In many ways, Woods Bay resident Barry Schieber is learning what it’s like on the other end of the leash. Since getting Moritz, his Bernese mountain dog, in Switzerland eight years ago, it’s been the dog who has largely determined the life of his owner.
“I never could have imagined this,” Schieber said. “It was pretty clear early on that I was being led by an intuitive spirit. This dog has too much to offer to just keep him in a backyard.”
In November, Schieber will release his fifth book about Moritz: “Moments of Wonder, Life with Moritz.” The book is a collection of stories about Moritz’s uncanny ability to connect with humans: As dog and owner have visited sick and injured people in hospitals, spent time with kids in schools and met people on the streets and trails, Schieber has seen time and again how Moritz was able to open hearts, relax tensions and bring joy.
The tales are told from Moritz’s perspective.
The book series is part of a long chain of coincidences. Retired from a career as an investment adviser and a former dean of the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma Institute in Berkeley, Calif., Schieber met Moritz as a puppy when he was receiving medical treatment in Switzerland. He had never had a dog before, and wasn’t thinking of getting one – let alone one that would soon tip the scales at over 100 pounds.
But a conversation with friends about their Bernese mountain dog sparked an unshakable notion in Schieber’s head, and he went to visit a local breeder. “When I chose Moritz she said that he had the ghost of a woman inside him,” he said. “He is a sweet and gentle being.”
When Scheiber returned to Montana, he and Moritz joined the Delta Society’s Pet Partners Program, which trains owners and animals for volunteer work in hospitals and medical centers. It was immediately obvious Moritz had a special way with patients.
“He’d come in the room and not jump on the bed, thank goodness, but just go straight to the sick person and sit by them, maybe putting his nose on their chest or hand,” Scheiber said.
Some of the encounters with patients were so emotional or incredible that Schieber began sharing them by e-mail with his friends, who began asking for them every week. Self-published in 2002, Schieber’s first book, “Nose to Nose,” is a memoir of the pair’s experiences during visits to Community Medical Center in Missoula.
Schieber followed “Nose to Nose” with three children’s books: “A Gift to Share,” “An Open Heart” and “A Peaceful Mind.” They relay lessons of generosity, kindness and patience through stories of Moritz’s adventures.
Each of the five books has a different illustrator, but the art has a consistent pictorial quality, usually from a kid’s-eye view of the world.
The latest book, Schieber said, tries to explain “the Moritz factor.”
“Moritz is a very big and beautiful dog, but it is something about his character that when people encounter him some opening of the heart happens, an outpouring of generosity and kindness,” he said. “It is difficult to articulate sometimes, but it’s clearly felt.”
As an example, Schieber tells the story of a local teacher who met Moritz at a book-reading at her school. After the reading and discussion she took her students to gym class, but felt an urgent need to return to the library. When she entered the room Moritz immediately rose and headed toward her. He stopped, stared directly into her eyes and then began sniffing her right foot –staying focused on that area.
The teacher had undergone four surgeries and six nerve blocks on that foot, and was about to have another surgery – her last attempt to save the foot. The teacher, Schieber said, was comforted and inspired by the encounter.
“The books and myself are minor characters in this dog’s story,” Schieber said. “I’d like to be more like him.”
Schieber’s books are available online at Silent Moon Books’ Web site, www.nose-to-nose.com , or at some local bookstores including Books West and Borders in Kalispell and Page by Page in Polson.
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