'She's been a lifesaver for me'

October 15, 2007 12:00 am

By LISA BRITTON

Baker City Herald

Emily sits, her pointy ears perked straight up, and waits for Lew Robbins to speak.

"Emily, can you get me the red bowl?" Robbins says.

Emily leaps to action, trots toward two bowls — one red, one yellow — and retrieves the one he wants.

She chomps the offered treat of half a dog bone.

"I've taught her to pick up the bowl and give it to me, but I haven't got her to put it in the dishwasher," he says with a smile.

Emily's tricks don't end there.

Robbins forms his fingers into the shape of a handgun and points at the dog.

"Bang!" he says.

In slow motion, Emily flops down to the floor — then immediately springs up and waits for a treat.

"That was fast," Robbins chuckles as she nips the dog bone from his hand.

"I go through these things like crazy," he says as he holds up a nearly empty sack of dog treats.

But Emily does more than just eat — she helped Robbins deal with life when Darlene, his wife of 52fi years, passed away in January 2004.

"That was the toughest thing I'd ever gone through. She's been a lifesaver for me," he says as he scratches behind Emily's ears. "I can't go anywhere without this dog."

Robbins, who turns 77 Oct. 25, has been around Baker since he took a job as the high school ag teacher in 1962. Prior to that, he spent seven years teaching in Heppner.

After retiring in 1985, he and his wife operated Robbin's Arrow on Main Street until 1995.

He's been retired ever since and keeps busy teaching Emily tricks, carving canes and walking sticks and making metal name signs.

"I get up in the morning with nothing to do, and go to bed with only half of it done," he says with a smile.

Robbins got Emily about four years ago from his oldest daughter, ReeElla.

"She was here one day and said how'd you like to have a dog like this?" he says. "I hadn't had a dog in 20 years."

He hesitated to answer — and wound up with Emily, who was recovering from an encounter with a car that "broke the back end of her all up," Robbins says.

You wouldn't know that now — Robbins has clocked her at 20 mph running beside his four-wheeler.

Emily is a "border collie and I don't know what," he says.

The tricks he's taught her — well, you almost have to see to believe.

"Emily, go turn on the light," he says, pointing to a lamp on a nearby table.

The dog walks over and nudges her nose against the touch-powered lamp.

The light comes on and she heads back for her treat.

But there's more.

"Emily, turn it up higher," Robbins says.

She obliges, touching her nose to the lamp three times until the light is as bright as it gets.

The lamp, by the way, is tethered by string to a sturdy chunk of wood to protect it from the force of Emily's nose.

"She broke one," Robbins says.

Then he says to Emily, "Isn't it time to say your prayers?"

She bows her head to the side, then looks up when Robbins says "Amen."

He'd never trained a dog before Emily, but says it wasn't that tough because he worked with her natural actions.

"If you catch them doing something, then work with them, they'll do it naturally," he says.

One example is this command: "Emily, lick your lips."

To that, her tongue slips out and over her nose.

Robbins laughs at her antics, then leans down almost to her level.

"You're amazing, aren't you?" he says.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), pet ownership provides medical benefits, including lowered blood pressure, decreased stress, reduced bone loss, lowered cholesterol levels and improved blood circulation.

Also, the HSUS states that "responsibility of caring for an animal often gives new meaning to someone who is living alone or who is far from loved ones."

An HSUS article titled "How Pets Help People" describes the benefits pets give older folks: "a pet can offer you a sense of well being, a sense of encouragement, and even a reason for living. Being responsible for another life can add new meaning to your own life, and having to care for and provide a loving home to a companion animal can also help you remain active and healthy."

Robbins, for instance, has to play tug-of-war with Emily whenever he tries to water the flowers.

"I can't pick up a garden hose without her grabbing ahold and helping me pull it," he says with a grin.