March 11, 2003

Forget what your high-school English teacher told you. It really is possible to write a story without a villain.

There's a terrific article in today's Philadelphia Daily News that broaches my bulldog Mildred's favorite volunteer work: pets as animal therapy for the elderly, the infirm, and the mentally disabled.

"[A] Dog Was All the Medicine She Needed," by Jill Porter, is a story without villains, only heroes, and plenty of heroines, it must be noted. I say noted, because I often think that distinction, at least as it plays out in a story like this one, makes all the difference in the world. Granted, there's no great conflict at work in this story, but only because the kinds of unnecessary conflicts and tedious trials that would have interferred with resolving the obstacles in the way of its ending were dealt with appropriately and with humanity.

Among the story's heroines and heroes: Jean Butler, 90, the patient; Dr. Judith Fisher, her physician; Linda Schmitz, a psychologist and hospital volunteer; University Square Complex, Miss Butler's residence; Presbyterian Medical Center, where Dr. Fisher is director of community programs; Green Acres, a Wynnewood, Pa., nursing home; April Lamenia, admissions director at Green Acres; the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Philadelphia; and, of course, Zach, a Chihuahua-terrier mix, rescued by the aforementioned SPCA. (Zach is shown in this photo, by Jennifer Midberry, with Miss Butler and Dr. Fisher.)

As Mildred's human, I appreciated this element of the story: According to Butler, her housing complex "took Zach's picture, gave him a card and put him on the mailing list." The Daily News reports, "Butler and Zach became inseparable, riding around on the motorized cart that Dr. Fisher also prescribed, inviting conversation with other tenants. 'It got to be they didn't ask about me -- they asked about Zach,' [Butler] said."

I know the feeling. Believe me, I know the feeling.

Read the story without getting at least a tiny bit choked up and there's something really, really wrong with you.

And Mildred said that. Not I.


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