One of the unique aspects of Afternoons with Puppy is the Bark Insights. Every chapter ends with a brief commentary written through the eyes of one of my therapy dogs. Here are just a few of their insights.

PJ's Bark Insight: There is No Place Like Home

Magic and I went to Fallbrook last winter for a week's visit with our second family. Our two-leggers went on a trip to Mexico. Life at the Berl's can be a dog's dream come true. We get the royal golden treatment. Snacks, walks and even a snooze in the big bed are some of the perks. Lance and Stephanie are the two people who convinced my dad many years ago that goldens were great family dogs. We are thankful to them because without their input we may have never joined the family. Magic's mom, Maple, lives there, so whenever Magic goes down to Fallbrook it is like old home week for all of us.

In Fallbrook, we can almost get away with anything. We get spoiled rotten. From morning to evening we hear how great we are. All day long we heard: “Where are my cute puppy dogs?” Stephanie made sure we had lots of goodies and toys. After a few days, Momma Maple tires of the kid, especially when the kid tries to grab her favorite toys. Stephanie often comes to Magic's rescue and tells Maple “share with your cute daughter, she'll only be here for a few more days.”

I love the space at their house. They have lots of land so there is lots of space for running, digging and discovery. They live right next to an avocado grove, which is like paradise. While romping we get the chance to munch on some of the avocados which have fallen from the trees. They are delicious. Thank goodness I don't live here permanently. Otherwise my girlish figure would be gone.

Well into the week I noticed that Magic wasn't herself. I could tell that she was getting homesick because she wasn't as playful and skipped a few meals. Stephanie thought she was sick and sat with her to try and encourage her to eat. I should have told her not to worry. Magic wasn't physically ill, but her young heart was feeling confused. Although she was having fun, she missed our two-leggers. All she wanted to do was go home and see the gang.

Once Nya came by to get us, Magic's personality changed instantaneously. She was jumping for joy and ready to leave. She grabbed her leash and ran towards the car. She stuck next to Nya like glue that day. I thought she would get over it quickly, but I was wrong. Once we got home she still wasn't that playful. All she wanted to do is stay in our room and lay on her bed. It was almost as if she was saying, “I don't want to leave here ever again.” Magic missed everyone. She didn't just miss the two-leggers, but Hart and Shrimp as well.

Although young, Magic can teach all of us a lesson: Appreciate what you have while you have it. Be happy with your loved ones and cherish them like your most valuable jewels. Family is crucial and we need to work on getting along. I believe that is what Magic was trying to tell us. There is no place like home, especially your own! Dorothy learned this in Oz, and Aubrey learned it while in Kenya. I know I wouldn't trade my life for anyone's out there. Let the partying continue! And for those of you who think a dog's life is hard, I'll let you be the judge.

Hart's Bark Insights: A Cuddle Is Worth A Thousand Words

You now know some of our “trade secrets,” and they are simple and powerful. When you are feeling down or out of sorts, a tender touch can be as helpful as words. Sometimes verbalizing can aggravate the situation because you start to talk and find yourself, as a consequence, becoming more upset and stressed. On the other hand, some people, like Sarah, feel so insecure that they don't have the emotional energy or command of language to fight back or verbally express these feelings. They just hold everything in and feel so isolated.

When you are down, do whatever it takes to try and stay positive. It may take a while to heal, and unhealthy thoughts may take over. Believe us when we tell you that the negative thoughts will make things even worse. Some of you may find talking and being with others exactly what you need to edge yourself towards emotional recovery. Others may find solace in an animal.  Whichever you choose, remember: Don't be afraid to give and receive a cuddle. We do it all the time. In fact, they are the best moments of our lives.

Shrimp's Bark Insight: Take a Chance and Make Friends

It was a typical Sunday morning in January. It was cool by Southern California standards, but a beautiful day to get up and enjoy the outdoors. Every Sunday morning follows a similar routine, have a leisurely breakfast and then it's off to one of our favorite walking trails. The other dogs go ballistic, sensing the change to the weekend routine and that a good, long walk is in the offering. They begin to romp all over the family room. Hart is doing the doggy rumba, shaking her behind like a slinky toy. Magic, the youngest, usually leads the outpouring of enthusiasm by running to the open door to the garage and snatching her leash. She parades around the room, letting everyone know that she is going first. Miss Magic loves to flaunt her “puppy status.”   If she could, she'd like to be the lead dog, dragging the rest behind her.

