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My Heart…..

Mister Sprout arrived on 1/16/09. It was a VERY big deal. My mom flew into Boston, MA from Buffalo, NY to meet the newest addition to our family. It was the best day of my life meeting him for the first time. I waited 3 years through the league “Paws, Claws & more Rescue”–requesting a male puppy, who was “cat-friendly”.  My goal was not only to rescue a dog, it was also to rehabilitate and give him the best life, ever. 

The “Black Avenger” a man who saved him from the puppy mill in Kentucky, provided very little details other than he was in a rabbit cage for 7 months, neglected and abused. No positive interactions, no treats, no toys…The warehouse where the wire cages were stacked was freezing in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer. Sprout never received medical care where he was held captive for the sole purpose of breeding. I was given his estimated DOB: 6/7/09 and that he was a Brussels Griffon. Later, the National League identified him as an Affenpinscher.

Sprout came with many, many challenges and complex trauma. We needed to take things one step at a time, literally. The plan was to de-sensitize him, slowly. He was terrified of everything. He would not walk on any surfaces, including grass, go through doorways, or even climb up stairs. He had zero socialization skills with people and any other animals that were not confined like him. 

It was expected that he would have some health challenges throughout his lifetime and it was my commitment to heal him. It was understandable that Sprout would have some “special needs”. Fortunately, I had completed an education & formalized training in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis for Special Populations) and utilized the methodology that was primarily used with individuals with Autism and implemented all positive interventions that were initially used on animals with Sprouts rehabilitation and training. Fun fact: B.F. Skinner, the founder of Behaviorism, trained carrier pigeons using ABA during WWII.

Sprout was eager to learn and immediately responded to the positive approach of PBS (Positive Behavior Support). The first objective was getting him acclimated with humans, loving touch and most importantly trust. He was extremely motivated by edible reinforcement and within days was “bell trained”. To say he was highly intelligent would be an understatement. Sprout was always thinking two steps ahead of me. Sometimes ringing the bells to elicit an extra treat and even going as far as to arrange his own playdates when he noticed his friends outside. 

From day one, I knew that Sprout had a higher purpose. He was not like other dogs. Sprout was on a special mission everyday. He LOVED being free and was usually off-leash;  an immense responsibility. He immediately responded to verbal and gestural commands. Sprout knew over 25 tricks to perform and mastered all at lightning speed. He was happy to entertain, sing or do an “army crawl” for any amount of praise. On request, Sprout could discriminate from an array of 5 items. Consistent training was instrumental in his success and through this process our loving bond was formed, and trust was ultimately established.

When I decided to pursue my 2nd advanced degree, he accompanied me to all my classes and even participated in my practicum,  He was the focus of my case study and through extensive training, he became a Service Dog. Sprout worked at Private and Public Schools all across the state of Massachusetts. He worked in Day Habilitation, Residential and Community Based Programs through state programs. As a Service Dog, he even assisted during the Special Olympics! Children with Autism responded exceptionally well to his calm nature and this not only helped regulate their emotions, he increased their confidence levels. Sprout worked with Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients who were dually diagnosed with developmental disabilities. He assisted with increasing their social interactions and accompanying them during community based outings. Sprout brought an undeniable energy he would bring to any environment.  I knew he was always destined for greatness. Assisting individuals with disabilities was just one of his special functions. His talents also guided me to accomplish my professional and personal goals, and also encouraged me to follow my dreams. 

Sprout went everywhere with me. He lived an incredible life, bringing smiles to all, both young and old. He loved taking adventures, from planes to trains to automobiles and boats. He was a traveling man… from L.A. to Brooklyn from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale from Portland to Newport from the White Mountains in NH to the blizzards in Buffalo. He had visited more places than most humans and loved every step of the way. His favorite place to visit was the beach. We made many voyages to the Cape. One of his favorite memories was taking the “P-Town” Ferry on the 4th watching “Old Iron Sides” turn around. He wasn’t a big fan of the cannons firing off, but as long as he was with me, in his red back pack—he knew he was safe. He loved taking hikes in the Fellsway Reservations and climbing the rocks at Wingaersheek in Gloucester, dipping his paws in the water and then running away from the tide.

He would always remind me to take breaks, get fresh air and exercise. He took his 90 minute walks around the neighborhood, very seriously. During these adventures, Sprout would bring local business owners outside presenting snacks. His favorite place was “Petrones Pizza”. Leo, the owner would always gift him with homemade meatballs and this meant the world to him! He would frequently visit the elderly at the nursing home in the area, walk by the children at St. Mary’s to spread joy, as well as the Dry Cleaners to see his “Ledy” for a quick “hello”. While on his missions, Sprout would often be referred to as a “cute puppy”.  It must have been his size and the way he was so beautifully groomed. Thanks to being pampered at the “Beauty in the Beast” for a spa day with Lisa and Linda, my dapper dog would always turn heads and constantly receive compliments. 

