Sarah Barnhart

 

 

Dog-Driven Therapy: A glimpse into the life of Lissie Heminway

 

Eleven sled dogs started howling in an off-key chorus as I approached.   Their claws scrabbled at the chain link fence as they stared at me, their mouths stretched into grins. One dog with a black-and-white face snarled at her colleagues, instigating small skirmishes.  Later I learned that the little spitfire, Ziggy, has an attitude problem. “Don’t worry,” Lissie assured us, “their bite is worse than their bark.”  I stared at her with concern until she laughed and corrected her mistake.  As I stood outside the door that held back the eager dogs, Lissie instructed me on how to best greet them, but in reality she had only one piece of advice: keep walking.

Having grown up around animals I know how to keep calm; animals can smell nerves or fear on a person and will take advantage of the situation.   Keeping this in mind, while eyeing one husky as tall as my waist, I took a deep breath and pushed open the gate.   The dogs immediately pounced, sniffing every orifice of my body.  The dogs even jumped onto the roofs of their shelters in order to have easier access to my ears and face.  I couldn’t help but smile as they slammed their bodies into mine, leaping onto me from all sides, desperate for some attention. Lissie deftly moved through the throng of dogs, until we reached the field.  She pointed to each dog individually, listing off their names.  Although I had met Lissie only ten minutes before, already she started to teach me.  I listened as she began with the basics in order to clear up my confusion about the interchangeability of the terms dog sledding and mushing.

Mushing refers to any form of transport powered by dogs, including dog sledding, pulking, carting, skijoring, freighting and weight pulling.  The term mushing is believed to derive from the French word marche, which means to run.  The practice of using sled dogs as transport began with the Inuit and Eskimo populations in the Arctic region. The European colonists that arrived in the region adopted the practice and in the 1920s gold miners from Alaska brought sled dogs to New England where the art of mushing gained popularity as a sport, rather than as a practical means of transportation.  Famous long-distance dog sledding races, such as the Iditarod in Alaska, entered the common vernacular, even becoming the focus for multiple Disney movies.   Even now, when I mention to my peers that I am learning how to dog sled, they cheer, “BALTO!”   The animators of the children’s movie would be thrilled to know that in my generation their work remains our primary association with dog sledding.    With the growing popularity of the sport, finding dog sledding opportunities in Vermont proved to be easier than expected.  Luckily, I called the number of Lissie Heminway.

The family friend could never have known that by handing six-year old Lissie a book, he changed the course of her life.  The book on working dogs had one page on competitive dog team racing.  She obsessed over the page, and several years later started to train her family’s dogs — golden retriever mutts. She harnessed up the retrievers and strapped into her cross-country skis.  Unfortunately, determination does not always guarantee success.   An active imagination, however, allowed Lissie to pretend her highly uncoordinated golden retrievers were a pack of athletic huskies.   Later, at the age of sixteen, she boarded a plane bound for Alaska to participate in a National Outdoor Leadership School program (NOLS).   Although the course centered on hiking, during one excursion she passed a dilapidated sled on the side of the road.   Most people walked by the sled without a second thought.  That ancient sled, however, struck Lissie.  When describing the moment to me she explained, “I realized that dog sledding was never going to go away.”  And it didn’t.

Sometimes the fates seem to be speaking.  They drop hint after hint, crying for someone to notice the obvious signs that provide answers to life’s important decisions.  Lissie heeded the fates after finding a husky patiently waiting in her locked car after a hike in Olympia, Washington.  No, magic did not happen.  Only a desperate dog; so desperate that it had climbed through a partially open car window.  A freshman at Evergreen State College, at first Lissie did not want to own a dog.  New to the rigors of college academics and still navigating the waters of the social scene, she assumed that a dog would negatively transform her lifestyle at school.  The search ensued.   With no tags and only a trailing length of a broken chain, which suggested that the husky lived outside, the owners proved untraceable.    The dog was Lissie’s, whether she wanted him or not.

Although Olympia, Washington is notorious for rain not snow, the idea of owning a dog team had remained in the back of her mind.  The husky in her car pushed the idea to the front.  In a manner of months, Lissie went from not wanting a dog to buying another husky.  With a team of two she began her own unique overland training method.  Dog biking.  Every day the dogs would pull Lissie to the main campus on her bicycle.   Only when she graduated and moved to Vermont to work with Ed Blechner, a dog musher in the region, did her true exposure to the sport begin.   Initially she planned to mush for only a season in order to fulfill her childhood dream and continue with her life.  A mushing detox, if you will.   Eighteen years later, she owns a full dog team and is committed to keeping dog sledding an integral part of her life.

