Jerrod and Roger begin their dog therapy work seeing real patients, as they begin winter quarter of their senior year. To their surprise and pleasure they become friends with a few of these patients. Life is full of challenges, including homophobic bullies, but both boys become part of Kaiser’s amazing way of reaching people and bringing them together.
Roger woke first, facing the window in Jerrod’s room, the dawning light just starting to illuminate the space. Jerrod was spooned up behind him, an arm under him and across his chest, holding him snugly. He felt warm and safe, held closely against his boyfriend’s chest, the position exemplifying in his mind all the meaningful things about their relationship.
Jerrod had gotten him through the last few months when no one seemed to be able to figure out what was wrong with him. Jerrod had been his constant, his lifesaver. Now Roger not only had a diagnosis, but the epilepsy medicine was working, and he’d had no more visual events or seizures.
He had so much to be thankful for, most of them things he’d taken for granted all his life, like his sight, which, for almost a month, he really thought he was going to lose. And if he’d lost his sight what would that mean for his life? How would he be able to work Kaiser as a therapy dog? Finish high school, or go to college? How would he ski, or play tennis? His worst fear, why would his boyfriend want to be with him?
But Jerrod wasn’t having any of that. He wouldn’t let him sink into self-pity, and he demonstrated his commitment by being there and caring for him and getting him through his health problem. Both sets of parents, as well as David and Jackson, had been there for him in a host of ways, but Jerrod somehow had intuitively understood something the rest didn’t, having to do with his visual symptoms only occurring in his right eye, and he kept pressing until he received an answer he was satisfied with—the answer Dr. Yanowitz had given them.
Jerrod really was Roger’s liebling, his true love and soul mate.
As Roger reflected on those monumental things, a new thought came to him—that it was his turn. That Jerrod was doing for him what David and Jackson had done for Jerrod, being there when he was in need. They had extended the hand of love and friendship to Jerrod and did all they could to help him sort out his own problems.
Who’d have thought that so soon after, Jerrod’s opportunity to do the same would appear. But it did, and he rose to the occasion, doing everything in his power for Roger. He felt content in that knowledge and felt satisfied with the fact that they were doing therapy dog work at the children’s hospital because it was their turn to give to those in need.
As David had expressed it to them, when good people help you like that, you’re duty bound to pass it on.
More light was coming into the room now, and he watched the glint of it come through the Samichlaus glass in the windowsill.
It had been a week since their families had had that special New Year’s Eve dinner, that had really been a recognition of the place of Samichlaus in the Astren family, and now in the other two families as well: and a time of thanksgiving for the gifts received—the particular gift this year being Roger’s diagnosis and knowledge that the form of epilepsy he had was treatable and he’d outgrow it in a few years.
He giggled softly as he thought of the Samichlaus figurine that his mother had placed on the mantelpiece at home year after year, and how he used to think it was so silly and childish. But no more. Now he had come to understand how attributes like compassion and empathy and generosity can be embodied in personages like Samichlaus and the rituals they are part of, and how important they are to healthy society. He remembered hearing David say something like that when he was explaining mythology to them once, and he decided having David speak to the GSA at school would be a good thing.
He felt Jerrod stir behind him, felt his swelling cock rub into his crack followed by his nose nuzzling into Roger’s blonde hair and inhaling deeply. He giggled softly.
“What’s so funny, selle?”
“Nothing really. I was just thinking about how childish I was not too long ago.”
Jerrod’s arm slipped down Roger’s chest and belly, danced in his pubes and wrapped around his cock. “This doesn’t feel too childish to me.”
The thought ‘My liebling’s horny,’ flashed across Roger’s mind as he felt himself getting hard. Jerrod was pulling back his foreskin and lightly stroking the head of his cock, all the while slowly rubbing his own cock in Roger’s crack. Roger knew they both weren’t fully awake yet, but he loved the feeling as he lay in his boyfriend’s arms, in that half-dream state. He giggled again.
“That thing approaching my ass doesn’t feel childish either. It feels like a wonderful tool to me.” He laid back the bedding and lifted a leg, bending it at the knee to give Jerrod access. “I bet there’s enough lube left from last night. Take me, please. Make me feel like I’m yours all over again.”
He felt Jerrod kiss the back of his head, hug him once more, and then reach down and spread his cheeks. He consciously relaxed as Jerrod’s cock head pushed softly against his anus, and then he pushed back. The soft and sensuous effort from both of them, plus lube left from the night before, easily let Jerrod gently slide inside as Jerrod’s arm returned to Roger’s belly. He felt himself pulled back onto his boyfriend’s now hard cock. With only two or three soft thrusts Roger felt Jerrod all the way in, loving the feeling of that cock coming to full hardness inside him. He felt full and warm, safe and complete in a physical way. He sighed in pure pleasure and wiggled back against Jerrod, who in turn responded and both boys moved together as if they were one. They’d had wonderful and vigorous sex the night before, but this was a placid form of love making. A peaceful and joyous expression of the feelings they shared.
