Yellow Lab, Therapy Dog is Key Character

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Excerpt from The Return of Joy

When Charity dropped to the floor next to Atlas and showed him one of the books, Mark laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?”

“She’s reading to the dog,” he pointed out.

“She’s been doing that for a couple of weeks, Mark.” So proud of both the girl and the dog she could hardly stand it, Joy grinned. “Josie has a therapy dog who listens to kids read at a local library. She helped us make sure Atlas could do the same.” Joy pulled a paper out of the pile of presents on the table. “Atlas passed his test. All we need is your permission to send everything in, and he can be an official therapy dog, too.”

Looking confused, Mark scratched his head. “A therapy dog? He’s just… you know, a family dog.”joy cover

Joy smiled and stepped closer to Mark. She patted his chest.

“I know he is your dog. That’s why we won’t pursue this if you don’t want to.” She turned and slid an arm around his waist. “But look at them. They’re so happy reading together.”

Mark looked, shaking his head. “He’s just lying there. He isn’t even looking at the pictures.”

“That’s what Charity said the first time. Then Josie explained he likes to listen to her tell the story. Charity can’t actually read yet, of course, but she’s learning to share, to decipher from the pictures, and turn the pages. You should see Josie’s dog, Zoey, at the library, surrounded by children from toddlers through about second grade. They all crowd around and pet her, and take turns reading to her.”

“So if you send in Atlas’ paperwork and he becomes a therapy dog, what does that mean, exactly?”

“It means I can volunteer with him at a local school or library, where kids will do just what Charity’s doing now. Read out loud to the dog.”

“And they don’t realize he doesn’t understand?”

cover for on line ad“Nope.” Joy chuckled. “You should have seen Atlas at his reading test. One little boy read a book about Little Pig Piglet, who couldn’t sleep. At the end of the story when he read that Little Pig Piglet finally fell asleep, Atlas flopped over on his side on top of the book as if he was falling asleep, too. So of course he must understand. He doesn’t really, of course, but the children are so excited about being the ones to read out loud, and the dogs are so non-judgmental, that they get better and better at reading when they read to a dog. And the dogs never correct them, I might add.”

Mark seemed skeptical.

“I guess you have to see it to understand.” She looked up into his eyes. “Josie had one boy who came in with his grandpa and told us he couldn’t read but would it be okay if he petted the dog? Josie said sure, of course, and he knelt down beside Zoey and began to talk to her, saying ‘Good dog. You’re a good dog.’ When we looked up at Grandpa he had tears in his eyes. I asked him if he was okay and he nodded and told us it was the first time his grandson had spoken in months – that he has autism and has difficulty talking to people. But not to the dog!”

Download  The Return of Joy today. You may also want to read Book One in the Starting Over Series, More Than a Job.

From a dog’s viewpoint

‎”Would you like a visit?”

You appear doubtful, hesitant and wounded on a level much deeper than physical as you, with quivering hands which flit like nervous birds, gather your blankets tighter around you and momentarily over your hair, tucking a few lose strands back.

You nod.

Your naked vulnerability is nothing new to me–I have seen a similar state in countless others. With but a moment I can sense your hurt. With but one snuffling huff I know all there is about the wound on your side, the medications dripping through your IV, the age of your NG tube and the state of your External Fixator. Your body language telegraphs a steady message of anxiety, despair, and pain pain pain.zoey and woman

But I am not here to judge.

My partner helps me settle on the bed next to you and offers you my business card. As you glance over the laminated cardstock, I nudge a little closer and you obligingly bring your arm up and around me, pulling me just that much tighter to you. For one moment we both sigh, content, before you thread one hand, no longer trembling, through my hair to fondle at one ear.

We sit in quiet. It is not my place to talk anyway. It is my job to be still, be present, and to listen.

You do not disappoint. After a few moments lost in a companionable hush, you pat my cheek to reassure me of your attention and doting before you begin to speak.

