Vintage Views: Devoted friend was an original ‘therapy dog’

By JAMES W. SPAIN II

For the Monitor

Published: 07-15-2023 1:00 PM

Travel back with me 151 years, to the little town of Concord, New Hampshire. It was a simpler time and there was an appreciation of the simple things in life. The skies were so very blue, the air more refreshing and the complexities of modern life did not exist. It was this setting so many years ago when a light came into the lives of people that were in need of such a wonderful, accidental distraction. The people were the patients at the New Hampshire State Hospital, known back in those days as the New Hampshire Asylum. These people, such wonderful people, were being treated for a variety of reasons and found themselves living in the old asylum during the early 1870s when a small stray dog arrived and left an impression for the remaining years of their lives. It was during the summer of 1872 when the patients found themselves quite upset over a decision made by the New Hampshire Asylum administrators. Their little friend, this loving dog whose name has been lost to the years, I will simply and affectionately call him Jax for the sake of this story. That’s the name of a Black Labrador that has spent many years closely with our family as a loving friend and dog grandson to me.

Jax arrived upon his own accord on the New Hampshire Asylum grounds a few years prior as a small abandoned puppy in the early 1870s. Obviously a mix of Newfoundland and Black Labrador, he grew to a large size and immensely enjoyed the attention he received from the many patients at the hospital. He was loved and revered by all that he encountered as he made his rounds from building to building, bed to bed and eventually the kitchen for a fine meal of leftovers. In a time when the term therapy dog was not known, Jax was a forerunner. Without training and without guidance he worked his routine each and every day, made his rounds as faithfully as any doctor assigned to the asylum. The patients were comforted by his presence as he doled out a prescription of love to one and all in his unbiased manner. When a particular patient might be in greater need Jax could be found cuddled beside this patient providing warmth and comfort without hesitation. Each and every one of us can attest to the love a family pet brings within a home, Jax certainly accomplished this many times over by providing unending comfort to hundreds of souls in need each and every day.

As the years continued and Jax grew into a large dog, very strong and determined, a visitor arrived in Concord from Boston. This gentleman, possibly a visiting physician, spent a few days at the New Hampshire Asylum meeting with patients and the staff alike. As he made his rounds, he was constantly shadowed by the ever-present Jax. Yes, Jax was aware and all knowing, looking after his people as the stranger made his rounds one patient at a time. This gentleman was quite enamored by this beautiful dog living on the grounds of the New Hampshire Asylum, he was so taken by the love and dedication provided by Jax that he inquired about the dog’s owner. When he learned the dog did not have an owner, he approached the hospital administrator and asked if he could purchase the dog and bring him back to his home in Boston. Without any thoughts of the sad repercussions on the patients the administrator agreed, pocketed a small amount of money and ended his day as the visitor departed for Boston with Jax upon the train.

The next morning as the sun brightened the many rooms at the asylum there was a sense of forlornness. The patients searched as well as the staff too. Where was Jax this bright sunny morning, his daily routine was interrupted and certainly noticed by all. As the hours passed and both patients and staff grew even more concerned about their missing dog, inquiry upon inquiry was made as the hours of loneliness continued. With patients visibly shaken, a call to the hospital administrator was completed and the sad truth was realized. Word spread throughout the campus that their beloved pet had been sold to the man in Boston, never to return to the large extended family at the New Hampshire Asylum.

As the first day without Jax concluded and then the next after that, the fact that the loving dog would never return was becoming a realization. The missing dog became the center of many conversations and the sense of loss was real. Sometimes time does heal, but it would certainly be a very long time before the loss of Jax would be behind them. The mourning continued for days as the memory remained coveted by all.

So, it was on a warm sunny afternoon in the summer of 1872 that the grounds of the New Hampshire Asylum came alive. It was an older gentleman, a long-term patient and friend to Jax, he was walking the grounds on the southern part of the asylum. He witnessed a flash as a lean, ragged, worn animal approached him from a distance. It was a timid dog and very malnourished and in need of food and shelter. Who was this poor stray dog and where had he come from? Within minutes the old man realized his good fortune. Jax had come home.

After a very extended absence Jax abandoned his new family in Boston to return to his old friends at the asylum, traveling over 60 miles to this place that he held so dearly within his heart. A letter was sent to the gentleman from Boston advising him that Jax had returned to his home at the asylum, the gentleman was not interested in retrieving him for he felt Jax would simply run away again. Jax was quickly bathed, groomed and fed while plans were made for plenty of days of rest and relaxation. Yes, Jax resumed his role quickly, administering his own prescriptions of loving therapy to the patients at the New Hampshire Asylum.

As the days turned to months and the months to years, Jax spent his remaining days with his loving patients, ever by their sides each and every day. When this devoted dog demonstrated time and again his love for his people, people that he loved more than he loved himself, he touched so very many lives. I like to think he met each and every patient at the rainbow bridge as they passed, yes, I’m sure he did.

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