Roger felt Jerrod’s breathing getting heavier on his neck and could feel his heart beating against his back. He was aware of himself building and knew Jerrod would come soon. When Roger felt Jerrod’s thrusts increase in force, he also felt his hand slide down to hold his cock, so that each time Jerrod thrust in him, the down stroke on his cock would pull him back so he was fully impaled on his boyfriend.
Moments later Jerrod softly cried, “I love you so much, Roger,” and started cumming. Roger felt the swelling within him followed by the warm seed, and could only get out, “Me, too… I, I… oh god…” before he started shooting himself.
Jerrod pulled him close, kissing his ear and nuzzling in his hair, cooing sweet nothings. Roger was beyond words. He felt Jerrod’s cock softening inside him, and then they both fell back to sleep for a few minutes.
When they woke, Roger rolled over to face his boyfriend, brushed his curly auburn hair back off his forehead, and kissed him passionately. The he hugged him close and whispered, “You make me feel so safe and complete. I can’t tell you how much I love you.”
Jerrod smiled back and said, “Me, too, selle. That’s why we’re soul mates, remember?”
He watched Roger nod at him, his blue eyes sparkling in the morning light. “What did you mean about being childish?”
“Well, that not too long ago I took an awful lot for granted, like a child. Then the last six months happened, and I grew up and a lot of that was ‘cause you came into my life.”
“You came into my life, too, don’t forget. We both helped each other.” Jerrod kissed Roger again and said softly, “You want to know what I’m going to do starting on Wednesday?”
“I’m going to GSA with you. I’m gay. You’re gay. Our best friends are gay. Our families know and accept it and support us. I’m not denying it in any way, not anymore.”
“If you’re sure and ready? I’ll be there beside you all the way.”
Jerrod hugged Roger tight, and that’s when he felt the cold nose push against his shoulder.
“Kaiser’s telling me that we need to stop the morning loving and get our ass out of bed.”
“What a dog! Always the one with the perfect timing.”
* * *
Jerrod fed Kaiser while Roger showered, then headed to the bathroom himself, and David had breakfast in process as the boys walked into the kitchen. Kaiser was under the table with his chin on Jackson’s foot.
“Hi, guys! Breakfast smells great!”
Jackson had watched them walk in, his grin widening as they got closer. “You two look like a photo study in post-coital bliss!” He started laughing softly, and David flashed him a glance and had to choke back the giggles, too.
Jerrod looked at Roger and said, “I think I heard thunder outside somewhere, but let’s ignore it. How about you pour the orange juice and I’ll handle the coffee?” Roger nodded, and they proceeded accordingly, and as Jerrod sat down at the table, he couldn’t hold back the grin as he looked at Jackson and said, “You, sir, should not act like a poltroon. It simply isn’t becoming.”
“Is that another big word you’ve learned in English Lit? And, by the way why does commenting on the wonder and beauty of the sexual life you two share make me a craven coward? I am simply paying compliments where they’re due.”
Jerrod was having to bite his tongue, but Roger couldn’t hold it and started giggling into his orange juice.
Finally, Jerrod said, “Jackson, like I’ve told you before, give us a break--it’s the first thing in the morning, you know?”
“Well, yeah. That’s when people look the most blissed after great sex. Especially if it was great sex in the morning. Aren’t you glad I didn’t come in to get Kaiser?” He stopped and looked at his partner. “David, isn’t that true? I’m just stating the obvious, aren’t I? In a very complimentary manner, of course.”
“Listen, lover boy. I’m just cooking breakfast here. I’ve kind of got my hands full, you know. I’ve got to flip these eggs without breaking the yolks. You guys need to handle that conversation.” He paused, then added with a wry smile, “If you really want an answer to that question, though, ask the witness. Ask Kaiser.”
He started to chuckle to himself as soon as he finished.
Jackson was cracking up, and turned back to the boys. “Shall we ask Kaiser?”
He leaned over the edge of the table and said, “Kaiser! How was it? Were they really noisy? Did they wake you up?”
Kaiser raised his head off Jackson’s foot, cocked an eyebrow and wagged his tail. For that he got his ears stroked, and Jackson said, “He’s not much help, actually. Truth be known, I don’t have to look any farther than you two.” He extended his hands across the table and took a hand of each boy and said, “It is fun to harass you, but you know I mean every word I say, right? You walked in here this morning like two happy campers with no worries in the world. Total bliss.”
