Opinion Column

Lucie offers 'fur-st' aid at Invictus Games

By Diana Storen, Northumberland Today

Lucie (Walter Byk/Special to Northumberland Today)

Lucie (Walter Byk/Special to Northumberland Today)

With a name like King Charles, you'd think that a meeting with a member of the British royal family wouldn't have been difficult to arrange. Especially when both individuals were in the same building. Let me explain why it wasn't possible, and why it really didn't matter.

Lucie is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a St. John Ambulance therapy dog from Cobourg, who volunteered at the recent Invictus Games in Toronto. She dreamt of meeting games founder Prince Harry. Although their paths never crossed, she wasn't disappointed, because she had the opportunity to meet so many real-life superheroes. She was in her glory. No one knows how to work a room like a dog, and Lucie has made it an art.

Since 2011, she has been a St. John Ambulance therapy dog (SJA T-dog.) Every week, accompanied by her handler Walter Byk, she visits a Cobourg school where she listens to children read. Non-judgmental and non-threatening, she helps enhance their reading skills and boosts their self-confidence.

In addition, she regularly goes with Walter's wife June to Streamway Villa and Legion Village, where she administers what I call "fur-st" aid to the residents. This gorgeous, gentle girl knows what to do, because it's in her DNA. Her dark eyes shine with canine warmth. "Hug me," they say. "Cuddle me. Stroke my silky brown and white coat." It's easy to forget your troubles with seventeen pounds of doggie devotion sitting in your lap.

Eighty-six SJA T-dogs attended the games, lending emotional support to the athletes, some of whom had to leave their own therapy dogs at home. Lucie was one of five - and the only one from our area - who was on duty behind the scenes at the Air Canada Centre (ACC) before and during the opening ceremony.

All of the competitors had suffered life-changing injuries while on active duty, and came to the games with both physical and psychological scars. If the bright lights, loud music and crowd noise in the ACC triggered a reoccurrence of their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, causing them to relive the trauma of war, Lucie and her fellow T-dogs took it as their mission to alleviate anxiety and fear by spreading unconditional love and comforting those in pain, as only dogs can.

Lucie received smiles, pats and high-fives from hundreds of participants, a handful of whom required extended periods of time with her. Australian team members wanted Lucie to accompany them. A young woman from Great Britain was in such distress as it came time for her team to leave the backstage area that she continually stroked one of Lucie's ears until she had calmed down. The five dogs got everyone to the ceremony.

With the Invictus Games, Prince Harry has given service men and women the motivation to move on with their lives, to not be defined by their injuries. "Invictus," meaning "unconquered," is also the title of a poem written by William Earnest Henley in 1875, while he was in hospital struggling with a deadly disease. His personal experience allowed him to create a poem whose focus is the ability of the human spirit to overcome adversity. A poem Nelson Mandela relied on for strength while he was imprisoned.

The last two lines say it all:

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

Therapy dogs help survivors accept these words.