In the next posts, meet Styles, a rescued pit-mix, the newest four-legged member of our family and Denver-based author, Tracy Aiello as she travels the nation talking about some Miracle Dogs of Portugal, plus a holiday round-up of dog-inspired gifts and books…

“Try to be the god on earth, the all-powerful and all-mighty your dog thinks you are.  Never let him learn his mistake.”  Captain Will Judy, 1949

Facebook is a great way to find out how fellow dog-lovers in all corners of the nation tap into the pawsitive powers of man’s best friend in so many ways. When I saw a post about Anat Hayon Cunha’s personal journey, I wanted to share it with all those who love to read about the healing powers of our canines. As we give thanks this Thursday, remember to be thankful for all the ways our pets give us their unconditional love every day. Each day in the United States, countless numbers of dogs are destroyed in shelters. This is such a silent tragedy, a sad waste of life, and a loss of an undervalued natural resource for teaching and healing.

Here, Anat tells about her very special dog named Mika, testament to the potential of the paw….

Welcome Anat!  Please tell us about events in your life, and how  you “went to the dogs.”I was born in Jerusalem, Israel and immigrated to the United States with my parents at age five. As a child I had dreams of becoming a veterinarian but quickly realized that I was way too sensitive to deal with animals that were hurting, so I did the next best thing and became a Paramedic with Life Flight New England and a Respiratory Therapist for 20-plus years. I have always been a caregiver and can’t recall not having a pet or two throughout my entire life. I was the kid that brought home hurt squirrels, birds and anything else I could rescue. My mother is the biggest animal lover I have ever known and definitely fostered this caring spirit in me.

Ultimately, however, I found dealing with human patients far more palatable than animal patients. Most people don’t quite understand when I tell them this but I guess the fact that animals can’t speak for themselves and must rely on their human counterpart 1000% for their care and well-being was just more than I could handle.

Please talk about the Portuguese water dogs in your life. We got our first PWD in 1990 due in part that my husband, Michael and our three children, Max, Madison and Mason, are highly allergic to animals and the fact that my husband is Portuguese made it a perfect fit! From there, a life time love affair with the breed quickly developed.

My next Portie came at a very difficult time in my life. I had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease for which there is no cure. It quickly robbed me from being a first class athlete, mother of three, wife and the career I loved. It crippled me for over five years.  Now, being on the other side of medical treatment, I REALLY understand why it’s called PRACTICING medicine! I underwent many treatments and surgeries to wrangle the disease and in doing so I was forced to spend a lot of time alone. Of course I have a wonderful husband and kids and even extended family and friends, but when you are severely chronically ill it takes its toll on everyone. My kids still had to go to school and my husband had to work more than ever.

When I found this precious Portuguese water dog puppy for my husband I thought this would be great for him and the kids, but what happened next was truly just miraculous. This puppy would stay at my bedside constantly, not wanting anything but to be with me. Slowly, she started to “rehabilitate” me if you will. I was in constant pain and very fatigued from the treatments but she really forced me to keep moving and Pico became my best friend.

Tragically at only six-months old, Pico was fatally struck by car in front of my house which my entire family (except for me) witnessed, as I was too sick to be out. It was a horrible accident that rocked me to the core.  My husband and children were so moved by the extraordinary relationship I had with Pico and how much she was doing for me both physically and mentally that they set out to find another PWD that would ultimately become my Service Dog. That dog is Mika! Truthfully I didn’t want another dog ever again; at the time the loss was so devastating to me and I didn’t think another dog would ever be able to do what Pico did….. I was wrong. 

Mika, which my youngest son Mason named, means gift from God in Hebrew and that she truly is! Mika slowly found her way directly into my heart and much to my surprise did exactly what Pico had done.  I now believe that this breed is extremely keen in sensing, or perhaps even smelling illness and they have a hugely sensitive and loving spirit. My husband helped me train and reach the appropriate bench marks needed to put a Service Dog Title on her and in doing so I began to remit. I have been in remission now for over two years and I believe in my heart and soul that it is because of Mika.

In the process of training Mika, I decided to go ahead and get a Therapy Dog Title through Delta Pet Partners, because I already knew she was way too special to keep all to myself, and if I could help another person through Mika, that was a way I could give back.  We started out by going to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but my real desire was to work with children.

How did Mika become a “teacher” in your local school system?When I was training Mika for service I had to take her everywhere with me; doctor visits, shopping, restaurants even hospital stays and the reaction from the public at large was always a big smile and “oh can I pat your dog?” But no reaction was more magical than that of the children. With their eyes so large and smiles so big, it just helped to heal me in a way I had never intended or expected. 

When I began to have more good days than bad, I contacted my local school volunteer director and we hatched a plan to have Mika visit all of the community’s lower schools. Sometimes we would visit special needs classes where the students took turns reading to Mika and sometimes we would work one on one with an autistic child where Mika would just lay quietly while the child brushed her long, soft beautiful hair.

Most recently we were invited by the Fifth Grade Art Director to come in and pose for an art project. Together we collaborated and hatched a contest for the best rendition of a PWD. The winner will have their rendition put on a Tee-shirt which we will sell and share the proceeds between the school art department, Humane Society and the Portuguese Water Dog Foundation.

Mika and offspring, "88," pose it up for some young artists

How do the students react to a dog in the class room?Whenever I go to a new class, I start by talking to them about this breed; what they were bred for, why Mika has a funny Lion’s cut and since she speaks on command they get a real kick when they think she is talking to them. I think one of the things they all love the most is that Mika knows how to open and close doors on command.  And their expressions….. well, they are priceless!  It’s really hard to put into words how the children react.  Most are so very excited and want to share their own dog stories, some are afraid, and with them I really take the time to help them feel safe to explore a dog that I trust with my life. One of the most important things I do is teach children about dogs in general. I explain that not all dogs are friendly like Mika and to never approach a strange dog and to ask a handler if they may pet a dog and then how to do that properly.  I also take the time to explain about how special Service Dogs are.

Was your schools system open about the idea of having Mika in the classroom?Living in Rhode Island where there is a strong Portuguese community, and having a sitting President with a Portie, definitely opened the door for me to approach the school, however Mika sealed the deal when they met her. Now she is somewhat of a regular and a bit of a celebrity in the schools and the community.  I see kids all the time whether it’s at the market or the pharmacy and they very nonchalantly walk by and say “Hi Meek” and keep walking because she has her red vest on which means she’s working and it’s not social time. I feel like I’m really doing my part in educating our future pet owners. I wish every school, Nursing Home, and any organization where there are people of all ages who could benefit from the power of pet therapy would embrace having a wonderfully trained animal visit their facility! 

Some artwork inspired by a pair of picture-perfect Porties!

Just as an added footnote: Mika (aka CH. Wayfarer CnSand Pure Karma RN, CGC, TDI) is not just a working dog she is a beauty, just recently crowned a Champion and soon to be a Grand Champion!

Thank you Anat.  I wish you, Mika, your family, and all who have been following a long, a very Happy Thanksgiving. To learn more about Anat and her Portuguese water dogs please go to www.karmapwds.com.

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