Both boys squeezed his hands, and Jerrod tried to act angry. Roger was smiling with just the slightest hint of embarrassment. “We know, Jackson, and you’re only doing this ‘cause you love us both.”
David slid the plates with breakfast onto the table in front of them, and Jerrod continued. “How about this? While I run Roger home after breakfast, you wash the sheets on my bed since you love us so much?”
Jackson’s eyebrows rose at that, the smile still on his face. Roger broke out laughing, and David, who had now joined them at the table, looked at his partner and said, “Well?”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. We need to wash ours, too. Somehow we didn’t get to it yesterday.” He looked at Jerrod. “They’re not too gnarly are they?”
“For us to know, and you to find out.”
David turned to them and said, “Roger, do you need to head home so soon?”
Roger looked up from the eggs and said, “Yeah, Mom made it clear I was to be home right after breakfast since I was here last night, we were skiing with Eric and Kim yesterday, and school starts tomorrow. I think she’s trying to start a routine or something. For the record, we may have looked peaceful this morning, but I’m betting it won’t last.”
David cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Jerrod didn’t tell you last night, but in training yesterday he had to race Matt Willis in GS.” Roger paused and both David and Jackson looked at Jerrod, who continued, “Next Saturday’s the first race against another school team, so the Coach split our team into pairs and made the pairs race each other on parallel courses.”
“And?” Anticipation was written all over David and Jackson’s faces.
Roger was silent. He glanced at Jerrod who finally said, “I only had to race him on the GS course, and I beat him.”
“Yahoo! That’s cool.” Jackson was exultant.
David was a little more reticent. “What do you think that means?”
“Oh, easy. He’ll be totally pissed. I’ll hear about it, but so far it seems like he’s more mouth than anything else. We’ll see.” He glanced at Roger.
Roger looked back and said, “Are you gonna tell them?”
Jerrod smiled widely and said, “Sure am.” He turned back to David and Jackson and said, “He’ll probably be hassling me on Thursday, ‘cause starting Wednesday I’m going to GSA with Roger. From now on I’m out at school.”
“You’re sure about that? I think it’s the thing to do, but is now the time?” David asked the question thoughtfully.
“I think so. We’re all gay. You guys are the best. Our parents know and support us. Dr. Yanowitz knows and so do a bunch of other people at the hospital. The only place I’m not out is school, and I don’t want to play those games anymore.”
He looked at David, then Jackson. David just smiled at him, one of those parental-type smiles that speaks volumes about making the right decision, and then winked at him. Jackson said, “You’re the man!”
“We’ll see, won’t we. Anyway, I only beat Matt by a little bit, but it was like I said, he’s not that great on the transitions and that’s where he loses time. He stormed off swearing about having to put up with faggots on the team, which just means on top of everything else, he’s a poor sport. But enough of that. We all had a great time for the rest of the day free skiing.“
“You’re racing at Timberline next Saturday, right?”
Jerrod looked at David and nodded. “Yeah, we’re competing against the Jesuit High team.”
“Maybe Saturday will be a good day to start,” David replied. “Jackson and I could come up mid-morning, get some first-day-of-the-season runs in, and then meet you guys for lunch. Are Kim and Eric going up too?”
“Cool. We all meet for lunch, and then we can free ski in the afternoon. Sound good?”
Jerrod grinned. “Yeah, but we’ll all have to really dial it back in the afternoon, so we don’t leave you old dudes in the dust!”
They all chuckled, and Jerrod said, “Another thing, now that I’ve got wheels, and since school is so close, I’m thinking I should zip home from school for lunch and let Kaiser out for a while. I can whip up a quick sandwich or whatever, but then he’s not in the house all day when the weather’s bad.”
David raised an eyebrow. “That’s a good thought, but every day would hurt your social life. You’d hardly see Eric and Kim. I think that’s a good idea, and my Tuesdays and Thursdays are fairly light, so how about we split the duty. You take Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I’ll do Tuesday and Thursday.”
“Sounds more than fair to me.” He looked over at his boyfriend and said, “If he’s really nice, maybe I’ll let Roger come along and have lunch, too.”
Roger rolled his eyes, then looked at David and said, “One of the first things we’ve got to do when GSA starts up is figure out the program. I’m on the program committee for this quarter, and I was thinking maybe you could come and talk to us a couple of times about identity and coming out to parents and stuff. Would that be okay?”
David smiled happily. “I’d be honored. I’m pleased you’re asking me. Talk it over with everyone and tell me what you’d like me to cover.
Roger’s face was happy, and he said, “Cool.”
Jerrod stood up and said to his boyfriend, “Come on, Roger, let’s do the dishes, then I’ll run you home.”
