Dogs, volunteering help make life fulfilling

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Life is about challenges and how we overcome them, not just merely to survive but to fully enjoy this life. While my earlier life might not have been unusual, the direction it ultimately took surprised many people.

During the years my husband was terminally ill, life revolved around his care. Toward the end of his life we were comforted by the wonderful, caring people of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry.

My family and extended family from my husband did not live here so I relied on friends to help me adjust. Once he passed away, I had some major life decisions to make.

Financially, personally and time wise, I needed to work. Included in that had to be volunteering because until my husband became ill, I had always volunteered in the community. So, what path to take?

Prior to moving here, I had been a tutor in after-school daycare with ADD and ADHD children. I was to help them focus on doing homework.

This probably had a lot to do with the ultimate path I took in becoming a professional dog trainer.

Most dogs are either ADD or ADHD, but they don't talk back! This requires a huge amount of patience. In addition to tutoring, I also volunteered in the library reading to children and took one of my dogs to the nursing home for visits as a therapy dog.

My late husband and I had three dogs. I had been training family and friends' dogs for 15 years. Professional dog training seemed the natural path since it allowed me to work with dogs and remain connected to people.

But I was missing a critical element of that behavior training. I found a Certified Behaviorist and worked with him to hone my craft. I then went to work and received further professional training.

But there was still an element missing: volunteering. I began volunteering for dog rescue groups, started fostering and adopting out a few dogs myself, reading to children in the library and teaching owners and exceptional dogs the skills they needed to volunteer in assisted living.

I was contacted by Hospice Care of the Lowcountry and asked if I would start a pet therapy program. With my previous connection it seemed a natural fit and so, Hos-pets was born. I am proud to say that to date I have trained over 200 pet therapy dogs.

Rounding out my life, I continued teaching obedience, water classes and agility, volunteering with Hos-pets with my own dog and tutoring numerous students in reading and even doing some limited boarding.

Some family and friends don't see how rewarding a life I have. I fill each day with things I love to do, giving back to the community and making dog and owner relationships better.

Fifteen years after my husband's death, is my life complete? Let me answer this way: I love the quote, "Dogs are not my whole life, but they make my life whole."

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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