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The story of Bella and Jean goes far beyond your typical heart-warming adoption account. Joy Unleashed is about finding true belonging and purpose, about reaching people who were previously unreachable, about providing primal comfort, and about bringing joy just by entering a room. It is about the kind of human-animal bond that breaks through loneliness, fear, and the types of losses that leave us feeling shaken to our core.
Perhaps the best part of Bella's story is the element of unlikeliness. Just as Bella was an unlikely candidate for what she became (a highly successful, much-loved therapy dog), nearly every one of us will also face times during our journey of becoming when others deem us unlikely—perhaps unlikely to become something special, or unlikely to make a difference. The things that made Bella an unlikely therapy dog, her rough beginnings, her issues with other dogs and certain kinds of touch, as well as a general fearfulness, aren't really all that different from the types of things that keep many individuals from experiencing acceptance or success.
Both Bella and Jean needed something that only the other could provide. As Jean wrestled with the loss of her job, with being uprooted from her home, and with starting over at the age of 65, she found that she and Bella complemented one another, and that they each enabled what would have been impossible to accomplish alone.
This is a book for anyone who has ever found herself unmoored and in need of a new direction, a new destination, a new love, or a new place of belonging. This is a story that just may inspire you to be found by the animal who is waiting to become, in concert with you, joy unleashed.
I was drawn to this book because my rescue dog, Finn, and I are in the process of becoming a registered therapy dog team with Pet Partners (the organization through which Jean Baur and Bella have served). It has been affirming of our new mission to celebrate all that Bella and Jean have accomplished even as we are joining together to bring comfort and cheer to those in need of a little extra tender loving care.
One of my favorite parts of this read was when the author realized that the heart of therapy teamwork is really about showing up and being present in ways that dogs, by nature, know how to do best. It was at that moment that Jean Baur reflected on how she needed to become more doglike. Isn't that the truth, that in learning how to offer up what dogs so innately, and beautifully, communicate—that we are not alone and that we are wonderful just the way we are—we become more human.
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