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The Dog Days of Summer

“Emily, it’s Linda from the fourth floor. I was wondering if you could do something for me.”

Emily never knew what to expect when she picked up the phone. Working for Errand Solutions, she knew that this call could be about almost anything. There was, however, a certain framework. Picking up the phone meant keeping an open mind, and being ready to think creatively.

She never could have expected a request like Linda’s. Linda was a nurse who primarily worked in the oncology wings. Even over the phone, Emily sensed that Linda was worried.

“Of course, Linda. What can I do for you?”

“Well, first…do you like dogs?”

Emily laughed with relief. “Who doesn’t?”

Linda explained that she was caring for a visually impaired patient named Julie whose seeing-eye dog was staying in the ward with her.

“We’re really shorthanded right now, and we have a full ward. Everyone’s been running around so much, there’s no way we’re going to be able to care for this dog the way it deserves,” Linda continued.

“Sounds like things are a little hectic up there.” “More than a little,” Linda sighed. “I was hoping you might be able to help us. You could maybe walk the dog a couple times a day while the patient’s here. I know it’s sort of a weird request, but do you think you could—?”

“Of course I could do that!” Emily blurted before giving it a second thought. Linda laughed. “Sorry. That might have been a little overenthusiastic.” “It’s fine,” Linda chuckled. “I’m just relieved you said yes!”

Emily jotted down the room number and went up. She could tell she was at the right room because she could just make out a chocolate lab resting its chin on the patient’s bed. Emily knocked on the door, and a woman’s voice beckoned her in.

“Hi, Julie. I’m Emily. Your nurse Linda was telling me you needed someone to walk your dog?” “Hi, Emily. It’s so nice of you to come! I’m sure Lucy is ecstatic too.” She pointed to the lab by the bed, whose tail thumped excitedly.

Emily could see Julie’s relief. She’d always been a pet owner, and understood how caring for an animal could be. She loved to keep busy, but agonized about her own dog’s schedule being interrupted. Julie was clearly feeling a similar uneasiness.

Emily and Julie worked out that two walks a day should be fine, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, for the next week. With that, Emily secured Lucy’s leash, and their week together began.

Every morning and afternoon, Emily and Lucy went out for their walks. For Emily, it became the best part of the day. She loved the fresh air and the warm, sunny summer days, as well as spending time with her well-behaved companion. Emily had noticed a quiet, fenced-in park on their first walk, and on the second day, Julie offered up the tennis ball she had brought along so the two could play.

“Alright, Lucy,” Emily cooed to a patiently-sitting Lucy, making sure the fence was closed, and there were no park-goers nearby. “You ready?”

She shook the tennis ball and Lucy’s ears perked up. She shook it again, and the lab got on her paws, crouching playfully. Ready, indeed.

“Okay,” Emily smiled, winding back her arm and tossing the ball. “Fetch!”

And she was off. Bounding across the small field, ears flapping and tongue stretched out of her open-mouthed canine smile. Lucy got hold of the toy as it rolled to a stop in the grass, gently scooping it up in her mouth.  She turned tail and galloped back to Emily who was giggling to herself. No matter how important its job, it seemed no dog was immune to the thrall of a simple game of fetch.

“Good girl!” Lucy dropped the ball by Emily’s feet. Emily crouched down and patted the dog’s neck. Lucy was grinning, and her coat glinted, slightly brindled in the sunlight. She nudged the ball with her nose.

Emily loved her new dog-walking duties. Between the fresh air and games of fetch at the park, she found that she could not wait to go to work every morning. It only got better when she saw the relief on Julie’s face each day when Lucy returned to her, the canine companion happy to be back at her owner’s side. Emily had always believed that helping people was what she was meant to do. Guide dogs are, of course, trained to help, but Emily couldn’t help thinking that Lucy was born with the same need to help that she felt within herself. The dog seemed almost intuitive. If Emily frowned, Lucy would tilt her head inquisitively. If Emily had a hectic afternoon, Lucy would nuzzle her hands affectionately with her nose. She always seemed to know how Emily was feeling. Emily sometimes wondered who was walking whom.

By her fourth day with Lucy, she remembered she had an afternoon meeting she couldn’t miss. After a phone call with an associate who agreed to take the guide dog for her second walk, Emily headed to the hospital an hour early and headed straight for Julie’s room.

“You’re early!” Julie smiled.

“It turns out I have a meeting later, so I came in a little early make sure you and Lucy were taken care of until then. My friend Tom will be taking her this afternoon.”

“Oh, thank you so much! I really appreciate it. I’m sorry you had to come in early, though.”

“Don’t be! I’m a morning person, and I wouldn’t miss a walk with Lucy for the world,” Emily said with a chuckle.

The sixth morning rolled around, and Emily found Julie’s room empty. Puzzled, she approached the nurse’s desk.

“Excuse me, could you tell me where Julie from room 316 is?”

The nurse grinned. “She got to go home! Her recovery was going very well, and her doctor gave her the all-clear.”

“Oh, okay. That’s great to hear! Thank you.” Emily turned to leave. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was forgetting something. She knew it was silly, but she wished she could have had one more walk, and a chance to say goodbye to Julie.

The nurse’s voice called her back.

“Are you Emily?”

“I am. How did you know?”

“Julie said you’d probably stop by today. She wanted me to tell you how grateful she was for all your hard work.” Emily grinned. She was born to help others. Today, she knew she was doing what she was meant to do.

Yellow labrador retriever is waiting with dog collar in mouth.

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