“Come in, come in!” Lissie Hemingway called when I arrived at her house for the first time.  When organizing the details of our initial meeting over the phone, her warm voice made me picture a kind, down-to-earth, calm woman.  She retained this calm even after I had to call her twice for directions to her house.  People may exalt Google Maps but Google’s directions for Vermont back-country roads leave much to be desired.  Despite my frustration at being hopelessly lost between the towns of Shoreham and Whiting, on the drive up to her house I turned off the music and fell silent.

Trees lined the dirt road, their branches forming a natural roof.  In the summer, this drive would be divine.  In the winter, in the eerie gray that comes before the first real snowstorm, it seemed like the beginning of a horror movie.  Despite this creepy entrance we stumbled upon a picturesque wooden house, with smoke (literally) curling out of the chimney. I learned later that Lisse and her husband built this house with their own hands about ten years ago.   The house remains off the power grid and all the utilities and machines run off batteries and solar energy.

We let ourselves in and found her busy at the stove, pulling a tray out of the oven. The smell of chocolate chip cookies filled the wood kitchen.  A half-made piñata sat in the corner of the room in preparation for her oldest daughter’s birthday party. The wood stove crackled in the corner and a large window framed the length of the kitchen.  Through the glass, I could see the various pens and paddocks encircling her animals.  Even inside, Lissie could keep an eye on her small farm.  Never before had my expectations of a person matched with reality so perfectly.  Her voice, which had sounded kind and warm, was exactly the woman I met.  Dressed in worn green carhartts and a red wool sweater, she offered us appropriate jackets for the rain and mud and, after perfunctory introductions, led us out the door and into her backyard.

Lissie’s passion for her dogs and other animals is illuminated immediately upon stepping onto her land; she exudes the zeal required to tend to four horses, six cows, seven cats, eleven sled dogs, one house dog and an uncertain number of chickens.  Imagine how much time it would take to complete the simple chore of daily meals.   I quickly discovered, however, that Lissie is a person of many passions.  When I broached the topic of education on the tour of her property, her enthusiasm peaked.  Seeing her soft blue-grey eyes light up and hearing the ardor in her voice as she described her work with the Vermont school system and youth camps revealed how much the students, not just the dogs, are a part of her identity.  It took time, however, for me to learn how she blends these two aspects of her identities into one.

Gilly, Willow, Mochi, Uma, Little Bear, Illick, Petra, Ziggy, Glassy and Tinder.  On my fourth visit I could identify all the sled dogs, slip on their harnesses and correctly position them on the line.  Line placement requires a certain amount of artistic license.  The pairings form naturally.  Like any human, the dogs want to run with their best friends on the team.   On the line, the placement of the pairs depends upon a combination of brawn and brains.  The biggest and strongest dogs stay close to the sled (or in this case, the ATV), serving two purposes: in the back they can pull the most weight and be easily controlled by the musher.   In the front are the lead dogs, the most intelligent and enthusiastic members of the team. “Your team will only be as good as the leads,” Lissie explains. “They set the pace and direction.  I can’t give you a rubric of qualities you are looking for in a lead dog, but I follow my instincts.”    The rest of the dogs on the line are a part of the team.  Of course, there is the odd-one-out.  Wiley, the house dog. A lithe border collie, he runs alongside the team, distracting the dogs whenever he bounds into the woods to chase an unsuspecting woodland creature.

By this time, the dogs recognized my scent.  Although they still barked when I approached to prepare them for a run, they weren’t quite as raucous and calmed with a touch. I quickly grew to love the dogs and would have been happy to spend hours in the pen giving each one special attention and learning each dogs’ personality.   By watching the dogs run, I knew the slackers and the hard-workers. By witnessing their interactions in the pen, I knew the alphas and omegas of the pack.  Slowly, I began to clue into the dynamics of the team and understand more about the dogs and the sport.