On their way out the door Jackson said, “I forgot to tell you last night when you got back, but there’s a letter for you on the hall table.”
Jerrod walked Roger into his house, and they found Roger’s Mom in the kitchen. After declining more breakfast and coffee, he said to her, “I just came in to thank you for letting Roger sleep over at our house last night. It was really great of you, since it’s the last weekend before school starts.”
She grinned and then said, “You’re welcome, Jerrod. You know, though, that if we hadn’t said yes, he would have just been a sulky mess around here all night.”
“Mom! Give me a break.”
“It’s true! You two seem to need to be together. Anyway, it sounds like you had a pleasant evening. Was the skiing good, too?”
They told her it was, and that David and Jackson were going to ski the next Saturday. She smiled at them both. “That sounds fun. It’s too bad Roger’s Dad and I don’t ski. Kind of strange, no? We’re from Switzerland and don’t ski! You’re welcome to stay here next Saturday night if you’d like.”
Jerrod grinned and flashed his boyfriend a quick smile. “Thanks. That’d be great. We’ll have to leave a little early on Sunday to pick up Kaiser, since next Sunday is our first day back doing dog therapy after the holidays. We have to be there at 10:00 am, but that means we’ll be done at 2:00 pm, so plenty of time for homework afterwards!”
Roger walked Jerrod out to the Jeep Cherokee and pulled him close for a hug and kiss. “This was the best weekend. It was a ton of fun, and you were such a great lover. Thank you liebling.”
“It worked both ways, selle. And I noticed how cool and brave you were. The medicine is working, you didn’t have any epilepsy stuff, and you’re at a place now where you’re not worrying about it. Do you know you’re happier?”
“Yeah. You’re not on edge all the time waiting for it to happen. My old Roger’s back, and I’m pretty ecstatic about that. Anyway, I love you. Now, go get to work on the stuff you need to do. I’ll pick you up at 8:00 in the morning.”
“I love you, too.”
Jerrod picked the letter up when he walked back in the house and headed for the kitchen, knowing that’s where everyone would be. David was reading the paper, and Jackson was in the laundry room moving the sheets from the washer to the dryer.
“I was just kidding about the sheets, you know, Jackson. I would have done them.”
“Yeah, but no worries. Ours needed washing, too. It was easy. Let’s wash the covers to Kaiser’s beds next. They’re overdue.”
“Cool. I’ll go get them.” When he came back and handed them to Jackson, he poured another cup of coffee and sat down at the table with the letter.
“It’s from the homeowner in Philly. I sent him a Christmas card.”
David lowered his newspaper and said, “You did? Good move!”
“Yeah, well, Roger had to hassle me about it. I kept putting it off after sending him that short thank you note right after Labor Day. I finally realized it was way overdue and that all the great stuff that has happened to me in the last six months wouldn’t have happened without him. So, I owe him big time, and I told him that. I also told him about Roger, and the epilepsy thing, and you guys, and of course about Kaiser and dog therapy and everything.”
“Very cool!” Jackson had loaded the dog bed covers in the washer, and ruffled Jerrod’s hair as he sat down to join them at the table. “Are we all going for a walk later?”
Jerrod nodded, but he’d opened the envelope and was already reading the letter.
It was with great pleasure and surprise that I received your Christmas card. Just the card was very thoughtful of you, and I was especially thankful for the letter you enclosed.
It is clear to me not only that you’ve had a very busy six months, but that the outcome of those events has been wonderful for you. I am so pleased that during the summer good fortune placed you with your family friends, David and Jackson, and for the insight and support they were able to provide. I told you that I worked for many years with Boy Scouts, and I have to say to you that there are many youth who struggle with the same issues that you were; however, most are not so fortunate as to be in a network of supporting adults.
That is especially the case when the issues involve serious legal matters, to say nothing of matters of sexuality, and I am so thankful you have been able to resolve them. The time we spent on our short walk when you came to my home before Labor Day gave me hope for you, and I appreciated the thank you card you sent me. I will tell you that I have not heard since from any of the other boys involved in the legal matter, and about that I was not surprised. To have you stay in touch with me speaks volumes about your maturity. I was touched that you shared so much of your personal life.
To be reconciled to the reality that you are gay, to accept it and embrace it is a great accomplishment, even if our society is far from fully accepting. It means you accept yourself, as you told me David and Jackson encouraged you to do. To be able to add to that the final acceptance and support from your parents is indeed a wonderful thing. And on top of that to be in a relationship with a young man that you can declare you love, and to whom you refer as your soul mate, makes you a very fortunate person indeed!
You may have noticed the photo of me and another man at the beach when you were in my home. That was my partner who died of cancer a few years ago. Neither of us were fortunate enough to grow up in open and accepting families, and had to struggle with societal as well as familial intolerance, so I am overjoyed that at your age the circumstance you describe is so different and positive. Please extend my best wishes to Roger. He sounds like a tremendous young man as well.
