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Special dog brings people together

ENCINITAS — Melissa Bussey has been volunteering for almost four years at the In-Patient Care Center at San Diego Hospice and the Institute for Palliative Medicine with her 18-year-old therapy dog, Baxter, and her husband, Dennis. With each evening visit, several times a week, she found herself continuously moved by what Baxter did for patients, family members, friends and staff.
“He would sprinkle magic into the lives of anyone he met and, almost at once, that person would display a more positive aura,” Bussey said.
As she witnessed these life-changing events with terminally ill patients, she began journaling her amazement after each visit.
“The patient’s pain level went from an eight to a zero because Baxter was in bed with this person, making eye contact, demanding nothing, and in his silence with his soulful eyes, he refocused, recalibrated their heart, their emotions, their pain, their perspective,” Bussey said. “He literally transformed the internal and external ambience. He was magical.”
After many pages of chronicling her volunteering with Baxter, Bussey decided to turn her scribbles of metaphors and truths into a book with all the proceeds going to support San Diego Hospice.
She was introduced to Karla Olson of Book Studio who lives in Encinitas, who “took my pasted together stories and in our many, many meetings at the E Street Café” hashed out the layout, the title, the chapter headings, the order and the cover along with another Encinitas local, Charles McStravick, a graphic artist.
“On some occasions, we were there for hours with Baxter by our side, who rested patiently as we discussed the potential customer who would want to read about him and his therapeutic value,” she said.
The baristas at the front counter have come to know them as the “the Baxter people” and on a few occasions the café’s owner, Bob Nanninga, even joined them to offer comments on the dilemma of the moment. After six months of making themselves at home in a private corner, they have a book ready to sell.
On Nov. 3, they opened the first copy of “Moments with Baxter,” and had its first readers, a local couple who came by to say hello and were fascinated by the book.
The final gift, Bussey said, was that her business meetings with Olson and the regulars at the E Street Café turned into friendship. Once again, Baxter connected her to new and special people.