Lissie owns three different breeds of huskies:  Alaskan, Yukon and Inuit.  Of the ten sled dogs, only the two Inuit huskies, Ziggy and Petra, were born in their native environment: the north. The roots of the Inuit, or Qimmiq, breed have been traced back 4,000 years to present-day Mongolia.  When humans migrated across the Bering Strait between 900-1100 AD, the dogs traveled with their human counterparts as their transport.  The populations dispersed throughout Canada and Greenland, and today Inuit dogs can still be found in those regions.  Inuit huskies face a tough life in the Arctic Circle.  Bred as working dogs, the Inuit people use them as transport during the winter, but as the snow and ice begins to thaw, they leave the huskies to fend for themselves on islands during the summer months. Whichever dogs survive the summer rejoin the team the next winter. Therefore, Inuit breeds are known for their hearty, aggressive behavior.

Although they are both Inuit dogs, Ziggy originated from Baffin Island and Petra from Greenland.  The owners of Ziggy’s mother intended to kill her while Ziggy gestated in the womb in order to prevent the birth of an entire litter.   The owners could not afford to feed their family, let alone a whole litter of new pups.  The obvious solution: destroy the source of the problem.   When biologists working in the area heard of this plan they offered to take the mother off their hands.  When this idea did not face any resistance, the scientists flew the mother and the pups to the United States.  The scientists knew Lissie and her growing dog sledding team.  They offered one of the pups to Lissie as a gift — Ziggy.  When I first met Ziggy, I assumed she had an attitude problem. Now, I realize that her aggression is the result of the hard-wiring of the instinctual survival of the fittest.

I also began to understand why people become addicted to the sport.   Although the snow-less winter kept us on the ATV, it still felt like flying.  With three people on a four-hundred-pound ATV, the dogs pulled us at approximately 8-18mph, flying around trees and over plywood bridges with such speeds that sometimes made me glad I sat in a sturdy four wheeler and not a light, maneuverable sled. I felt reassured, however, when Lissie informed me that she would never run ten dogs with a sled. “There would be too much power!  Even on the ATV I use the brake continuously.  Sled dogs can pull about three times their weight,” Lissie crowed, “in comparison, horses can only pull their own weight!” This fun fact, however, requires a disclaimer.  Lissie admits she has no idea where this statistic originated, but it sounds impressive so she spreads this information onto her students and customers.  Although the fact may have no scientific basis, I believe her.  On one run, I jumped onto the moving ATV.  Although the dogs started pulling the ATV with two passengers on an upward slope, I still had to run a fast clip in order to catch the accelerating vehicle.  Even with that weight, the dogs could run faster than me, even though at that moment I fancied myself a female version of Jason Bourne.

Before I saw the dogs in action, I jokingly agreed with my father when he suggested I do an exposé on dog sledding.  The number of times the musher needed to whip the dogs would decrease “the humanity quotient.”   Although I never believed that the dogs were literally whipped into shape, I equally did not consider how much they love and yearn to pull.  The dogs exude a frenzied energy before the run, jumping all over one another and snapping at their partners.   Unlike horses, dogs run with the most energy at the outset and start to lose energy as they near home.  The four-mile training trail snakes through the land surrounding the house, cutting through woods, fields and even Shacksboro Rd.  While approaching the road I looked both ways to check for incoming traffic and I thought I noticed the dogs whipping their heads from side to side.  I strongly believe that dogs are intelligent, sentient beings.  Believe it or not, but I assumed that they, like me, were checking for cars.  When the coast was clear the team barreled down an expansive, brown field.  The lack of snow doesn’t stop these dogs, even though Lissie says that they seem a little confused.  “This is supposed to be their season.  I imagine they must be wondering if we are still in the fall or they accidentally slept through the winter.”

One day I experienced the full power of one of the strongest dogs on the team, Uma.  The chicken appeared out of nowhere.  The dogs headed straight up to their pen after a run and I jumped off the ATV to take off their harnesses in order to release them into the pen.  I started leading Uma over to the gate to take off her harness when she lunged after the squawking feather-ball, determined to sink her teeth into the stupid creature.  I held onto Uma, skidding across the icy mud.  I yelled a sharp command as the chicken took off in an explosion of feathers.  Once the chicken found a safe perch on a branch, Uma allowed me to lead her back to the pen.  I started laughing as Uma looked at me with a mischievous glint in her eye.  That experience taught me quickly that though these dogs are adorable, lovable and friendly, they are also powerful and, if you are not careful, can pull your arm out of your socket.