While I am quite happy to learn that starting your senior year in Portland has begun well and that your grades for the first quarter were all A’s, I’m even more impressed that you and Roger have both undertaken dog therapy work. What you shared about feeling the need to give back to others in need, as a result of what you have received, speaks volumes about your priorities and the promise of the life before you.
I challenge you not only to continue in that manner, but to think big. Set lofty goals for yourself. Be willing to work hard in life and in love, and you will not only be successful, but you will be happy in your life. I know I am much older, live on the east coast, and that you have David and Jackson in your life, but I would be pleased to stay in touch, and to assist in whatever way I can.
I’ll close with this quote from Mark Twain:
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
Thank you again for your letter and sharing so much of your life with me. I was impressed with you when we met, and can only say that the world would be a much better place if more of your generation shared the same values and commitments.
David had returned to reading the newspaper, and Jackson had picked up and started reading the sports section, so it was quiet as Jerrod was reading. He felt the emotion welling up as he read the last few paragraphs, and quietly set the letter down on the table and wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve.
Jackson saw it out of the corner of his eye and after a minute said, “Is everything okay?”
He nodded his head as he blew his nose and said, “Very okay. It’s an amazing letter. I never expected anything like that.”
He pushed the letter across the table to Jackson, who read it slowly and handed each page to David as he read it.
Jackson smiled at him. “Mr. Unger was right about everything he said. See, we’re not the only ones who have been telling you that you’re a good guy with a few redeeming qualities.”
“I know, but to have him say things like that after what I did to him. That’s mind blowing.”
“Among other things,” David interjected as he handed the letter back to Jerrod, “it means that he is a person with no sense of resentment or animosity, purely motivated in what he did, and most importantly, thankful that you took advantage of and made the most of what you were given. He said you’re the only student he heard from, even though none of them were given anything different than you. Meaning they took it for granted or didn’t understand what it meant, and it’s safe to say, will make far less of it in their lives. You should feel proud.”
“I do, Uncle David. But I’m also kind of embarrassed. I mean I was really impressed when I met him at his house, but this is something else,” Jerrod said softly.
David replied with a smile on his face, “Nothing to be embarrassed about. He is impressive, and you’re a one lucky guy. I’m pleased you’re staying in touch with him. You’re making us proud.”
“And, when you talk to your parents tonight,” Jackson added, “be sure to tell them about it. It’ll mean a lot to them to know.”
Jerrod nodded, and said “It says a lot about Roger, too. He’s the one who kept after me to write so I wouldn’t blow it off like it wasn’t that big a deal.”
“Good for him, too. He seems fully back to normal now, meaning the worry has gone off his face.”
“Yeah, the last couple of months it’s always been like he was always waiting for the next one to happen.” Jerrod grew quiet, then looked up at David from the letter in front of him and continued, “I can ask you anything, right?”
“Do you still pray?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I almost talked about it with you before, when Roger’s seizures were getting worse. You know, about praying and asking for help. But I guess I was embarrassed. I mean I don’t go to church and don’t really believe that religion stuff. But I was getting so scared and worried I was willing to do anything. Does that sound stupid? Or desperate?”
“Not stupid. Maybe a little desperate, but that’s understandable. Your boyfriend, your lover and soul mate, was going through something that was worsening and no one could tell him or you what it was or what to do. That’s frightening, and so it’s not unnatural to consider all the options. I’ll answer your questions, but I want to start with a question back to you: did you consider it an option or more like you’d try anything to help?”
“I guess ‘try anything,’ really.”
“Well, the thing about prayer, at least in the conventional religious sense, is that it is directed to someone or something. Plenty of people think of it as a type of generalized spiritual communion, but to me that’s different. The technical term for your question is about intercessory prayer. It’s basically asking God, however one defines him or her, to intervene on behalf of another. In this case, Roger. Is that what we’re talking about?”
“Yeah, but I was embarrassed ‘cause it seemed like I was desperate and kind of cutting a deal or something.”
“Those are mature observations. One has to believe in that god and also that the god who’s believed in hears the prayers. If a person doesn’t believe that, then not only is it a waste of time, but it’s pretty hypocritical, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. I guess that’s why I didn’t talk to you about it. Or do it.”
“That means you stood by your principles, so good on you. The answer to your specific question is that I don’t pray any more. Not that way. A long time ago I came to understand religion as a metaphor, answering those basic questions about who we are, where we came from and where we’re going, and gave up on the Old Man In The Sky model. I do meditate occasionally, that generalized spirituality to center the self, but intercessory prayer is hypocritical if you don’t really believe there’s some One out there to hear it. That said, I want you to know that your motivation is pure. You were anguishing over what was happening to Roger. But here’s what I’ll say to you. Instead of falling back to some childish model of belief in an attempt to cut a deal with God to get help, you hoped for the best and were two other things.”
