The idea to take Archie to a children camp was spontaneous. Fedor, our volunteer, suggested it. I refused. Our objective was to tell children about canine therapy, and Archie, the most lovely and friendly pup on planet — no doubt, but he had no notion of most elementary commands and tricks, too. Never went anywhere outside our animal-assisted therapy center, and we didn’t know how he would behave in the new environment.
However, just a minute went by, and I started to like the idea. We could take Archie and Mickey Muk. She could be an example of a perfect therapy dog, and Archie would become an ultimate soft toy ready for hugging and squeezing.
Visitors of our therapy center remember Archie as “that dog with crooked paws”. They are lamenting his fate to be born in Armenia, where literally nobody is willing to adopt a disabled dog. They recommend to sent him to the States, or Canada. Meanwhile, Archie is pretty happy and content with his own life: he’s running, jumping, playing with animals and people as other dogs do. The only thing he is having problem with is digging the ground, but he’s got plenty of other means to entertain himself. For instance, going to a children camp the next day, to represent Centaur animal-assisted therapy center in front of 60 children.
To begin with, Archie went through classy saloon procedures: dry manicure, brushing, bathing with good smelling orange shampoo. Then for a long while he was walking here and there, shaking off water, moisturizing floor, walls, and all electronic devices we had inside. Dried. We let him outside to pee without a leash — he never went too far away from home. This time, he disappeared at once. After 10 minutes of searching and getting a hoarse voice we found him behind a rocky hill. The smell of rotting flesh was lingering in the air: Archie was enthusiastically chewing a pig leg. He was hugging it as you would hug a lover. The leg was infested with worms, and judging by the smell, the pig had been gone for a long while, too. Archie didn’t mind it, though.
While Fedor was burying the pig remains, I was tagging the indignant dog home, wishing from the bottom of my soul for a meteor to fall on my tired head, so I wouldn’t have to wash Archie once again.
I spent the night in a chair, watching for Archie not to find a way get dirty once more. Even though the door was locked, better safe than sorry. Decided to try the simplest of commands on him: “Sit”. I took a treat, raised my hand — almost touching his muzzle, and said: “Sit!”. Archie sat. I repeated once more, and once again. He sat calmly, carefully took the treat and looked back at me.
My sleepiness vanished in an instant. He never heard that command before! I had known before that German shepherds were unbelievably able in terms of training, but to that extent… Miraculous.
“Lie down”, I said hesitantly. Archie looked at me, tilting his head. “Lie down”, I said again, lightly pressing my hand against his back. Archie lied down, took the treat. After three tries my clever boy was doing that easily by himself.
We went to the camp inspired as ever. If it wasn’t for the steering wheel, I would squeeze and kiss and hug him all road long.
Children loudly surrounded Archie at once. He didn’t blink: quickly began cuddling and snuggling and being totally at ease with youngsters by turn. He sat, lied down, was petted as a therapeutic dog a good deal of experience. Mickey Muk lay in shadow, eyes half-closed, looking at him approvingly: unlike him, she didn’t like being a center of attention. She prefers working with one child at a time.
Peace Corps Volunteers organise seminars for children on animal welfare in several summer camps. Our children were from National Poetry Recitation Contest English Camp. Speaking English was a piece of cake for them. We said that it was the very first time for Archie, and he was only learning how to be a therapeutic dog, which meant they could participate in his training course. Shortly after we all taught Archie to give a paw, jump after the treats and even roll in the grass. Yes, he learned how to roll! Some dogs would spend months trying to do the same.
Archie was gorgeous, his behaviour splendid. From time to time he had to be “fuelled” with new portions of caressing. He made it clear each time it was time for cuddling: put his head on his crossed paws and squealed. His triumph was absolute. A bit more time and the camp would adopt him for good. His was cuddled even by kids who had been scared of dogs and didn’t risk being next to him at first.
When we were coming back, Archie’s courtesy was at its utmost. He jumped inside the car and didn’t lounge comfortably as always, but made space for Mickey and Anna, too.
Archie is a disabled dog. One of those, who rarely get adopted in Armenia. They say: “Poor dog, I cannot look at him suffering”. They also add: “I’d rather help with money, let’s send him to America”. They are sure it’s the best way: “American government even pays to people who adopt dogs like that”. What makes them so sure? — “I’m certain, because my brother-in-law of my friend’s cousin said so.”.
Archie doesn’t suffer. He doesn’t need to go to America. There are a lot of dogs who linger in shelters, waiting for a new owner. If they don’t get to see them — they get euthanized instead. And Archie — the new Centaur therapy dog — we need him here, in Armenia, kids and adults alike.
Welcome to our Canine Team, the most unbelievable, sunshiny dog! And be blessed the hour two years ago, when Christina and Anna as a meeting point chose the very street where you were wandering alone, approaching strangers, asking to be petted. Searching for your owner.