Occasionally, my friend Heather would accompany me to Lissie’s house.  We would ride side-saddle on the ATV, gripping each other around corners.  Although the lack of snow hindered the true experience of dog sledding, Heather and I found a way around that small dilemma.  One day after returning on the ATV, unsnapping the dogs and releasing them into the pen Lissie helped us pull out two sleds.  One for Heather and me and the other for her youngest son, Elliot. Although the two inches of snow would be too shallow for the snow hook, required for steering while actually dog sledding, there was plenty to muck around with in the field behind the house. We took turns playing the role of sled dog.  “Hike! Hike!” Heather yelled at me, and off I went running, pulling her in the rutted, ice-encrusted snow.

After taking turns we took out Willow and Gilly, the old women of the team, and hooked them up to the two sleds.  With much coaxing and cajoling they walked in a semi circle while we helped push the sled.  If we jumped onto the runners at the back they stopped in their tracks and turned to glare at us.  Only the six year old Elliot appeared graceful on his sled, unperturbed by the slow moving dogs, while the two college students whooped, hollered and jerked around on the back of the sled.  Lissie only laughed at our attempts and tried to start teaching us the physics of dog sledding.  Her answers revealed her training as a teacher, but in the end she admitted, “Once you are on the sled, it will all become clear.  Whenever I take a customer or friend out for a run, inevitably they will crash.  Luckily, after just a short amount of time they learn which way to lean to correctly maneuver the trail.”

About fifteen years ago Lissie began a dog sledding business, running trips in the mountains for schools, colleges, families, or any other customer.  It seemed like the perfect set up — being paid to do what she loved.  However, the job lacked satisfaction.   People wished to do dog sledding as an alternative to skiing.  They arrived, experienced the adventure and left never to return.  While running the business, Lissie continued her twelve-year stint working as a teacher in the special needs program and stumbled upon the idea to combine her two passions.  Now two different programs bring a group of students every week to work with Lissie and her animals.  Although Lissie volunteers her time and dogs to interact with the students, she hopes to transform the volunteer program.  The dream is to run a fully fledged dog sledding program targeted at special needs and at-risk students to provide them with a source of therapy. “Being fulfilled is what makes a successful business. It’s not about the money,” she explains, sitting on the couch, her framed by her dirty blonde hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.

Currently, students enrolled in a program called Diversified Occupations (DO) at the Middlebury Union High School arrive at Lissie’s home every Friday where they learn basic skills required for managing a small farm, interact with the dogs and learn about mushing.   The high school program focuses on teaching non-academic skills, similar to vocational training.  In the past, the program only taught students how to clean dishes, funneling them into Middlebury College’s kitchens.  Now, the revamped program works with many local volunteers to teach the students skills that will help them find employment outside of the kitchen post graduation.  These include building a boat for the Marine Museum, banding birds with a local biologist, working at the local daycare and traveling to D.C. to learn about the American government.  Although Lissie briefly mentions the benefits of learning how to work on a small hobby farm, she concentrates primarily upon the therapeutic benefits of working with animals.

Lissie informed me that she also works with students in an Eckerd Youth Alternative program in Vermont called Camp Ewanaki.  Her last batch of students graduated from the program one week before my arrival.  Established in 1968 in Brooksville, FL, Eckerd Youth Academies take troubled teenagers into either residential or short-term outdoor camps in order to provide the troubled teens with an outlet that allows them to redirect their behavior.  Before the 1960s, youth suffering from behavioral issues or troubled homes were hospitalized. Thankfully, centers and homes run by various organizations, including the Eckerd Youth program, provide an alternative option.  One of twelve sites in the United States, Camp Ewanaki focuses upon the therapeutic benefits of spending time in the outdoors and working with animals.

For centuries, the fact that animals can improve a person’s well being has been a piece of common knowledge.   Finally scientific evidence can back up this universal truth.   Studies indicate that pet owners enjoy the benefits of lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system in addition to the emotional benefits that derive from the bond between pet and owner.  The medical field has begun to incorporate this knowledge into their rehabilitation programs, developing animal-assisted therapies (AAT) in order to alleviate mental and physical maladies.  Although caring for animals may aid in physical rehabilitation by exercising particular muscles, the real advantage of AATs are the mental benefits.  Emotional bonds can form between animals and humans, forming an unconditional friendship and trust that sometimes cannot be found in human-human relationships.  Additionally, caring for the animals requires maturity and responsibility.  Patients suffering from learning disabilities, developmental disorders, emotional trauma or delinquency benefit from AAT programs.  Lissie works with these types of students weekly, styling her volunteer program after AAT programs.

