I haven’t written in a while about my visits with Bear and our Delta Pet Partners group, and I’ve been wanting to share some of our stories.
Two weeks ago Bear and I visited the Albany Advocacy Resource Center (ARC), a non-profit organization that promotes the general welfare of people with disabilities and fosters developmental programs in their behalf. This particular ARC center is a adult independent living program that offers instruction in daily living and self-help skills, exercise, functional education skills, and safety guidelines for every-day life. It was the first time Bear and I had visited the center, and we were excited to meet a whole group of new friends. Marty, our group’s “commander-in-chief”, told me ahead of time that everyone at the center loves to be photographed, and photo releases were available if I wanted to publish a few pictures on this blog. I was delighted to have the freedom to do that!
It just so happened that all three dogs who visited that day were blonde – Judy and Belle (a girly-girl, small Golden Retriever Bear thinks is his sister), Marty and Happy Jack (an almost white Labrador Retriever Bear thinks is his brother), and the Bearster. It also happened that once my camera came out EVERYONE wanted a photo made with ALL THREE blondes. So that’s what we did!
On Monday of this week, we visited Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Our routine there is for us all to first go to the Oncology waiting room where we visit with friends and family members of patients receiving radiation or chemotherapy.
From Oncology, we moved on to the Behavorial Health wing, then to two floors that specialize in Geriatrics. We had a really large group in Behavorial Health on Monday, and they all interacted with the dogs beautifully. It always makes me smile to watch the faces light up when we walk in with these four-legged wonders. I’ve learned that even when a person may appear shy or unresponsive, they will usually want to at least touch the dogs once. Bear’s “trick” of velcroing his head into a person’s lap has elicited more “Awwwww’s!” and “Look, ya’ll! He likes me!” than you would believe. He makes every person feel like they are the most special person in the room. He’s a natural at this – I’m so glad we’re part of this group.
Bear and I visited one of the Geriatric floors with Linda and cute little Buddy, a terrier/poodle mix. The hospital provides a clean sheet in each patient’s room, in case one of the smaller dogs is invited onto the bed. Buddy did get invited to jump up and lay next to one patient on Monday, and that lady’s smile and eyes just lit up her face. She was a real dog lover, and she was missing her own dog at home.
One more story – from a visit we made today (Thursday) at one of the area assisted living homes. Bear and I and Linda and Buddy were visiting in the Alzheimer’s wing, and I noticed a lady I hadn’t seen before. An aide was helping her to a chair, and as I watched her walk my eyes traveled up to her face. She was a beautiful woman – tall and slender, with skin that showed no mark of time at all. She was dressed in a lovely pantsuit, and she held herself regally. The only giveaway to the reason she was there were her eyes. Looking into them was like gazing into two lovely, but bottomless, pools of water. There was no recognition of her surroundings or of us. I glanced at the aide, silently asking permission to approach with Bear. She gave me a slight smille that seemed to say, “You can try it.”
The woman was sitting straight up in her chair, looking down. I slowly walked Bear up to her, but she didn’t acknowledge us at all, never lifting her head. I gave Bear a little more lead, and he siddled up to the chair – almost in slow motion – placing his big head directly on her hands as they lay folded in her lap. The woman jerked slightly, and you could see something change in her eyes. She slowly moved one hand out from under Bear’s head and gently placed it between his ears. Bear didn’t move a muscle. Slowly, the hand began to move back and forth, rubbing Bear’s head from behind the tip of his black nose, over his muzzle, up the slope of his head between his eyes, and back between his ears . . . one stroke, then another. The aide’s eyes were wide.
“Did you used to have a dog, Mrs . . . .?” she asked.
The woman slowly nodded her head.
I asked, “Was it a big dog like this one?”
She stopped petting Bear, brought the other hand out from under his head, looked up at us and moved her hands slightly apart – indicating that her dog had been very small. She stroked Bear another minute, then folded her hands and bowed her head again – but for a moment, just a moment – her eyes were shining, and we knew she was remembering a tiny dog she had loved in the past.
Every hour of training, every mile on the road going back and forth between home and Albany to visit, every grouchy time we’ve had to bodily lift Bear into the Ford, every moment spent bathing and grooming – all of it is worth it for just one shining moment like that one.
All the members of our group have stories to tell like this one – where their dog has brought a person joy or peace, or has triggered a beloved memory. But for Bear and me – this was our first. I’ll never forget it.