Eli worked with more patients than most doctors. You might say he was a general practitioner since his skills were limitless. And his bedside manner was better than even Marcus Welby’s.
For a decade, Eli was the Numero Uno member of the Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy program. From his birth on March 13, 2007, there was something special about the Golden Retriever. Sure, he was like any dog if a tennis ball caught his eye. But once he arrived at any of the Baylor campuses in North Texas wearing his ID badge and bandanna, he transformed into a care provider.
By an act of the fates, Eli was able to pursue his calling with his partner Linda Marler, who was in charge of the Baylor program. Partner? Yes. Anyone could see that in Eli’s and Linda’s relationship, there was no “owner.” They were partners.
For years, Linda and Eli would daily go to “their” office on the first floor of Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation and set up schedules and work with all types of patients. In some cases, it was just to provide some comfort for a patient who missed their own dog. For others, it was helping a young person trying to regain the use of their hands after a motorcycle accident. And for still others, it was quietly putting his head in someone’s lap when they were having a bad day.
However, it was more than the patients who got the Eli treatment. Baylor staff members would greet them as they walked through the halls. Their little office became the “must-stop-by” spot for anyone working in the building. It was never surprising to see a patient in a wheelchair roll up to the door to see how Eli was doing. The Golden Retriever greeted each visitor with a wagging tail and a smile. Yes, Eli did smile.
Alas, poor Eli had to put up with some of Linda’s silliness. She would balance everything from treats to balls on his nose to show how obedient he was. Everyone from children to the most highly educated specialist would look in amazement as he held his nose just the right way until Linda gave him the signal to release.
And, of course, Eli became the rock star of the Animal Assisted Therapy program. The temperament testing team considered Eli not to be a dog, but rather one of the testers. When new dogs would be tested for the program that was considered one of the toughest, Eli would quietly lie nearby until Linda needed him.
As the years passed, Eli found himself training a new puppy in the Marler household. The pup’s name was Micah and, like Eli, he was a Golden Retriever. Only Micah was a bit of a cut-up. As a youngster, he got loose and was the victim of a hit-and-run. Luckily, Micah pulled through, but it is believed that Eli took him aside and told him to get his act together … which he did.
In recent years, Eli’s muzzle was turning white and he was slowing down a bit. After all, that’s why he had been training Micah to take over some of his duties. But Eli was still showing up for work with Linda and taking care of their patients and staff.
Just this past Sunday, an email was sent by Linda, “Went to ER today. Eli has hemangiosarcoma … We brought him home with us…..giving him extra love and attention. He is not eating….. it is only a matter of time.”
That time came last night, when Linda watched her partner cross the rainbow bridge.