We are all connected to one another through the moments and stories we share. As I ponder my twenty years working at Camp E-Nini-Hassee, I am flooded by all the memories I have been able to make. All the groups of young women I have been able to work with, all the different staff members and teams I have been a part of. I reflect so fondly on all of the adventures and experiences that I have been able to be a part of. With that being said, what I am compelled most to share with you, are the stories and lessons of a very unique group here at camp. That is the group of our four legged furry friends. I am talking about the group we so named the “camp dogs”. This crazy group is made up of our staff’s furry best friends. There have been many over the last twenty years. Some have stayed longer than others, for some it has been a quick, short stay and others have spent their whole life at camp. That was the case with my dog Cricket, who came to work with me, every day for seventeen years.
I never know what stories kids will tell after they graduate camp. If it will be the ones about cook-out, canoe trips or our crazy staff, but what I believe is that some of their fondest memories and stories will be of a furry kind. I still have kids to this day, call me and ask about Cricket, usually before they remember to ask how I am.
At a quick glance you may think this story is just about the benefits of employees being able to bring their dogs to work with them. I promise you it’s so much more. It’s about the lessons these four legged friends teach us and remind us of daily.
The girls would always laugh and tell stories about the “best friends” of camp; Maddie (Ms. Holly’s Dalmatian mix) and my dog Cricket. Telling stories of how they role modeled for them what it was to be a good friend. Stories like how before Ms. Holly felt safe with Maddie being off leash at camp, Cricket would chew her free daily, so that they could run free and play all day together, yet make sure Maddie returned safe and on time to leave with her mother. I think it was about six leashes in before Ms. Holly threw in the towel. They were inseparable, greeting each other in the parking lot every morning, chasing squirrels all day every day, and being good sports with our annual Halloween costume dog parade. The girls learned about saying goodbye and facing grief, as well, from Cricket and Maddie as they watched Cricket say goodbye to Maddie after sitting by her side for hours when she passed from cancer.
I cannot tell you how many times Cricket reminded me to have a patient and a soft heart, even when the behavior of one of the girls was challenging and pushing everyone away. It never failed, Cricket always made her way right to that young lady, sitting beside her and resting her head on their crossed knee. For the more difficult of the girls, Cricket had a more direct tactic; she would sit directly in front of them and just stare into their eyes until they gave in. I’ve read that that is a dog’s way of hugging a human. I cannot say that for sure, but what I can tell you, is that it almost always resulted in the young ladies hugging Cricket as their bottled up tears would begin to flow and their guarded walls would start to come down. Something my words and actions could never have accomplished.
I’ve watched Peanut, the skinniest golden retriever I’ve ever met (our Program Director, Chelsea’s dog) teach patience as she sits stoically, letting girls brush her curly matted fur with their old hair brushes. Peanut is also great at teaching social networking, as she makes her way around the office and lunchroom for daily treats and belly rubs.
Then there is Nala (Chief Rachael’s dog) who helps the socially awkward feel more understood. Nala role models apologies and the need for forgiveness, especially after she has she stolen your dinner of bacon wrapped meat loaf, eaten all the butter that was left out to soften for moms famous banana bread, and eaten your only toothbrush.
Most recently, I have watched our newest and youngest furry addition; Farmer, work her magic on young ladies who are so wounded and guarded that they keep everyone at a distance to feel safe. They let Farmer in though. You can see it as they light up when she runs to them. The smiles as they scoop her up for a cuddle. The vulnerability when they whisper in her ear that they love her and give her tiny little belly a rub, and the laughter and giving in, when she tries to share in their afternoon snack. Not to mention the tears and endless searching when farmer went missing for a night. Talk about a lesson in love and community, as the entire camp came together on a mission to bring Farmer home.
People seemed amazed by what a long life Cricket had, as I mentioned she lived to be seventeen years old. Of course, I believe the fresh air, mounds of exercise and hundreds of belly rubs contributed to her longevity. More importantly though, I believe Cricket felt she had a duty and a purpose to fulfill in loving and protecting the girls of Camp E-Nini-Hassee. She had a job to do, and she met me at the door every morning, tail wagging, ready to get it done. Sometimes, the work we do with our girls can feel daunting, overwhelming and you can begin to question whether or not you are making a difference. The camp dogs, they don’t worry about that though, they just show up, every day, offering unconditional love, companionship, loyalty and patience. They don’t sweat the small stuff that most of us can get caught up in, as they have the wisdom to know that most things can be made better with a treat and a belly rub.