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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Goodbye Mr. D

I remember each time entering Mr. D’s room. Even before I had a chance to ask how he was feeling he always said “Hi Blondie,” the name he had given to Maggie.
Mr. D passed away last week. He was one of my regulars at the VA hospital and definitely one of my favorites. You never heard a complaint come out of Mr. D’s mouth. Always a smile on his face. His favorite topic-baseball-and I never admitted I didn’t fully follow the game. He probably knew but never let on. We danced around the topic. We enjoyed each other’s company and conversation. But most importantly he enjoyed his time with Maggie. I know Maggie enjoyed her time with him as well. When we turned the corner near his room she used to pull on her leash eager to enter his room. This past time she pulled on the leash and then stopped. The smells were different. She looked up at me.
“I know,” I said “I miss him also,” I told her as I patted her head.
Is it wrong of me to ask how he passed?
I was told Mr. D was transferred to the main hospital for a procedure. He was left alone momentarily in search of a consent form. When they returned … he had passed.
So like Mr. D. No complaints, and in his own terms.
Goodbye and a salute from Maggie and me.

You will be missed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Most Favorite Place

With schools being closed over the summer Maggie and I have had the opportunity to shift out focus and spend time with middle school kids (and the literacy program) at many libraries across the area. We’ve traveled to the East town Library, Ridley Park Library, Ridley Township Library and the Gladwyne Library. Seeing smile’s on kid’s faces when they greet Maggie is one thing but when they have a book in hand adds to the delight. Many of these programs are scheduled in the evening as these kids are in camp during the day. They come in raring to go with tons of energy to read and tons of questions about Maggie.
I am always curious which books each child picks to read. This season I have seen a lot of “Captain Underpants”, Pete the Cat series”, A bunch of books about animals, “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, and some “Judy Blume’s a tale of the Fourth Grade Nothing”.
Being a part of the Literacy program is a wonderful experience. The idea is for the kids to read to the dog (or rabbit) in a non judge-mental environment. I love that the program continues over the summer as well. It helps reinforce their reading skills.
Does anyone remember the old Zany Brainy stores? They had a summer reading program for kids. The idea was to read a book a week and come in to the store and talk about it. What a great concept. Parents had to come drop the kids off for reading/discussion time at the store. Reading time=shopping time! My kids were part of this program and loved it as well. (I can’t begin to tell you how many toys we bought at the same time!)
This summer reading program has been a win win (and win). Maggie gets lots of hugs and treats. The kids get to practice their reading while petting Maggie and I get to be in my most favorite place.

The Library!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

My Own Bit of Therapy

I recently received some unfortunate news concerning a family member. Over the course of the following days I turned to Maggie as a source of comfort. As this was not my only time I have literally sat on my kitchen floor snuggling with Maggie I got to thinking… when I take Maggie on her visits the time allotted is one hour. We do this so not to wear out the dogs. When we are at the hospital we are on the go and move from room to room. There is no set time for each room but we try to visit as many rooms as possible. My question is how much benefit does one really get from a few minute visit from Maggie? What I mean to say is when I was on my kitchen floor with Maggie and feeling very down I spent quite some time with her-as much time as I needed till I felt a little better. I’m not saying that the people in the hospital are all feeling down but does a quick visit really elevate their mood?
Well, I certainly hope so. I also know for a fact that for the elderly people we visit it gives them something to trigger a memory, especially if they’ve had a pet before in their life. Hopefully this will be a happy memory.
Another thought worth mentioning is that quite often while either walking Maggie (especially over the summer at the shore) or else just sitting outside of Starbucks I will be approached by an individual to say Maggie reminds them of either their dog or a dog they know . This starts a conversation while they are petting her. This leads to a continued conversation about Maggie being a therapy dog etc. etc.
I’ve gotten a couple of responses of “I’ve been thinking about doing that with my dog.”
It makes me happy to be able to share my life with random people. It bothers me that we pass people on the street without uttering a hello every so often. I like to connect with people.

A dog can really bring people together in so many ways!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Where Are The Dogs?

As Maggie and I entered the VA Hospital last week we were greeted by one of our regulars. He was about to enter the Physical Therapy room as he spotted us walking down the hall. We usually check in at the Recreation Therapy Center first before doing our rounds but I stopped first to greet “Jim”.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Jim said
“Good to see you.”
“I need some good pet therapy today. I just found out my buddy died earlier today.”
“So sorry to hear,” I said as I ushered Maggie over so he could pet her.
As Jim is in a wheelchair I watched as he laid his face in her fur. Maggie being very used to this behavior rested her body on his chair and waited for him to pull back. When he came up for air he proceeded to tell me the story of how his friend was discharged from the hospital earlier in the week.  He saw his friend’s number come up on his cell phone but figured he would call him back later. Later never came as a massive heart attack took his (friends) life.
Now riddled with guilt Jim just needed some time with Maggie. I stayed with him as he spent some time with her. When he looked up at me I noticed some moisture in his eyes.
“Thanks I needed that,” he said as he turned to enter the PT room.

I had a feeling the rest of the visit would be comforting as well.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dog, Cat, Rabbit Therapy

Dog Therapy, Cat Therapy or Rabbit Therapy, it doesn’t really matter what type of animal offers love and comfort one needs. And it doesn’t matter if it is alive or not… What?
Maggie and I were visiting at the Haverford nursing home. It happened to be a beautiful day so many of the residents were sitting in the garden. When we approached a group sitting in a circle we heard a “meow” and saw a cat on a gentleman’s shoulder. At first glance the cat looked real and Maggie pulled me over. But when she smelled the cat she became momentarily confused. The cat continued to meow but the smell it emitted was not the smell Maggie expected.
The gentleman that was holding this cat was petting it continually and as I watched him he sincerely cared for it. He talked to it every so often and in response it purred. The gentleman was coherent and took a turn petting Maggie as well. I conversed with him, even asked him the name of his cat, “Captain”.
He genuinely seemed happy holding his “therapy cat”. I made eye contact with the head of the unit and she smiled. Whatever works she commented.
So who is to judge if the cat is alive or not, as long as it offers someone the comfort an individual needs then go for it!

I continue to learn.