Jane Singer is an author, historian, actress and voice over talent. She lives in Venice Beach California.
When I was a little kid back in Virginia, I fell hard for all things Civil War. I remember an early morning in July when I was about six. It was already muggy and sticky, the kind of day where the blazing sun shimmers and distorts everything you see, and foxfire rises like fog from the last of the dew on the grass. Sitting on the ground in the shade of a huge pink-blossomed Mimosa tree in the middle of the Bull Run battlefield in the town of Manassas, Virginia, I announced to my parents that they could just leave me there, bring me some Civil War books now and then, and I’d be just fine. Didn’t happen, of course.
“We’ll come back next week, Janie,” my father sighed, mopping his brow.
“Do we have to?” my mother and little brother said in unison. I just smiled and laid down in the grass, looking for the glint of a buried sword, or the tip of a bullet.
The guide said that on this very day, July 21st, 1861, over a hundred years ago, a battle between Union and Confederate soldiers began across the Potomac River. The Union lost big and skedaddled back to DC. The Battle of Bull Run left the capitol open to invasion. No one back then knew or could guess that the war would last four years and cost 620,000 lives.
So after hearing a lot about the famous generals, the battle maneuvers, and the Sunday picnickers who drank champagne and watched the battle from a ridge, I began to wonder about the people who never got into the history books, the unknown men and women, little people in a great big war.
As I got older, I read everything I could get my hands on, haunted libraries and old book shops inhaling the smells of yellowed pages, read old manuscripts in that funny, swooping 19th century handwriting, and stared at the photos taken by Matthew Brady, the greatest Civil War photographer.
Today, I live in Venice, CA, far from Virginia, and still study and write about the events and people of that long ago time.
Something extra special that I do…
Do you know what a social therapy dog is? I didn’t until I read about an organization called Lend A Paw and a no-kill shelter called New Leash On Life that rescued dogs from the pound, picked the ones with great dispositions and trained them. A social therapy dog is a comfort animal, not a service dog. They don’t guide the blind, or detect seizures but they are very special kinds of helpers. I saw little Caspy’s picture on the New Leash on Life website. He’d been rescued from a pound, fostered, given obedience training and was up for adoption as a social therapy dog- a calm presence who could bring all kinds of love and attention to people who need it most like the elderly, hospital patients, the developmentally disabled, etc. It was a perfect fit! I applied to the program immediately. Here is in part, why: My daughter Jess and I work as self-defense instructors at the Kayne-Eras Center in Culver City California. Our students have many challenges: autism, learning differences, behavior issues, and have benefited from our program called Blocking the Punches. Jess and I have had a lot of training in the martial art called JuJitsu and while we don’t try to make ninjas of our students, we know we really help them recognize danger, prevent assaults, verbal abuse, and learn basic self-defense moves. And when we brought in a stuffed dog to use as a communication tool one day, some of the non-verbal students started talking to the dog!
So our journey with little Caspy— a poodle/havanese mix—began. Jess and I had to get trained to work in the program, have approved supervised hours at various sites until finally we earned our credentials. (Caspy already had his. We just had to catch up.) We visit all kinds of facilities with him and other therapy dog teams. He’s a good listener, never judges, keeps secrets and is also a great family pet. Turns out theses four-legged angels make a huge difference in the lives of the people. Aren’t we lucky? Read an article about us here.
If you want to know more about the kind of work we do check out this site. You’ll see what New Leash on Life does, and how Lend A Paw works.