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Two Lives Touched by An Israeli Guide Dog

 

Healing dogs save human lives. Image: Pixabay

Birthdays are typically a time of joy. They come with an unspoken expectation that we will embrace happiness and gratitude for another year of life.

But last year, my birthday, October 24, was just 17 days after the devastating October 7 Hamas massacre. A profound sense of sorrow, anger, pain, and guilt overshadowed what normally would have been my celebratory day. How could I find joy amidst the widespread mourning engulfing so many Israelis grieving the loss of their loved ones?

The idea of my birthday brought zero excitement. I craved solitude and wanted to sleep the day away to escape the intense emotions accompanying it.

But instead, I just sat in front of the television in horror and disbelief, as the news relentlessly cycled through the harrowing images from the Nova Festival. People scrambled desperately to escape as cars burned and Hamas captured women and children while body bags lined Israel’s kibbutz communities – a stark testament to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Despite living 7,600 miles away, the barrage of disturbing images repeatedly moved me to tears, yet I felt an obligation to bear witness to the unfolding war and not turn away. It wasn’t a conflict targeting a select few; it was an assault on the very essence of our collective humanity.

Internally, my emotions raged as flowers and baked goods were delivered with heartfelt happy birthday wishes from my children, family, and close friends. I was grateful but overwhelmed by the pressure to appear joyous while grieving.

Compelled by a desire for more than just televised updates, I turned to my emails, searching for the latest dispatches from various online news subscriptions. I held onto hope that another media outlet might have better news and offer a glimmer of hope amidst the prevailing darkness.

I found an email with a subject line that caught my attention: “We have received a generous gift in honor of Orly Benaroch Light.”

When I opened the email, the message read:

Greetings from Israel Guide Dog Center,

Your children made a donation in your honor and the donation will be put to use right away, helping us to give freedom, independence, and companionship to an Israeli in need.

Thank you for playing a part in our work.

Your friends at the Israel Guide Dog Center.

I immediately wanted to learn more about the Israel Guide Dog Center. Their mission is to help IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers and veterans exposed to dangerous situations, along with other Israelis suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

PTSD has debilitating symptoms such as recurring nightmares, frequent panic attacks, depression, and a spectrum of other trauma-related symptoms that profoundly impact the lives of those it afflicts. The Center’s work offers support and rehabilitation for individuals dealing with the challenging aftermath of trauma.

Beyond its core mission of breeding, training, and pairing dogs with individuals in need, the Israel Guide Dog Center has expanded its reach. They rescued animals affected by the Hamas massacre in southern Israel, provided extra provisions for dogs, and facilitated opportunities to offer emotional support. Their ongoing efforts bring smiles and a sense of comfort to countless children, families, hospital patients, soldiers, and entire communities, showcasing the multifaceted benefits of their work.

As a dog lover, I know how extraordinarily gifted these companions are. They seem to perceive the world with a sensitivity far beyond our own. On that day, my stress and anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by my sweet dog, Alfie. He instinctively sensed my distress and comforted me, nestling into my lap and showering my face with licks. His presence and affection calmed my nerves and helped ground me.

Our children sometimes surprise us with their thoughtfulness in the most heartwarming ways. My children chose a remarkable and unexpected way to honor my birthday, which was fueled by their passion for helping others. The gesture not only reflected the positive impact of their actions but served as a reminder that everyone has the potential to contribute meaningfully through donations. It highlighted the beauty of generosity and the ripple effect of kindness.

In response, I matched their generous gift and doubled my donation to the Israel Guide Dog Center.

The adage is true: our livelihood is shaped by what we earn, but our life gains significance by our acts of giving. A life of substance is carved from not ignoring the plight of others but from a commitment to making impactful contributions to society.

My children’s generosity transformed my birthday from a day meant to be for personal celebration to one of deeper meaning. Knowing that I extended help to others empowered me and created a ripple effect of positivity that impacted all parties involved.

Several months later, my children received a postcard from an Israeli who benefited from their donation to the Israel Guide Dog Center. He wrote:

Shalom,

Because of your support of the Israel Guide Dog Center, I have been partnered with my new PTSD service dog, Jake (Not his real name). He is such a special dog with a huge personality. He brings me so much joy and is a relief at night. Every time I wake up in the middle of the night, Jake comforts me, it also touches my soul deeply. I am grateful to you for bringing me my new family member and changing my life. 

Sending you a big Thank You. 

Omer and Jake (Not their real names)

Maggie O’Haire, an associate professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue University, wouldn’t be surprised. According to her research, she continues to hear that service dogs are saving lives. Her findings have been instrumental in demonstrating the impact of human-animal interactions. She emphasizes that service dogs are not a cure for PTSD and other disabilities, but for some military veterans and civilians, they can offer benefits that make symptoms easier to manage.

Wounded IDF soldiers may no longer be on the battlefield, but they face a new struggle – their rehabilitation. Israeli guide dogs empower individuals dealing with physical and mental health challenges to navigate a greater degree of independence in their daily lives. These four-legged heroes offer more than assistance; they provide a lifeline of unconditional love and companionship to their handlers, enabling them to embrace life more fully. Their unwavering devotion and tireless efforts, embody the transformative power of love and service.

About the Author
Orly Benaroch Light is the Founder and CEO of Mid-Life Women Inc. Mid-life Women is a community hub where women 50+ can connect, share, learn, inspire, champion, and support each other. Orly is also the Founder and CEO of MCE Conferences Inc. an all-female continuing medical education company. She is an activist for women empowerment and humanitarian. Previous and current affiliations: WILPF-US, Peace is Loud, UN Women, NGO CSW/NY, Peace Now, ALLMEP, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Orly was a training captain for Vice President Kamala Harris during her 2019 presidential campaign. She is most proud of being a mom.
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