Last Thursday I visited two assisted living facilities with a couple of registered Delta Society therapy dogs and their human “partners”. This is a volunteer activity I have often thought of doing over the years, but was never in the position of having the time to do it. Now, being retired, the time is available, and I think Bear will be wonderful at this “job”. What I didn’t realize going into the day was how connected I would immediately feel with the people we would be visiting.
I have always had a love for older folks – I’m talking about people who would be my parents’ ages if they were still living – 80’s, approaching their 90’s. Bless their hearts, they have no much to offer us “youngsters”. As we age, we begin to see more clearly that one day we might be where they are now – in nursing and assisted living homes, in hospital beds, or in our own homes, perhaps as shut-ins. Very few of us will make it into our advanced years without having to seek some kind of assistance to go on with our daily activities. Those who are able to remain independent are truly blessed. Those whose physical or mental needs dictate their loss of independence need all kinds of assistance – physical, social, and emotional. And that is where a therapy dog can be of tremendous help.
The two dogs working on Thursday were Betty, a Portuguese Water Dog (like America’s official “first-dog”) and Charlie, a Benji-looking rescue dog. I followed Betty and Charlie through the living spaces and private rooms of seniors at these two assisted living homes and watched those sweet, lined faces light up like sunbeams when the dogs would come close. In so many cases, these animal lovers have had to leave behind special pets when they entered these facilities, and just to be able to pat and talk to a furry face and perhaps get a kiss from one of these friendly dogs makes their day. In other cases, meeting the dogs may stir up a memory that is decades-old of a long-ago special pet that was loved in childhood.
Of course, not everyone is a dog lover. One of the partners told me that you learn really fast which residents are either afraid of dogs, or just don’t like them. And of course, the dogs aren’t forced on anyone. In fact, before the dogs arrive, the residents have usually been told they are coming, and given the chance of seeing them or not. On Thursday, there were plenty of loving pats and offers of treats – sometimes residents had even saved a part of their own lunch to feed to the dogs. Watching that, I made a mental note to go home and work with Bear on the “easy” command, when he is accepting handouts.
On Saturday, the big Delta Society home training manual arrived. I was surprised at how many pages there were, and a little worried when I realized that Bear wasn’t the only one who would have to pass a test. Looks like we both have our work cut out for us, but I am already looking forward to Bear and I “going to work”.
I look forward to sharing this wonderful Pet Partners program with my readers when Bear and I are registered members of Delta Society (see how confident I am)! Hopefully, he and I will be ready to do some visits by the beginning of the year. Once we are registered, we will be able to work anywhere in the United States where a Delta Society program is in place. That means I should be able to find a facility near Mackinac Island to keep Bear on his toes over the summer! We are excited!