On the weekend I had the chance to attend the 31st Annual Spring Tune Up Rural Women’s Conference sponsored by our county’s adult learning council. The day was a gift of insight, learning, and laughter that nearly 200 women chose to give themselves. I was glad to be among them.
Organizers always try to find the right mix of exceptional speakers, good food, a fashion show, time for networking, and humour. And they succeeded.
The first speaker was Charmaine Hammond, author of On Toby’s Terms. Through anecdotes and a PowerPoint presentation she told us the story of Toby, a five-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever that they had adopted. The mayhem he created as he ravaged their home was shocking. He could open and empty closets, turn on water taps, pull things from bookcases, and sit for hours on end in sinks. He routinely destroyed all the porcelain toilet tank covers.
And yet they kept him.
After a particularly destructive rampage (following which all the hardwood floors swelled up from the running water), Charmaine and husband Chris sought help for Toby from a canine behaviourist. Through her work with him, the expert determined that Toby needed a purpose. He needed to care for and protect someone. That led to his work at Alberta Hospital as a volunteer pet-assisted therapy dog.
Hammond spoke about the need for all of us, not just Toby, to lead purposeful, passionate lives. There was no mistaking Toby’s excitement every Wednesday as they headed to the hospital. Do each of us have something that stirs us that deeply, that gets our tail wagging and the slobber dripping? Do we give as much?commitment, joy, and unconditional love?as Toby did?
Frederick Buechner put it well: our purpose is ?the place where deep gladness meets the world’s need.? Are we willing to let go of perfectionism so that stress can go down and happiness go up? Are we open to learning from others, even the four-legged variety? Do we understand that our contribution and gift to the world can outlast our time on earth?
Toby went from an overweight dog on Prozac and a canine antidepressant to a life-changer. His story has touched thousands. Charmaine’s book captures that story and the effect he’s had in her life. Her children’s book, Toby, the Pet Therapy Dog, and His Hospital Friends explains his volunteer work in terms kids can understand. The books have led to speaking engagements and book signing tours. In total She’s spoken to 10,000 children and inspired them to make a ?PAWsitive? difference by ?PAWing forward? a million acts of kindness.
Despite Toby’s death in November 2011, his work and his legacy continue. Check out his website for more information. And if you feel badly that you missed Charmaine’s presentation, don’t: a movie deal about Toby’s life is in the works.
In the meantime I have a book, autographed by a woman and a dog, that is calling to me. I expect it to have a PAWsitive impact on my life, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.