After two weeks of waiting, the opportunity to meet Greg, Christa, Patrick and Monty, students in the Diversified Occupations (DO) program from Middlebury Union high school finally arrived.  The week before I arrived at the house early Friday morning, but unfortunately the students could not attend due to poor weather conditions.  The rain/snow mixture rendered the roads treacherous. One week later under blue skies the driveway proved to be equally dangerous, but this time the students braved the elements.  Two days before, rain from warmer temperatures froze when the temperature dropped to negative numbers.  The winding dirt road that leads to Lissie’s house turned into a skating rink.  The bus could not make it past the 180 degree turn in the driveway, so the students disembarked and trekked up to the house on foot.

When the group of four students and their teacher walked up the ice shrouded driveway I didn’t know what to expect.  Although I have worked with children with severe developmental disorders in Jordan and have a cousin with severe autism, dealing with students with learning disabilities barely younger than myself poses a whole new dilemma and requires a different set of skills.  I shouldn’t have worried.  If Lissie hadn’t informed me that the group of students attended the DO program, I might not have known that any four of them suffered from learning disabilities.  Only after some one-on-one conversations with the students did characteristics associated with OCD and other disorders manifest themselves.

After introducing me, Lissie informed the group that they would watch and learn how to harness the dogs.  While we ran the dogs on the five-mile trail in the land surrounding her house, the students would move wood from the chopping block to the back of the house.  Upon our return, we would play with the dogs and perhaps pull out some sleds.   One by one, Lissie and I took out the dogs and hooked them onto the line.  I learned that this was the first time the students had seen the dogs outside of the pen and their enthusiasm was palpable.  Although they interacted with the dogs in the enclosure and knew them by name, they had never seen the excitement and crazy energy that they project prior to setting out for a run.  With so many people around, the dogs could barely control themselves.  The students scratched their ears while we clipped each dog to the line, forming a crushing mass of dogs and humans.  I could barely lift each the legs of each dog to slip on the harnesses. Finally, we were ready to go.  The dogs reared against their halters, attempting to pull the parked ATV.  Lissie and I climbed on-board and took off, leaving our audience of students behind.

The trail, similar to the driveway, turned into one large sheet of ice overnight.  “Ahhhh! Hold on!  Or maybe you should jump,” Lissie yelled as we skidded around corners.  I gripped the iron bars on the back of the ATV as we swung dangerously close to the trees lining the dirt path.  The tires couldn’t grip the slick surface, leaving the ATV at the mercy of momentum.  The dogs’ legs slipped out from under their bodies as they struggled to keep moving forward.  I held my breath.  Lissie never sounded worried before.  “We made it through the worst bit!” she cheered and I started to breathe again.  Lissie and I made it back in one piece, and the students stood waiting for us.

Now, it was time for dog sledding 101.  The first lesson, however, did not require any dogs.   The students raced the sled down a miniature hill, learning how to turn and playing with the brake. We cheered as they sped down, although occasionally I had to sidestep a sled headed in my direction.  After a lunch break, we all headed back out to do some chores around the farm.  Many of the students work on dairy farms, and while I mucked out horse stalls one of the students, Patrick, joined to help me out.  “I’d rather clean out the cow paddock,” he grumbled.  Never before had I ever heard anyone say that.  Compared to the stalls, the cow shelter looked like a mess.  I quickly learned that these students do not need to learn skills required for running a farm.  Working on a farm is part of their life.  I wondered why the students came to Lissie, other than to expose them to the art of mushing.  When she handed out the various tasks, I understood.

Lissie directed the students to the barn and asked them to create a system for storing the strings from the bales of hay.  She left them with a hammer and a box of nails, believing that they could successfully complete the job.  By allowing the students to work independently on a project, not just a simple chore, she showed them that she trusted their abilities, placing responsibility on their shoulders and boosting their self-confidence.   Interacting with the dogs provided an outlet for these students in a society where teenagers with disabilities may be shunned.  However, Lissie herself also provided a form of therapy.

Warming up after a run, Lissie, Heather and I gripped our tea mugs full of delicious black tea, mixed with milk and honey.  For seventeen years, Lissie worked for Kirk Webster, a premier beekeeper in Middlebury, VT whose work gained international recognition after he bred a species of honeybee resistant to mites.  For all those years, Lissie has been blessed with a constant supply of fresh honey.  Moving on from the glories of unpasteurized, fresh honey we fell into easy conversation while flipping through Lissie’s old photos.

“Did you know I am allergic to dogs, cats and horses?”  Lissie casually threw into the conversation.  Heather and I stopped.  We stared at her for a moment.  Took a deep breath, and then stared for a little longer.