At the dog park he would climb to the highest place and referee the other dogs. Ultimately, jumping on the laps of their owners for a little love sesh. Sprout was active and enjoyed agility training. He would jump through hoops, scale ramps and walk on high ledges showing he had no fear. After completing every flight of stairs, he would spin around in a circle with happiness. He must have known all he had overcome and accomplished. With one verbal prompt, “You are free!” he would sprint…and he was fast! With moves that would fake out the swiftest of breeds. 

Sprout was not only a survivor, he was a thriver, and was my “Macgyver”. He could solve any problem. His biggest asset was providing me with comfort and safety. He enhanced every aspect of my life. As his guardian, he provided emotional support and would comfort me during panic attacks. If I would cry, he would instantly kiss my tears away–redirecting my fear to love.   His ability to lift my spirits during times of sadness and ease my anxiety during times of crisis were nothing less than a miracle–heaven sent. We shared a deep connection.  I refer to him as a “soul mate”.  He enhanced the quality of my patients’ life and my very own. Sprout loved everyone unconditionally. He was hard-working, but had a perfect balance with playtime and relaxation.

Sprout was an observer and enjoyed spending his days watching the commuters from his custom made window seat.  He loved to greet his neighbors and had favorites—by running to his “Ken” for some scratches and waiting at the door across the hall from our unit in hopes to get a “hello, you little doll!” and cuddles from his “Marianne.”.  Sprout was a ladies man and  had many “girlfriends” in the area. His highly preferreds were  his “Georgie”, “Cocoa”, and “Jade”.  He was always open to meeting new friends but kept distance from the big guys, unless he knew they wouldn’t bully him.

Sprout was happiest at home in his “golden years”.  He loved to entertain and make everyone laugh. He had such a unique personality. My little guy was extremely affectionate in nature and very sensitive. He was the quintessential, lap dog. He enjoyed playing with chase with his toys and cuddling with his big sister, Mocha (a torte cat, who passed 2 years earlier). His favorite thing to do was climb on top of a huge pile of fresh, warm laundry and nap.  He would also “help” me make the bed, which always ended up with him burrowing under the blankets and snoring. He liked watching TV and looked forward to snack time. His favorites included apples, cooked carrots, watermelon and blueberries. Sprout had a daily routine and liked to follow it. He would wake at 6am to enjoy his home cook followed by medications/supplements and beard and teeth brushing. If I was one minute off, he would gently remind me with a sweet, little kiss. 

We were blessed to have the most amazing Animal Specialists who worked with Sprout over the years. Dr. Mark Jarwitz and his caring team at Stoneham Animal Hospital, always provided top of the line care for my guy, as well as quick humor to alleviate my stress during the routine visits. For 10 years, every month Sprout consistently earned his “good boy sticker” after every exam.  Dr. Mitchell, from Veterinary Dental Services, was an exceptional dentist, who always treated my guy  with a gentle, loving approach.  Even after losing 12 teeth, Sprout still managed to have the sweetest smile. Dr. Caudal and Dr. Heidi White, at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn, were the Internists who treated Sprout during the last years of his life. They are Earth Angels. The empathy and compassion they exuded during and after our visits were inspiring. Everyone had Sprouts best interest in mind and at heart. 

These brave healers, I mentioned above are heroes. Not only do they help animals in times of need, they are a support system for their owners, especially  in times of distress. I would have not been able to share so many wonderful years with my boy, if it had not been for the professionals who dedicate their lives to help animals and comfort their owners. Big time blessings to you and all you do! I believe in divine timing and each individual played an important  part to our beautiful story. 

Sprout was loved by ALL who had the privilege and honor to meet him. He was in-tune with people and sparked laughter with one of his many expressions. His ability to bring love to all was uncanny. People looked forward to seeing Sprout. My little boy was energetic and loved to give everything he had. A true warrior, with a high tolerance level. He was extremely patient. A diamond in the rough (ruff). A smooth operator whose spirit shined like the bright light he was…  Over the years, he was featured in magazines, newspaper articles and even won 1st place for the Brandi Project contest!  He was and now is a star… Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I ever had to do. However, I know that you are safe, healthy, happy & loved in heaven.

I am forever grateful for my best friend, Sprout -”Mister Papa Boy”, “Snuggle Buddy”. You will be missed by soooo many people who loved you. Sprout, you were magnificent, a magical, mythical creature who had a purpose…always teaching me to live life with the “attitude of gratitude”.  You were my protector; spunky and sweet, with an excellent temperament and impressive impulse control. You were soooo brave, my guy and I’m so proud of you and all your accomplishments! Every day was a gift with you ☺ I love you so so so so so so much.   “Papa Boy”, your mission is accomplished. You are now home with all your friends and family who will watch over you until we rejoice and meet again. Thank you for loving me…the way I loved and will continue loving you.

Always your Mama,  

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