A Magic Moment at the Fair
When he walks, he prances like a quarter horse, and you wonder whether his feet actually touch the ground every step he takes, even though he’s not a horse at all, but a Golden Retriever. What’s more, he wears his tail like an Akita. It rises straight up from his back, and then curls like a fat fuzzy fern frond, waving its long golden “feathers” like a proud banner. Besides this beauty, Delmar is very personable, bright, amazingly intuitive, and sturdily healthy, a combination that convinced the breeding staff at Canine Companions for Independence that he should be designated a breeder rather than a service dog. And I am a volunteer who sometimes fosters their dogs for special events.
I used to think that Delmar saw me only as a throwing machine, because as mellow and watchful as he has always been, he only gets really excited when I get up from the task I’ve been involved in, acting as if he expects me now to throw something for him to chase and retrieve...his well-chewed tennis ball, or his Frisbee, or his unpredictably-bouncing kong. And he’s really great at it, too. It’s a delight to watch him run and leap, part soccer player, part ballet dancer, twisting his body so athletically, so gracefully, to catch the prize in mid-air. The combination of his Pele athleticism and his Barishnikov grace add excitement and beauty to his basic healthy good looks.
This particular August morning, Delmar greeted me with his usual enthusiasm. I noticed that he had his slightly subdued “I-know-I-have-my-Breeder-scarf-on-and-have-to-behave” face, as he jumped up into the car, looking serious and dignified. This was the day we were to man the Canine Companions for Independence booth at the Sonoma County Fair.
Once we arrived there, he became all business. He had done this for the last couple of years, so he was an old hand at this stint. “Amazing,” I thought, “how this usually athletic adolescent can turn into this suited-up PR man when he has to!”
It was Seniors Day at the fair, and of course there are always children. Delmar, this really magnificent, handsome boy, is accustomed to attracting attention wherever he goes, and he drifted easily into his job of getting noticed, and letting people of all ages and sizes pet and stroke him, and “oooh” and “aahh” over him, and tell stories about their own dogs.
As the minutes stretched into quarter-hours, and half-hours, and then hours, I could see Delmar’s energy level winding down some, though his polite acceptance of all the touching and stroking and petting remained. At one point, however, he plopped himself squarely before me, and seemed to implore me silently with those beautiful doe-eyes to give him respite, and so I took him outdoors for a short walk and “hurry” break. His prance returned, his Akita-tail once again flew at full mast, and he seemed recharged into his usual active self.
Upon returning to our post at the C.C.I. booth, he once again took to his “job” of allowing all sorts of strangers to relate to him as to an old friend, by being fair to all and partial to none, and allowing himself to be loved and adored by everyone. For the most part he was the passive recipient of all this attention. “How like a big old puppy-dog you are!” I thought to myself. “You love to be loved, and you love to fetch, and you love being a studly breeder. What a boy!”
And then I saw in the small throng around us a woman in a wheelchair, stunted of growth, probably middle-aged, the dullness of her eyes most likely reflecting her fairly obvious intellectual limitations. With her scraggly hair, clean but fashionless dress, and bent body and expressionless face, I saw what many would call at least unattractive. Her chair had been pushed into our presence by a younger woman attendant, obviously a staff member of the home institution. Almost automatically now, I leaned over to them and introduced him: “his name is Delmar.”
At that point, the woman, suddenly leaning forward in her chair, made a deep-throated guttural call which sounded vaguely like Delmar’s name, a sound which caught us all unawares, it was so unexpected. And with a quick smooth movement, Delmar left behind all the little stroking hands that had been on him, placed himself beside the woman’s chair, and quietly, simply, gently, rested his head on her lap.
We were as if caught in a still-life, stunned by this unbidden kindly response from this animal. None of us breathed for a moment, the only movement was the soft stroking of her hand, awkward and tentative, atop his head and over his neck. No one moved. All our eyes were on this sweet magical pair, this luckless woman and this gorgeous dog, leaning into each other like long-lost lovers, too grateful to do anything but cling to each other for this precious moment. It was a long moment. No one wanted to interrupt. No one moved. No one spoke.
It changed forever the way I love Delmar.