, greyhounds are still with us, a living bridge to biblical times.
A greyhound is the second-fastest animal on earth, reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour. Only the cheetah is faster. Greyhounds are born to run, and our dog is no exception,
as I discovered after researching his career on the Internet. Competing under the registered name of Dormont High, he ran in 129 races, coming in first in 15, second in 20. For three and a half years he was truly a contender on the U.S. racing circuit, but in August 2007 he was retired. His career was over.
Love at First Sight
When my wife and I met Fawn two months later, he was peering out from a pen at our local animal shelter, looking for a home. Brenda earnestly pleaded his case to me. “He seems like a nice dog, honey,” she said.
“But he’s so big,” I replied, thinking of my space-challenged Mustang convertible.
We took the dog out to the parking lot for a test walk. “Let’s see if he fits,” she said, opening our car door.” Thirty minutes later the papers were all signed and we were on our way home with the big greyhound in the back seat.
Fawn (a name my wife chose because he looks just like a small deer) took right away to civilian life. After having spent every day on the track confined to a crate scarcely bigger than he was, he must have experienced our roomy house with its two soft couches as canine paradise.
Putting Fawn to Work
Fawn’s duties as a visitation volunteer began at Langdon Place, a local assisted living center. One of our church members worked there as the activities director.
“Why don’t you bring Fawn over?” she suggested. “I know the residents would like seeing him.”
After just one day on the job he became part of the center’s weekly activities schedule.
Next door to Langdon Place, on the same campus, is Clipper Harbor, a nursing home and rehabilitation facility. Fawn was soon asked to join the facility’s 10:00 a.m. coffee hour, where he’s since been known to pick up an occasional animal cracker.
Soon afterward, he expanded his outreach to Portsmouth Regional Hospital. This required a pet therapy certificate. The Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) supplied us with a complete training manual and then registered us for an on-site final exam in January 2009 in a nearby town. We passed with flying colors and have been regular volunteers at the hospital ever since.
Each week Fawn’s visits to the hospital and other care facilities confirm his call to this special ministry. Just recently, as we were working on a medical-surgical unit, the unit coordinator came up and gave Fawn a big hug. “He just knew I needed a hug today,” she told me.
Later, in the intensive care unit (ICU), a nurse asked us to stop by and see one of her elderly patients. One of the patient’s daughters met me in the hallway afterward, tears in her eyes. “You don’t know how much we appreciate your coming by today,” she said. “You made Mom’s day.” Fawn, the dog with the big heart, gave the grateful woman a big greyhound smile.
Fawn has gained nearly total access to the hospital. As the months have passed and word has gotten out about the beautiful greyhound from the chaplain’s office, he’s been invited to see patients in both short-stay surgery and the emergency department, units I first had thought too high-stress to venture into. Each week it takes us longer and longer to complete our rounds as staff and visiting family members stop to give Fawn a pat.
An Opportunity for Ministry
Every year about 20,000 retired greyhounds are available for adoption in North America. Perhaps there’s room in your life for one of these gentle animals. From my experience, you will gain not only a new friend but an invaluable partner in a real ministry to your community.
Phil Johnson is pastor of the Portsmouth and Derry, New Hampshire, Seventh-day Adventist Churches and a volunteer chaplain for local care facilities. This article was published January 21, 2010.