Jerrod glanced up at him. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. You were totally committed to Roger and his situation. You also were persistent in pushing for the right answer and never gave up.”
Jackson had been listening, but now stood up and walked behind Jerrod and wrapped his arms around the boy’s shoulders. “It was beautiful to watch,” he said softly, “you never gave up or got depressed. You knew something wasn’t right with the answers we all were getting, and you kept looking for more info and pushing for more answers… till you finally got them.” He hugged Jerrod close and kissed the top of his head. Jerrod’s hands automatically went up to grasp Jackson’s arms, and he heard, “We were all following you. You were the one leading the way, holding the lantern, not stopping till you found the answer. In case you don’t know, you’re the hero in this story.”
Jerrod’s eyes were wet with tears and his face was flushed, and Jackson hugged him again. “No worries, man.”
“I’m just so glad it’s over. I was getting so scared about it.”
“True. But now we’re on the other side, and things look good. And there’s something else, in the space of ‘a silver lining in every cloud.’ Do you know what that is? Are you connecting the dots here?”
Jerrod shook his head. “I’m not sure.”
“It was your parents seeing your level of commitment to Roger, the depth of your love for him, your willingness to do anything for him that made the difference for them. I’ll remind you that you didn’t have to ask your Dad into Roger’s room that day, and encourage him to lay down on the bed with the two of you when he was struggling with the reality of what he’d just seen. Watching someone have a seizure can be very disturbing, and I’m sure it was for him when he watched Roger actually have one. And you weren’t being manipulative, either. You were just being you. You reached out to your Dad when you really didn’t have to, and you built a bridge over the chasm to him.”
“Thanks, you guys. I’m just so glad it’s all behind us now.”
Jackson grinned at him. “Let’s make the beds and put the covers back on Kaiser’s beds then we can take him for a walk. It’s not raining now, so we should do it before the weather changes.”
They had a great walk at Oaks Bottom Park with Kaiser and didn’t get rained on. The rain began in the afternoon, though, and Jerrod was cheering internally because that meant snow on Mt. Hood. He was just finishing the dishes that evening when his mobile phone rang. He almost missed hearing it, getting so few calls, and as he grabbed the phone and pushed the answer button, he worried he’d missed it and the call had gone to voice mail.
“Hi, is this Jerrod?” the voice on the other end asked. “This is Michael in Pendleton.”
“Michael, man! Good to hear from you. How’s it going?”
“Good, good. I’m sorry I didn’t call before. It was just busy with Christmas and stuff.”
“No worries. All good. Now, tell me how are you doing? No, no! Stop! I’m sitting down in the kitchen and Kaiser is under the table. ‘Hi, Kaiser. Michael says Hi.’ I just rubbed his neck with my foot for you. Can you hear me, Michael?”
“Yeah, dude, I can hear you. You’re there with your dog.”
“Good. You remember Kaiser. Far out.”
“I’ll never forget him, man. He’s a beauty.”
“You’re right. Okay, so I’m sitting at the kitchen table and Kaiser’s lying under the table and he just put his chin on my foot. You know what that means, right? It means trust and total acceptance.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Okay, so now I’m going to ask you, how are you doing. How’s the cancer? Kaiser wants the straight answer.”
“You are bad, Jerrod. How could you do this? Set me up like that with making the question come from Kaiser, so there’s no wiggle room?”
“Hey, man. He’s the therapy dog and he wants the straight scoop. So, do I, ‘cause I like you a lot and want to know what the deal is.”
“Thanks, bro. The deal is we think it’s all good, but don’t really know for certain.”
“Meaning that the docs think after the last chemo, when you and Roger and Kaiser saw me at the hospital, the tests were clear, and they think I’m cancer free. I’ve got to come back down to Doernbecher in a couple of weeks for the first follow up test. Then we’ll know more.”
“Okay, got it. Are you going to be in the hospital? I ask ‘cause we do dog therapy on Sundays. Maybe we’ll be able to see you.”
“Naw, that’s not happening. I’ll go down on Friday, and the tests are on Saturday and I’m supposed to be going back on Sunday. My parents are really busy with the ranch and stuff so they can’t drive me down. I’ll be taking the train on Friday, then staying in the place they’ve got at the hospital for families, and then I’ll take the train back on Sunday."
"Wow! That’s kind of a bummer.”
“It is what it is. You know. It’s winter on the ranch, and my Mom teaches school, so it’s hard. We’ll handle it though.”
