Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Goodbye Sweet Stan


I’ve grown accustomed to walking into the VA hospital in Philadelphia and going with the flow. For instance, there was the time this past winter when we weren’t allowed to visit the 2nd floor because of a flu outbreak. There was another time when the physical therapy room was off limits because of a bug infestation. Maggie and I move from room to room and visit with whomever wants to visit with us.
The one thing that continues to throw me is when one of my regulars (someone that I see consistently every visit), passes away without warning. This week I learned it was sweet Stan.
Stan was soft spoken and he was confined to a wheelchair. I visited with on the 2nd floor right by the nurse’s station. He had himself parked there all afternoon because he liked to watch the comings and goings on the three hallways that converged there.
I came upon Stan many years ago. When I first approached him and asked if he wanted to pet Maggie he replied “I can’t move my arms.”
“Ok” I answered him and moved away. The following visit I noticed he watched me with his eyes. He paid attention to my interaction with his fellow residents. I decided to try again to engage him. This time I approached him and didn’t mention Maggie, but rather asked how his day was going. His response would be the same for the rest of our meetings,
 “I’m alive, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
Our friendship began slowly at first and we learned to navigate through many topics. I found he was a news junkie and loved to talk politics. He told me his family visited every weekend. He was an optimist with kind blue eyes. He always thanked me for stopping by.
I was not prepared to hear of his passing.
Good-bye sweet Stan. I will think about you whenever I pass the nurse’s station.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What the Duck?

Yesterday, during my visit at the VA hospital in Philadelphia, I met a new resident. He had a visitor himself, his wife. When I poked my head in and asked if he wanted to meet Maggie he said “of course.”
After a few minutes of petting Maggie and hearing all about her, I asked if he had any animals in his life. His wife answered for him. We have a cat, his name is teeny and he weighs 20 lbs.
“Oh,” I said, “not quite so teeny.”
The gentleman smiled as he pulled out a small photo album. I flipped through the pictures and pointed to a specific one.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s our pet duck.”
I must have had a surprised look on my face because he answered with a “yes, we had a pet duck, raised it since it was four days old.”
As the man (and his wife) continued with their story I noticed his features soften, and his voice become more lively.
“I kept the duck in my pocket to keep it warm,” he continued. “This way it didn’t miss its mother. As soon as it was old enough, it learned to follow me everywhere.
“What was its name?”  I asked
“Quack,” he answered.
I should have known!
When I asked where the duck slept, his wife chimed in; in a baby’s crib on the 3rd floor. He would hop up the stairs at night, we would put him in the crib and he would stay all night. He didn’t complain once. I thought back to raising four children and the many sleepless nights.
I looked back at the picture. It was of a large duck. I can’t imagine this duck following me around the house, but then again Maggie is a 70lb dog and she follows me everywhere.
When I asked about “toilet training” the gentleman told me he would lay a sheet of newspaper down in the corner of a room and “Quack” learned that this was his spot to do his “business.”
Watching this man talk fondly about his pet duck taught me that there are no boundaries for love.
I never did ask how they settled on a duck in the first place….it didn’t really matter.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Maggie the Therapy Dog

Save the date Wednesday April 18th 2018
Main Point Books
116 North Wayne Ave
Wayne PA.
Maggie and I will there at 10:30 for Story Time

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Therapy in New York City

I recently took a weekend trip to New York City. As I couldn’t take Maggie with me, I placed her in the very capable hands of my adult children. I missed her the whole weekend.
Walking around the city I was amazed at the number of dogs who were living with their owners. Why you might ask? Only because being such a suburbanite, I am so used to giving Maggie the ability to run in our backyard whenever she needs exercise and activity. Guess I need to get out more often, as these dogs look perfectly content and cared for.
As the weekend wore on, I missed Maggie more and more. So each time I took a walk I would consciously look at any dog that I passed and try to determine their age and breed. I would also try to make eye contact with their owner. This way I might be able to engage them in a conversation and possibly ask if I could pet their dog. No such luck. I did manage to tell a few people their dogs were beautiful. Most people kept walking, but I got a few nods of the head.
It was my way of getting a little therapy while I was away from Maggie.
While it was an enjoyable weekend, getting back to Maggie was even better.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Maggie's a Model