“Wait. What?”

“I kept going to my allergist with lists of what could possibly be the culprit for my congestion.  Coffee, wheat, pollen, etc.   He decided to run a few tests to get to the bottom of the issue immediately.  When he told me that I was allergic to dogs and cats all I could do was laugh and almost walk out of the room.”  We started barraging her with questions:

“So, the baseline for your health is a constant allergic reaction?”

“I mean, it’s not a severe reaction.  Just irritation.”

“Do you feel different when you leave for holiday?”

“I guess a little better. Most of the time we travel to places where there are animals.” She said this so nonchalantly.  Lissie’s passion, in fact her entire life, revolves around animals that make her physically ill.  That is true dedication.

This dedication extends beyond Lissie and into her family.  Owning a dog team and all of the other farm animals requires a specific lifestyle, a lifestyle that Lissie’s whole family embraces.  I finally met the whole Heminway clan when, for the first time, I visited the house on a weekend.  Heather and I had baked fresh pumpkin bread in order to thank Lissie for her willingness to let us work with her.  Most of the family was outside as we drove up.  We watched as Lissie pitched a ball to Elliot, the youngest son, who swung his plastic bat and missed spectacularly.  Owen, the middle son, crouched over tree stumps while his father, Bill, sawed the wood into logs for the fire.  As we opened the car door, Lissie called us over and Wiley hurtled himself onto us.  He proceeded to sprint behind the house in order to alert the pack of huskies that we had arrived.   The whole family headed into the house where Polly, the eldest daughter, sat at the table reading a book.  We settled onto the benches around the kitchen table and dug into the bread.  The two boys could only sit still for twenty minutes, before they pulled out their brass instruments and serenaded us.

Earlier, Lissie mentioned that managing her dogs and farm animals had gotten harder as the kids grew older.  This countered my assumption.  I thought that older and more mature children would have greater independence and therefore would be able to help with the daily chores associated with keeping animals.  Although each child does their share to keep the small farm running, Lissie concedes that when they were younger she could keep them on her schedule.  Now they have other commitments and activities, ranging from basketball practice to music lessons.   In all of my interactions with Lissie, Bill and her children, however, I got the impression that the dogs and other animals are embedded into family life and are here to stay, no matter the challenges.

Lissie and Bill dream about transforming the land into a functional farm and fully fledged school.  “We want to leave our children with something valuable.  Either they could sell the farm or come back and run it themselves,” Lissie explains.  Both Lissie and her husband are educators and they would both teach at the school, which would combine academics with the therapeutic benefits garnered from working with animals and the land. This would not be the first time Lissie and Bill worked together.  In the past, Bill acted as the financial manager of the dog sledding business. Although he had no independent investment in the sport, he adopted it as his own.  Based upon their track record, building a home and managing a business together, I believe that one day this dream will be a reality.  The idea seemed even more grounded in reality when we spoke about the possibility of hiring a summer intern from Middlebury College to start the first part of the project — the working farm.

An hour and half a loaf of bread later, Heather and I slid into our seats to drive back to the Middlebury campus feeling rejuvenated.  On a college campus, we interact primarily with people our own age.  Trapped within a bubble of our peers, we rarely interact with adults, children or animals.  The Heminway household provided all three.   As we neared the paved road, Heather happened to glance in the rear-view window. A small, black-and-white figure tore down the road at a full sprint.  Wiley had chased us from the house all the way down the dirt path.  We stopped the car and loaded him into the backseat.  He promptly decided that he wanted to ride shot-gun so I, ever obliging, clambered into the back.  I scratched behind his ears, definitely rewarding him for his bad behavior.   We led him back into the house and gave the boys strict instructions not to open the door for at least ten minutes.

When Wiley chased us down, I had mixed feelings.  Fear about what would have happened if we hadn’t looked in the mirror and annoyance about the inconvenience of driving back to the house.  Mostly, however, I felt loved.  A dog wouldn’t chase a stranger down the road, I hoped.  After only three weeks, I felt embraced by Lissie and her entire family, which includes the dogs and other animals.  I may not have been a student from one of the many programs Lissie works with, but working and learning from her provided a form of therapy unavailable on the college campus, reminding me that life exists beyond the rigors of academics.  Insha’allah (god willing) my relationship with Lissie and her dogs will extend beyond my time at Middlebury College and someday I will return, when snow covers the ground, to dog sled past a bustling farm and renowned school.

 



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