by Cristina Navarro and Linda Unger
Two-year-old Molly understands both Spanish and English. She dispenses unconditional love as naturally as she breathes. And she brings smiles to the faces of everyone she meets.
Molly is a chocolate Labrador and certified therapy dog, and on many Fridays at our Covenant House program, you can find her playing with our young people just like any family dog in any house.
For some of our young people at Covenant House, Molly is the first dog they’ve had the chance to pet, hug and love. “Molly always puts me in a better mood,” said 18-year-old Julie. “Just seeing her cute face and her wagging tail makes me happy. I love dogs, and I want to have a dog when I leave Covenant House and get my own place, so it’s so nice to see Molly. She can really sense when you’re having a bad day. When I’m feeling sad, Molly will sit next to me, and I feel better.”
Julie, like so many of our young people, did not grow up with loving parents, surrounded by support and the simple things most of us take for granted, like birthday celebrations, graduations and the unconditional love of pets. Molly is just one more special way we can try to bring “normal” into the lives of our young people.
“I love all animals, and I love having the chance to play with Molly,” said Michael, who makes sure he knows Molly’s schedule and never misses a visit. “I found out that she speaks Spanish, so I love speaking to her in English and Spanish. That’s so cool that a dog speaks both! It’s great having Molly come because she just wants to play with you, so I always look forward to seeing her.”
As exceptional as Molly is, she cannot visit Covenant House without some human assistance. Her owner, June Bleich, and Molly’s trainer, Guillermo (Memo) Roa, bring in Molly on a regular basis, donating their time to brighten the lives of our staff and kids.
“The impressions of each of our visits will stay with me forever,” said June. “On one of my first visits, about a half dozen residents were waiting for Molly and Memo in the gym. Seeing these beautiful young people there, it was incomprehensible that the streets were recently their home and that they have been abused and in some cases just abandoned. But today, they were safe; they were protected.
“Molly started playing basketball with a few of the guys, and once word got out, the gym filled to capacity. For that hour, they were just kids, playing with their dog. I saw the pain lift from their faces, and they all wanted their photos taken with Molly. They couldn’t believe that she understood both English and Spanish, and they LOVED suggesting commands to her in both languages. It was magic.”
One of June’s favorite stories involves 19-year-old Juan. “I didn’t know much about his background, only that he lived on the streets for far too long,” said June. “He was carrying a violin. He told me he carried it everywhere and that it was a gift from Covenant House.
“I asked him if he would feel comfortable playing for us, and he quickly said that he would love to. A few residents, staff, Molly, Memo and I were his audience. He played ‘Amazing Grace,’ and Molly cocked her head back and forth with each beautiful note. It truly was amazing.
“When it was over, Juan shared a little about his plans to attend college and to continue to study music and the violin. I asked his permission to give him some motherly advice, and when he said yes, I told him to share this God-given talent and to bring his strength and passion to others.”
That day, Molly fell asleep in the back seat on the drive back home. “I think she was resting peacefully, knowing she made a difference.”
The same could be said for June and for Molly’s amazing trainer, Memo. They make a difference with every visit to our program, and we are grateful for their time, their passion and their love for our kids — and for bringing Molly’s joy and unconditional love into the lives of our young people.
Ed. note: Covenant House at 31 E. Armat St. in Germantown is a 76-bed shelter and a program for homeless youths 21 and under in desperate situations. Their goal is to help these homeless young people become healthy, happy, responsible, productive and ultimately independent adults. They never turn anyone away. There are Covenant Houses in 31 cities across six countries. Molly is at the one in New York City. More information: www.covenanthousepa.org