On a fleetingly warm afternoon in November, two golden retrievers shot through hoops, bounded across bridges and crawled through wobbling tunnels on an unseasonably green lawn.
Holli Pfau raced beside the dogs, cheering and guiding them through the agility course. The connection between Pfau and her retrievers was obvious, but the depth of the relationship can be defined only by Pfau herself.
In her new book Pure Gold, Pfau chronicles her experiences heartbreak, joy and wonder raising six rescue golden retrievers, three of which became therapy dogs. She will talk about her work tonight at Marias Bookshop.
Just before turning 40 years old, Pfau adopted her first golden retriever, a puppy named Nikki. In Pure Gold, Pfau describes how her new dog inspired a life-changing epiphany.
Suddenly, it dawned on me, as I caressed her soft ears and looked deep into her welcoming eyes, Pfau said.
Nikki, I said softly, you will guide me. She grinned as if to say, of course I will. So began a six-month search for our future, Pfau said.
Pfau left a career in marketing and went back to school. Earning her second degree, a bachelors in recreation therapy, Pfau and Nikki helped start the Pet Assisted Therapy program at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif.
Nikki was extraordinary in her ability to intuit what was going on and then respond appropriately. It really took my breath away, Pfau said. She could be so sedate. We would put her up on a chair next to a dying or a comatose patient. I would take the patients hand and lay it on Nikki. It was almost tangible the communication between person and dog.
Dogs have been playing doctor since 300 A.D. Believing they held magical healing powers, the Aztecs would lay their canine friends on top of patients to help ease joint and stomach pains. In 1976, American nurse Elaine Smith began training dogs to work in hospitals. Since then, animal-assisted therapy has been used in nursing homes, mental institutions and hospitals with noticeable results in reducing anxiety and depression in patients and family members.
They have instincts that we maybe lost or never got. And when we open ourselves up to what they have, on whatever level you choose to believe, its there, Pfau said.
Pure Gold is an easy read filled with humorous and sometimes heartbreaking tales of her life and work with the six golden retrievers. Any dog owner will relate to the joy expressed in Pfaus words.
A devotee of rescued and second-hand dogs, Pfau was inspired to write Pure Gold as an effort to raise awareness and support for animal shelters.
Ive been blessed with six extraordinary dogs. Without rescue, where would they be now? she asks.
After the publication of Pure Gold in early October, Pfau has toured Colorado, sharing tales from her book and speaking about the importance of adopting rescue dogs. She donates $5 from every book sold at her events to the local chapter of the Humane Society. Both Pfau and Chris Nelson, director of the La Plata Humane Society, will speak tonight at Marias.
Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at email@example.com.