When I went to look at a litter of Springer Spaniel puppies, Erin cried out to me. All of the puppies were yelping and yearning for my attention, but I kept noticing one little bundle of liver and white fur. She went home with me that day, and what a heavenly match it proved to be.
The first few years of Erin’s life were typical of any dog’s life: playing fetch, wrestling with canine pals, lounging in the sun and, of course, chasing squirrels. What wasn’t quite typical, however, was Erin’s calm center and ability to touch hearts.
An opportunity to work in Germany came my way and since I refused to leave her behind, Erin was onboard that flight. Our lives would change forever, and living in Europe was a dream come true. For 18 months, Erin was my constant companion and she sniffed her way across a dozen countries.
She took an Amsterdam canal boat tour, frolicked in the Swiss Alps, walked the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Greece, strolled the Heidelberg Christmas market, and wandered the World War I battlefields of Verdun, France. If dogs carried passports, hers would have needed extra pages.
Erin gained access to luxury hotels, restaurants, cafes and department stores, bowling alleys, supermarkets, trains, buses, cable cars ... she took full advantage of the access granted to dogs in Europe. If a dog was permitted indoors, Erin could be found by my side.
During her European tour, Erin melted hearts everywhere she went. Whether it was a street performer in Amsterdam, French hotel innkeeper, Croatian border guard or the multitude of American soldiers in Kosovo, they all gravitated toward her and wanted to be her friend.
When my job ended, so did Erin’s adventures in Western Europe. There would be no more chasing deer in the Black Forest, munching on pancakes in an Austrian café or investigating the many Rhine River vineyards. But that turned out to be just fine, because the best was yet to come.
Back in the United States, we returned to our hometown of Savannah, Ga. Erin was 5-years-old when I realized she would make a wonderful therapy dog. Obedient and possessed of an extraordinarily even temperament, friendly demeanor and a loving, comforting nature, Erin had all the traits of a successful service animal. The certification tests posed little challenge and Erin’s stint as a therapy dog was underway.
Hospice work was Erin’s first job. She visited the terminally ill, adults and children alike. She brought countless smiles to the suffering, comforted grieving family members as they cried, and at times was even present when patients passed away. At these times, she provided a welcome distraction to all present.
Over the years, Erin’s visits meant so much to the patients and their families. They may have been physically afflicted or depressed, but she raised their spirits, touched their hearts and gave them a moment of happiness in even the worst situations. She did her job as a therapy dog incredibly well.
Children absolutely loved Erin and the feeling was mutual. She was always available for a hug and helped them learn the gentle way to approach a dog. Kids enjoyed rubbing her long drooping ears and petting her large freckled feet. Erin never minded this attention and always responded with a broad smile, big tail-wag and kisses of her own.
Erin had an uncanny ability to disarm most people who encountered her. Gazing into her soulful, gentle eyes, even people who might not be that comfortable with dogs fell in love. Rare was the person who did not feel a connection and a tug on the heart strings.
Among those swayed by her charm were leaders of a major Savannah church, who permitted Erin to join the congregation for the morning service. She'd lie on the floor beside my feet, and often took a nap. The folks who went to church with Erin didn’t mind. They knew she had already earned her angel wings and thus could skip the sermon.
Erin’s church duties expanded with time as she became a door greeter, and she even had a short stint working with the children’s worship program.