“I had one just like you. She was a bit smaller, though,” you chuckle at the memory, your eyes going sad for a moment, ignoring my small look of exasperation at the comparison. It’s not my fault I look this way. My body is much smaller than my covering gives me credit. “She was smart like you too. Beautiful.” A fond sigh. I cock my head and regard you with pleased silence. Compliments always have a special place in my heart. “Are you always this calm and quiet?” I shake my head and nuzzle a little closer in answer, hoping my response coaxes you on. I’m relieved when you resume carding your fingers through my hair.

“You know, I’m all alone now. My children don’t come to see me now that I’m out of the ICU. They have their own lives. And Ronnie….” A sob takes your voice as you curl closer. Your hand no longer caresses but clings. I don’t mind it. “Ronnie’s gone. My Ronnie is gone.” Breathed into the crown of my head as a terrible, whispering secret. “I never got to say goodbye or I love you…” The nightmare of your heartbreak steeps into my hair with your tears. I close my eyes and lean, struggling to shoulder the weight of this burden, to ease it from you for just one moment so you may rest, so you may smile, so you may hope. In spite of my small size and compact body, I am much stronger than I appear.

It is a strange moment, the moment of spiritual transference when one’s pain becomes shared and it can be overwhelming, stifling. But then your hand moves once more, patting, soothing, brought back to life and action as the tears begin to wane as you realize you are not quite so alone. I raise my face, offering up one of the few consolations I have as I dab your tears from your cheeks with my nose and am rewarded with a hesitant, watery smile and a weak laugh. We lock eyes and, keeping with my code of silence, I will you to see the truth.

Ronnie knows. He misses you. He loved you too. Smile. Heal. Resume.

You nod and bend to kiss my nose but I am determined you understand that this is not your moment to give love, but to receive it, without judgment, without desire for reciprocation, so it is I that kiss your nose.

I’m not a great kisser– they tend to be a little slobbery, but you don’t seem to mind.

You smile and resume your petting with greater enthusiasm, heartache temporarily forgotten. For the first time, I sense something different in your touch–perhaps it is the real you finally peeking through. You tickle my feet and quietly laugh as I tumble onto my back to offer my belly which you immediately scratch and pat. From nearby, my partner signals amusement as well as the warning that our time is drawing to a close.

Offering one last nuzzle and a lopsided smile, I allow my partner to guide me off the bed just as the nurse comes in to offer you more pain medication and something for anxiety. Your confident, calm decline of both makes my tail wag and as my partner taps a coded line of pleased praise with her fingertips along my leash, we respectfully take our leave.

From in the hall, we hear you call out to thank us not realizing that your smile and your time were thanks enough. — Author Unknown

(Thanks to Ruby, Mary and Zoey for the photo.)

(The Return of Joy includes appearances by therapy dogs Zoey and Atlas. You can download your copy from

Reading/Therapy dog Atlas steals the show

A friend of mine loaned me her dog for The Return of Joy.

I wanted to portray a mountain dog = a big dog. You know, one that might keep the bears away just by hanging out.

Don’t ask me why a black lab came to mind, but when I asked our local Therapy Dog chapter if anyone had black lab pictures I could use, my friend Mary replied, “Not black. Yellow lab!”

It wasn’t too late to change that small element in the book, and once I pictured Atlas, a couple of his characteristics crept into the book as well.

Purchase in your favorite e-format from my publisher at or check at  to check out the book and even get a peek inside.

About those therapy dogs…













I have a therapy dog named Ollie. He is a major character in my WIP (Work in Progress).

I used someone else’s dog for The Return of Joy, tomorrow’s release.

Both are therapy dogs, and specifically, reading dogs. They go to schools, libraries and public events and children read out loud to them.  We have an event this morning at Barnes and Noble with Ollie and Atlas (the model for Atlas in The Return of Joy) and some of their friends. A storyteller reads first with great drama (she is amazing) and then the children read to our dogs. That is what is happening in this picture — but I’ve remade the blond girl into Charity and the dark-headed one into Stacy, the daughter of Paige and Josh Robinson in the first book in this series.

You can download this latest book from my publisher at at midnight tonight — and maybe sooner. I will post links for B&N and Amazon tomorrow — but remember you can get those formats as well as iBooks and others, direct from Desert Breeze Publishing at this link.