When I asked if I could meet with Daisy again, I expected several things.
First, I anticipated that she wouldn’t mind being the subject of another column. Second, I imagined that her life had continued on the trajectory I first wrote about in 2007 when she began working part-time for Yolo County. Finally, I knew she wouldn’t be able to speak for herself.
I was partly right.
Daisy curled up in her doggie bed and let her owner, Lori Raineri of Davis, do the talking. I could tell from the gentle look in Daisy’s eyes that she didn’t mind another column. But her work? That part has gone differently from what I imagined.
Shortly after she adopted Daisy in 2006, Lori began extensive training with her. A cancer-survivor, Lori wanted to become a therapy team with Daisy, visiting hospitalized patients. When she heard about therapy dogs who help victims of crime in Seattle, she was moved to offer Daisy’s services to the Yolo County justice system, too.
Daisy, a mostly-black border collie, cooperated by mastering all that was asked of her, and at the time of our first interview she had begun to meet with child abuse victims at Yolo County’s Multidisciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) in Woodland. She became a warm, soothing presence during the stressful period when young victims are obliged to tell their stories.
Daisy also showed talent as a seizure alert dog and, after additional training, became Lori’s personal service dog, helping Lori manage her seizure disorder by alerting her to oncoming seizures in time to neutralize them with medicine.
Daisy also adapted well to Lori’s hectic lifestyle, the result of Lori’s personality (“Type A-squared,” she says) and a demanding job. They traveled everywhere together, racking up some 40,000 miles a year in flights and car trips.
The first thing I learned from our recent meeting is that something as small as logistics can lead to major changes in a life.
Because Lori works in Sacramento, and the MDIC is located in Woodland, someone needs to pick Daisy up for her child comfort work and then return her to Lori. But in recent years, people’s work schedules have changed, novelty wore off, and a key “friend of Daisy” retired. This made transporting Daisy to Woodland more difficult.
Her meetings with child victims, at one time unique in Northern California, occur less frequently now — about once every two weeks — but her pioneering work has served as a model to others. Yolo County has taken on a second therapy dog, Aloha, who works out of the District Attorney’s Victim Services Unit. Other counties have begun using therapy dogs.
The second thing I learned from our meeting is that an unanticipated event can change everything else.
In 2009 Lori came down with cancer again. The treatment was temporarily debilitating and harsh. In that kind of crisis, some friends and family are more able to help than others. It was easy to predict which group Daisy belonged to.
Lori is well now, but Daisy’s world has grown smaller: she spends most of her time with Lori. Her devotion is so complete that she won’t leave Lori’s side even to play with other dogs at the dog park, unless Lori plays, too.
Daisy still greets strangers and gives Lori plenty of time to answer questions about service dogs. Her skills remain valuable, especially her gentle politeness and good behavior, but Lori says it’s Daisy’s heart that she appreciates most.
“I have the kind of relationship I dreamed of having with an animal when I was 1, 2 or 3 years old,” says Lori. “Then I grew up and forgot about it. This relationship is like a miracle to me and it’s that way every day.”
“Daisy and I communicate all the time. She knows me better than I know myself. I have a newfound respect for all animals as a result of seeing how far Daisy can go.”
When I interviewed Daisy previously, I thought mostly about the message of calm and hope she could bring to young victims of abuse.
But this time I find myself thinking about something even bigger, about how an animal can be a companion in a way that people cannot. Lori, who is single, says that thanks to Daisy, she has become the rare human who is never lonely.
“For example,” Lori says, “How about when you’re at a stadium or a supermarket and someone says, ‘You cut in line!’ Maybe you didn’t see the person and you try to explain, but at the same time you feel lonely and embarrassed and out there by yourself. We’ve all had those experiences.
“No matter what happens that hurts my feelings or makes me wonder if I’m doing the right thing, I have not only the love of Daisy, but I have her companionship in the moment when it happens. I wish everybody could have that.”
Lori’s mission has changed. She wants to educate people about dogs as companions and when they ask her about Daisy, she says, “Here, I’ll send you a book.” She keeps a ready supply of training books by UC Davis-educated expert, Dr. Sophia Yin, for this purpose.
A lot of people think about bringing a dog into their lives—someday, if not now. I’m one of those people. I wonder if I would have known, without Lori and Daisy, just how precious this relationship can be.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at email@example.com