Shout out to Villanova University on their creativity and concern for their students. Maggie and I (and a number of our furry friends) were invited to attend Villanova’s “Love the Skin Your In” walk the runway.
We were invited to give support and comfort to the models behind the scenes, but then it was decided to include us in their fashion show. It was a wonderful experience for both our pets and for the audience to see the therapy dogs (and rabbit). We got a lot of oohs and ahhs as we walked down the aisle.
Villanova has really stepped up their game this academic year. Every Wednesday between 4-5 pm Therapy dogs are invited to help destress the students in the health center. What a brilliant way to get these kids to become familiar with the center and not see it as taboo if they are feeling anxious, homesick, or having difficulty navigating something in their lives. While there, they can visit with the dogs, and just chill for a while. The health center in turn has raffles for the students and other small activities to make the students feel welcome.
Maggie and I are happy to be part of this process and have met some wonderful people; students and faculty alike.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tug of the Heart

After visiting the VA Hospital for three years one gets to know many of the residents. I like to refer to them as my regulars. Although rooms will get moved and roommates shifted a good many people have been there for many years. Maggie and I have gotten used to seeing these people every other Tuesday when we visit and they tell us they look forward to our visit as well.
So when I walked in last Tuesday after missing a week (because of my travel schedule) and was told two of my regulars had passed away I nearly stumbled over Maggie, as I had not been anticipating this .
Len was known for his chocolate candies (no he never gave any to Maggie) and his amazing orchards that were always in bloom on his window sill. I don’t know how long he resided at the VA but he was there longer then we had been visiting. He loved to watch old movies and we always had an interesting discussion about them. He always thanked me for stopping by. I know Maggie and I were there to offer him comfort, but every time I left his room I felt uplifted.
Len- rest in peace, I know you are in a place where there is no pain.
Bruce was a man of few words, but always eager to interact with Maggie. We could always find Bruce and his aide wandering the halls, sitting and watching TV or participating in horticulture class. I could see Bruce’s mind was on the go. I understand Bruce’s Mom would visit often although I never had the opportunity to meet her. I know she was a dedicated mother. I feel for her loss.
Two men living under the same roof living very different lives.
As an outsider the one amazing thing I admire about the VA hospital is the brotherhood and respect you feel. The Honor Guard comes forward when one passes. A person from the same division will put on their uniform and stand guard outside the room until the body is picked up by the morgue.

What a wonderful way to honor the deceased.

Monday, October 16, 2017

De-Mystifying the Therapy Dog

The other day I stopped into a store to pick up a drink. The clerk was friendly and asked what I had planned for my day. When asked these types of questions I usually respond with “ you know a little of this and a little of that.” But that day for some reason I decided to share a little more. I told the clerk my therapy dog and I had a session planned for the afternoon, a visit to a college. She looked at me with concern and said “I hope your dog feels better soon.”
With the rise in popularity of therapy (and service) dogs I imagined the majority of people are aware of their function in the world. However, clearly the word has not reached everyone. I decided to take a few minutes to educate this person on the role of a therapy dog, not for a pat on my back, but rather so she can educate the next person.
Similarly, I had a conversation with my niece who is raising a dog to become a seeing eye dog for the blind. Dino is 9 months old and travels everywhere she does, He wears a vest identifying himself as a dog in training. My niece also carries an ID card. Unfortunately there have been a few occasions where people have been confused and denied her (and Dino) entrance to a building. They have asked her if Dino is blind. They have asked her is she is blind. They have a hard time comprehending her role in training this dog. (The early years are spent socializing the dog before determining if the dog can pass the requirements to be a full service dog for the blind).This is an unfortunate situation as she is a volunteer and is doing this out of the goodness of her heart.

Although therapy and service dogs have two completely different roles they both help people overcome obstacles. My hope is that in time and with more education people will recognize the good they do in people’s lives.