“You bet we will. What time do you get in on Friday?”
It turned out it was after school let out, so Jerrod told Michael he had to go do something, then he’d call him back in five minutes. He went to David and Jackson and filled them in. “Can Michael stay here Friday and Saturday night? Roger and I will pick him up at the station after school. Then we’ll take him to the hospital on Saturday ‘cause there’s no race that day. Then Sunday after we do dog therapy, we’ll take him back to the train station. It’s not fair to make him stay alone in that family place up at the hospital.”
David was smiling as he understood how Jerrod was re-structuring his weekend schedule for Michael. “Is this the kid from Pendleton who might be gay?”
Jerrod nodded. “Yeah. He’s a cool kid, and Kaiser really digs him.”
“Well then, that answers the question. The answer is yes, and if you need us to help just say so.”
Jerrod was back on the phone with Michael immediately and filled him in on the idea.
“You’d do that for me?”
“Well, yeah. We’re friends, aren’t we? Like from the hospital, we all like Hootie and the Blowfish and stuff. Why not?”
“I’m just not used to people doing stuff like this.”
“Well, get used to it, dude! Your parents will probably want to make sure it’s all cool, so tell them that we’re on the therapy dog team at Doernbecher, so they don’t think I’m some random kid. We want you to stay here Friday and Saturday nights and they can talk to David to confirm it’s all on the up and up. How’s that?”
“Cool, man. I figured I could do this alone, but it’ll be so much better with friends. You guys are great, you know.”
“Don’t say that yet, you’re not here yet. It’ll be cool though, and fun, I promise.”
They talked about a few other things and then said goodbye and Jerrod called Roger to fill him in. They both liked Michael and were pumped that they’d see him again.
Winter quarter at their high school started much the same way as before, with Monday spent registering, picking up home room assignments, getting books and the reading assignments for their classes. Then they were able to head home for lunch. The boys ate quickly and then loaded back into the Cherokee with Kaiser and headed for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital to spend a couple of hours in the training room. They’d all had a couple of weeks off since their last training session with Suzanne, and they wanted to make sure Kaiser was sharp when they started their actual therapy work on the coming Sunday.
The program trainer was there and greeted them all warmly and told them to make themselves at home and call her if they had any questions or problems. They spent the time working through all the standard drills, and then asked if it would be okay to walk a couple of floors just to re-familiarize Kaiser with them.
She said yes, and then suggested they spend some time together before they headed home. Kaiser seemed happy to be back, sniffing at new people with his tail wagging, accepting pats when appropriate, and most importantly staying on point and following voice and leash commands. Jerrod and Roger traded off the leash to make sure he didn’t forget that there would be handler changes.
When they got back to the training room, and checked back in, the instructor said, “I just want to discuss a couple of details with you both. Kaiser always looks great when you arrive, so it’s obvious that he gets bathed regularly and you frequently groom him, right?”
Both boys nodded. “That’s why he always has such a nice shine to his coat. Brushing stimulates the oil glands and that keeps his coat healthy. What about his claws?”
They both looked at her confused.
“When was the last time his claws were trimmed?”
“I don’t know,” Jerrod said. “Maybe when we took him to the vet after we found him, when he got his shots and stuff. That was back in June.”
“Okay. Nothing to panic about here, but we’re in winter now and he spends less time outdoors, and his claws are growing faster than they wear down. In the summer with being outside and walking on sidewalks and stuff, dogs claws are kept kind of worn down. When you came in earlier, I could hear his claws on the floor. You’re probably used to it. So, you both need to learn how to trim his claws and do it regularly.”
“Is it hard?”
“Actually, it isn’t. What’s hard is training a dog to calmly accept it.” She handed Roger a claw trimmer and said, “Here, this is for you guys. It’s important for two reasons. Keeping dog’s claws at the right length is important for how their paws work and so it doesn’t affect their gait. Also, since he’s around patients, and surprises can happen even with the best dogs, we need to make sure there’s minimal risk of patients getting scratched. That happens with regularly trimming, like monthly, and then some extra TLC.”
Roger looked at her suspiciously. “What do you mean ‘extra TLC?’ I’m not sure about that.”
“What do you guys do when you get a hang nail?”
Roger looked at Jerrod, who said, “Well, trim it and file it.”
“Good! So, you’ve got a nail file. We’re almost there. When you trim a dog’s claws with one of those trimmers, they’re left with shorter claws, but the claws have sharp edges. If you just run a nail file around the ends, it rounds the edges, and the risk of scratches goes way down. What do you think?”
“I think it makes sense,” Jerrod said, “but we’ve never done it.”