But for me, today is a bad day. I'm struggling to get up. I want to go, though. I want to be with the family and the dogs. I can see by Aubrey's face that he's thinking hard on something. He looks at me and then the other dogs. Finally he said, “Shrimp, old boy you're just not up to it. I promise to take you on short walk this afternoon.” They left me sitting by the door.  I was dejected and felt a bit left out. Although I was disappointed, I was waiting in the same spot when they returned. I knew they would; I knew that my place in the family was secure and that Aubrey would keep his promise. Right when he got home, he kept his promise. Just the boys out for a short stroll. We may have traveled only a short distance, but for me the walk was revitalizing. It meant the world to me.

My advice is to take a chance and make a new friend.  My family has shown me that loving and being with others makes life richer and fuller.  When we surround ourselves with people who care for us, we learn to care for others, and life's bumps are smoothed out. Just ask any of us, Hart, PJ, Magic, Snowflake or me.

Magic's Bark Insight: Lending A Hand

We all need to believe in magic. We need to allow the unexpected to happen and believe that good can come from it.  In every child, as indeed in every adult, there is a need to believe in the impossible. In all of us, there is a yearning for fantasy and wonder and make-believe. It is to this heart-felt yearning that magicians direct their appeal. When we see snowflakes appear as if by magic on stage, or when a silver ball floats around the performer; when we enjoy the illusion of a lady changing from a red to yellow to dress, or even the mystery of a vanishing elephant — at such times our daily burdens melt away, we are lifted out of ourselves and for a few minutes, at least, we experience contentment and bliss.

Some say I perform magic. But all I really did was help the children believe in the possibilities of miracles, just as the magician does with his audience. Every day we can explore the magic in our lives if we yearn to, but we don't need to know the why or how of this magic to enjoy the benefits. Sometimes just the magic of loving and caring for someone, of being more open to another's love, can make the difference. However, it's not always feelings that bring about action; rather, action can induce the feeling.  So we shouldn't be afraid or too proud to either offer our hand or accept another's. It's the best way to find a little magic when least expected.

Puppy's Bark Insight: Getting A Second Chance

We know every one deserves a second chance, a re-do in life. Things may not always work out the way we want them to the first time around, but that doesn't mean we have to give up! We usually have two choices. One choice leaves us feeling empty and unfulfilled, while the other alternative leaves us filled with hope. That sense of hope allows us to realize a new beginning and a new tomorrow. I have to tell you that taking chances and opening up of yourself can be scary when you first try, but that shouldn't get in your way.

When I sit back and think about it, I always wonder where I would have been, if life hadn't given me a second go. For that matter, where would I have been if I hadn't opened up and taken a chance? I hated myself and didn't feel worthwhile. I was afraid of touch and believed that no one could be trusted. Over time, I found someone that did give me a chance. He showed me that he wouldn't hurt me and that life could be fair, but I had to open up and let the goodness come to me.  My life has never been the same. Today, I feel that I needed to speak my peace because maybe what I learned could make a difference to others.

Everyone needs to realize that life is worthwhile. In a time when things don't work out, my suggestion is to realize that it is ok to try again. Failure is an event. We must not personalize our failures and identify with them. It is ok to make mistakes, especially when we try to learn from them. Second chances are gifts from heaven. We need to be willing to give them to those in need and to accept them if we are in need.

Throughout this chapter you heard about dogs, birds boys and girls who learned from their new chances and made a difference in their lives. I was touched when I heard the stories. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, we need to take chances and move forward. My advice to you is to realize that you are only on the merry-go-round of life once, so you'd better make the best of it. I should know because the last ten years of my life have been the best! I finally realized that I was a lovable and capable creature. Learn from me. A soul is always worth mending. A soul is always worth saving. I should know. I was saved. My mission in the latter part of my life had been to help people see their light and their life possibilities.  I am grateful for my second chance. By the way, my name is Puppy.