DANCES WITH WORDS: Getting by with a little help from my friend

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Nick Wolochatiuk

Having a close friend to come to your aid in time of need will make your day. From 1998 to 2010 I had such a friend, Keesha, a little white dog, an American Eskimo miniature.

Teaching in special education classes is never easy. For almost a year I had a social adjustment class of youngsters who just couldn’t fit in to regular kindergarten.

That’s where Keesha, my friendly dog, helped out. She was my favourite ‘reward lever’. Changed behaviour, good behaviour, positive behaviour, ge went ntle behaviour, calm behaviour were all encouraged and rewarded through Keesha.

Such behaviour was reinforced by “You’re doing much better today”, and rewarded with options such as, “You can take her for a little walk – give her a brushing – refill her water bowl – give her a treat.” The change in behaviour of the children was amazing.

Supply teaching can be quite a challenge, too. I remember when I arrived at a Morrisburg elementary school for the first time. The grade five teacher asked, “Do you think you could handle a lesson about caring for pets, such as dogs, this afternoon?”

Is the Pope Catholic?

In pranced Keesha by my side, no leash restraining her. I told her to sit, stay, and then invited the excited youngsters to gather round. They were incredulous when she showed that she knew the difference between vowels and consonants. Their jaws dropped; her flawless performance completely extinguished any skepticism they had. They were figuratively eating out of my hand for the rest of the afternoon.    

“That dog sure looks like it wants to go flying.” Shutting down the engines of his Beechcraft King Air and strolling towards us, the pilot smiled at my little friend.

“I’ll speak for her,” I replied. “Sure, she loves to fly. Her name is Keesha and she’s been taught not to speak to strangers, but she’s allowed to wag her tail and reach out with her paw to show she’s friendly. To date, she’s flown in 20 different types of aircraft.”

“Well, that settles it. It’s time to fire up the bird again. Let’s go flying.” Off went the three of us on an aerial jaunt along the St. Lawrence, from Massena to Alexandria Bay, and back.

We did a lot of hitchhiking together. More than two dozen women have stopped to pick us up after canoe trips, or at the end of one-way flights in various aircraft. Whenever I asked, “Why did you stop to pick us up?” they replied:

“I just couldn’t bear to see that poor little dog sitting in the rain.”

“You couldn’t be a bad person, because I don’t think they issue cute little dogs to escapees.”

“I used to have a dog just like that.”

“You must be Nick. I recognize the dog.”

Alas, my dozen years with TLWD are but a fond memory, and there are no more little dogs on the horizon.

Geographic location: Morrisburg, Alexandria Bay

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