“Well, I’m going to show you how. It’s not hard, and Kaiser’s such a compliant dog, I’m betting you’ll be able to train him to love it. Now, there’s a few steps. You know how with most training you want to associate a good outcome with the new behavior, right? So, we start out letting him see that there’s a treat in the deal.”
She stood up and took a treat out of a jar on the counter. Kaiser had been watching, and it was obvious that he saw her put the treat in her jacket pocket.
“Now, hand me the trimmer,” she said to Roger, “and the first step is associating the trimmer with what we want him to do, namely sit so I can get access to his paws.”
She took the trimmer and stepped a few feet away from Kaiser and said, “Kaiser, I’m going to trim your claws. Come here, boy. Come!”
He hesitated just a second and then walked straight up to her. “Kaiser, Sit.” He sat right in front of her, and she knelt down in front of the dog and extended an open palm and said, “Give me your paw.”
He looked at her like he wasn’t sure what he should be doing, so she softly reached out and grasped one of his front paws and lifted it up in her hands. “Good boy.” As an aside she said to the boys, “You may want to teach him how to Shake.”
She turned back to Kaiser and showed him the trimmer and said, “Watch this.” She brought the trimmer up to his paw and softly tapped on each claw. Kaiser looked at her quizzically, trying to understand what was going on. She put that paw down and reached for the other front paw and repeated the maneuver. Then she let go of the second paw, leaned forward and reached for a rear paw and did the same thing, followed by the other rear paw. Kaiser got a little antsy with the rear paws, but he didn’t stand up or jump around.
She sat back on her heels and said, “Good boy, Kaiser. Good job.” Then she gave him a treat.
“We start with just the taps, so he associates the trimmer with his claws, and there’s no pain, and he gets a reward. The worst thing is to clip a claw to start with, and clip it too short because that hurts, and then there’s a negative association to overcome.”
She looked at the boys. “You’re both going to do the same thing. Who’s first?”
Roger pointed at Jerrod, and the trimmer was tossed to him. “Same drill. Get a treat, let him know what you’re doing. Call him to you and do what I did. Some trainers do this on a small table with the dog on their side, but we don’t have one, and most people don’t have one at home, so it’s good to learn how to do it on the floor.”
Jerrod repeated the steps exactly, the only difference being that when he knelt down in front of Kaiser, the dog wanted to lick his face. He did the claws on both front paws with no problem. When he reached for the first hind paw, he leaned forward to reach it, and Kaiser dropped his head and started licking the side of his face.
Jerrod looked up and said, “At least he seems to like it so far.” He finished up and tossed the trimmer to Roger, who then repeated the exercise.
The trainer smiled widely and said, “Now, you two go walk him off and do something for a couple of minutes to get his mind off this and then bring him back. Then I’ll show you how to use the trimmer.”
They did, and this time when she picked up the first paw she motioned for Jerrod and Roger to kneel on either side of her, and then instead of tapping the first claw she slipped the tip into the trimmer and said, “Good boy, Kaiser.” To the boys she said, “You can see right here where the line is between end of the claw and the quick. That’s the part of the claw with the blood vessels and nerves and you want to clip in front of that. Are you with me?”
Both boys nodded, but looked nervous. She went on, “Okay, his claws aren’t too long, but I’m just going to clip a little bit off each claw. The front ones are longer than the back, can you see? That’s usual. They feel the force of the clip, and some dogs jump at that. We’re getting him familiar with the routine this time, so it’ll be a little tiny bit. Then you wait a few days and do it again, and trim just a little bit more. Then a few days later do it again. By then you’ll have the claws where they need to be, and he should be pretty well trained.”
They studiously watched her trim each claw, and Kaiser was pretty still for the front claws, and wiggled a little for the rear ones. When she was done, he got another praise. “Good boy, Kaiser!” followed by a treat, and he hopped up tail wagging.
Roger tried to stifle his giggling but failed.
“What’s so funny,” Jerrod asked.
“Just a thought that flashed across my mind as we watched. Kaiser’s getting a manicure. Get it? He’s a male dog but he’s getting a manicure.” He giggled again, and Jerrod grinned at him but rolled his eyes.
The trainer got back to business. “Go slow, and give it a couple of times, then try adding the nail file. Or, after you clip come back later or the next day when he’s laying down and use the nail file. You guys will do fine. The point is to familiarize him with it, and ideally have him think it’s a cool thing because his handlers are giving him attention and he gets a treat.”
On the drive home the boys debated the pros and cons and laughed about the manicure idea, but decided it was part of the deal and they had no choice. They didn’t want any patients scratched and agreed they’d do the next session on Wednesday after GSA. Jerrod dropped Roger off at his house, giving him a long kiss. “Study hard. See you in the morning.”
“I’ll call you tonight after homework.”