September 12

Bright eyes gladden the heart. . . . —Proverbs 15:30(NAS)

"Guess who came to visit me today?" My sister Zelma's brown eyes were dancing with delight.

As they had before she was diagnosed with cancer, I thought sadly. She hadn't had any upbeat moments since she was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago, so I was curious about who or what could have lifted her spirits this much.

"A little black dog!" she continued, not even giving me a chance to guess. "His name is Niichii—a Cree word for pal or friend. His owner Dennis brings Niichii into the hospital every day to visit patients. I've already asked someone to go to the pet store for doggie treats."

Niichii's visits thereafter were the highlight of Zelma's last days. About 1:30 p.m. every afternoon, Dennis walked quietly into Zelma's hospital room with the little Sheltie padding softly along behind him. Approaching the bed, Dennis lifted Niichii up so the little dog could lie alongside Zelma. She'd smile as she felt his warm nose nuzzling her hand for a treat. Soon Niichii and Zelma would both drift off to sleep.

Visiting with Dennis, we learned that severe diabetes had curtailed most of his activities, but not his willingness to be of help to others less fortunate. That's how he came to acquire Niichii the therapy dog. As providence would have it, Dennis and his wife Lucille lived just five minutes away from the hospital, so it wasn't long before Dennis and Niichii were both sporting volunteer I.D. cards, Dennis's on his pale blue vest and Niichii's on his dog collar.

Even though Zelma's strength waned and her ability to communicate grew less and less, we knew she was aware of the little dog's visits to her bed by the way she'd bury her hand in the Sheltie's long coat and smile faintly. Niichii, in turn, would lay his long nose on his paws, raise his eyebrows and look up at us as if to ask, "How is she today?"

She's comforted, Niichii. Comforted by you.

Lord, help me to take Your unconditional love to the people around me in their hour of need.

—Alma Barkman