Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Do you know that Glossophobia, fear of public speaking, ranks right up there with the fear of death? It’s actually number one of the ten top human fears. Symptoms of speech anxiety occur in three categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. And the “fight or flight” reaction is triggered in the body. I am all too familiar with the butterflies in the stomach, trembling voice, shaky hands, mental blocks, panic and stress before I speak in public.

When I was a senior at Uniontown Joint Senior High School (now just Uniontown High School), an English class assignment was to choose a topic and give an oral presentation to the class. I was the only one in the class unable to get up in front of my classmates and speak. Needless to say, I got a failing grade.

Now as the author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, I speak at hospitals, retirement and community centers, assisted living facilities, book signings, Toastmaster and book club meetings. I educate people about animal assisted therapy and animal assisted reading programs like Therapy Dogs International and Reading with Rover. Through the book, I want to motivate and encourage seniors, retirees, and baby boomers with dogs to volunteer their services.

One of the valuable life lessons that my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff, taught me was that by being of service to others, you bring contentment and happiness into your own life. I try to pass that along. That shy student in Miss Ely’s senior high school English class has come a long way.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


McDuff was a party animal. Nothing pleased him more than going to a holiday party at one of my friend’s house or holidays like Halloween and Christmas. He taught me a valuable life lesson.

Halloween was his favorite holiday. Not only did he get a new rat, but mobs of trick-or-treaters descended in the night. His favorite toy was a large, black, rubber rat with a super long tail that I could only find in the stores at Halloween. I had to buy him one every year because the poor thing was on its last leg –- literally.

One year McDuff was invited to the office Christmas Party. Needless to say, I was apprehensive, but my boss insisted that I bring him because everyone had heard so much about him. McDuff had a ball wolfing down hors d’oeuvre and mingling with the guests.

The life lesson I learned from McDuff was to get out and enjoy life to the fullest. Party hardy and have a good time.

I put McDuff down on Halloween, October 31, 2003. Each year my heart aches when I realize he won’t be sitting by the door eagerly awaiting the costumed kids. Then I remember what he taught me about life, and the sadness disappears. He’d want me to have fun and be a party animal, too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010




I cried when I watched the news reporting the coal mine explosion that killed 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, 2010. There were tears of frustration. It brought back painful memories from childhood.

There were 600 safety violations in less than 18 months at the Upper Big Branch mine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited in a newspaper article on April 25 that a “backlog” impedes enforcement of mining violations. That backlog is caused by the tactic used by the coal mine company owners who have their lawyers aggressively contest violations in order to thwart enforcement. And the few enforcements are set so low monetarily that it amounts to a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately for coal miners today, the coal barons of old, with the assistance of MSHA, still rule.

I was raised in a company house in Beeson Works, a coal company camp town near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. All nationalities, Russian, Greek, Swiss, Italian, Polish, African-American, and Czechoslovian, lived together in that tight-knit mining community. After a death in the mines, neighbors prepared food to feed the grieving families and relatives. They supported and comforted each other the same way the coal miners do today.

My dad, Fred Jones, loaded coal deep underground at the Kyle Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1940s and 1950s. He died in 1987 from Black Lung Disease. A tall, massive man withered away to skin & bones.

But when I was a pig-tailed little girl, he was my hero. Handsome, big, strong, courageous and known and loved by everyone. He taught me things that will always be instilled deep inside. Be on time, work hard, make your own way, pay your bills on time, never eat a meal without saying the blessing, and lend a helping hand. My love of animals came from him.

This Father’s Day I remember him with love and an abiding respect for all that he was and all that he passed on to me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The eyes of soccer lovers from around the world are on the players competing for dominance in a South African stadium. The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world. Are the viewers aware of another battle being fought in South Africa? This battle involves life and death.

We around the world recognize the names of great South Africans like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but we don’t recognize the name of perhaps the bravest of all. Click on the link to learn of Nkosi Johnson, HIV-positive from birth, who died at the age of 12 in 2001. But not before he and his adoptive mother, Gail Johnson, founded Nkosi’s Haven, an orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa to look after mothers and their children infected with HIV/AIDS.

Nkosi changed the policies in his country that kept HIV-positive children out of public schools. He bravely challenged people to look at and change their fears of those infected with AIDS. In his speech to the 13th International AIDS Conference, this brave child standing alone on a stage finished by saying, “Care for us and accept us – we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else – don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same.”

Nelson Mandela referred to Nkosi as an “icon of the struggle for life.”

Friday, June 11, 2010


Steven graduated from high school on Tuesday. So what, you think. Lots of kids graduate from high school. What’s so special about Steven?

Steven was a chubby 5th grader with reading difficulties and self-esteem in the basement when he met McDuff and me through the Reading with Rover Program. His self-esteem soared when he went from a D average to the honor roll after reading to McDuff every Saturday morning for twelve weeks at the Paseo Verde Library. I write about Steven and McDuff in the chapter “Reading with McDuff” in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog.

Therapy dog volunteers like Claire McAvoy with her adorable dog, Coco Chanel, members of Dog B.O.N.E.S., Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts, know the difference a therapy dog can make in a child’s life. They are impacting and changing lives in spectacular ways.

After Steven’s graduation ceremony, he hugged his mother, father and little sister. Then he walked over to me, put his arms around me in a big bear hug, and whispered in my ear, “This wouldn’t have happened without you and McDuff.”

Now you know why Steven’s graduation was special.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

McDuff's Life Lesson

I learned many valuable life lessons from my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff, on our nine-year journey together. I write about them in my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. The one that impacted my life the most is being of service to others.

McDuff lived and breathed to bring comfort and joy to the elderly, sick, disabled, and school kids with reading difficulties. When I picked up his brown leash for a walk, he perked up. When I picked up his red leash used for therapy dog visits, he was ecstatic and the only time that he submitted to the dreaded grooming without a fight. Even though during the brushing he ate more of the bacon-flavored toothpaste than got on his teeth, he didn’t resist. He knew he had to look spiffy and not offend anyone with doggie breath.

Therapy dog volunteers know the positive effect their dogs have on nursing home and assistant living facility residents, hospital patients, school children, and the many other places where therapy dogs are taken. I don’t have McDuff anymore, but I still volunteer. The life lesson that I learned from him is that you get back so much more than you give when you help others. Whether it’s at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals or Paseo Verde Library, I know that when I help others, I help myself. McDuff taught me well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Life with McDuff Blogs

My friend Annie of Desert Muse Publishing has motivated me to start blogging. There's no excuse for someone with the discipline it takes to write a book for two years who cannot compel herself to write a paragraph a few times a week. Another friend Linda Lou has taken blogging to an art form. She blogged her way across the country from Nevada to New York recently. If I blog about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff, I'll never run out of material. He was mystical, stubborn and hilarious enough for me to fill a book. Even though I put him down on Halloween morning, October 31, 2003, through my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, he is still with me.