Our Delta Society Pet Partners group lost one of our own last week. Pat Howard passed away following complications from heart surgery, but the contribution of love, joy, and happiness she gave will be remembered forever in the hearts of those who were touched by her and her precious Charlie.
Pat would have normally been at the 2-day Delta workshop I attended, but she was off at Clown School that weekend (she became a licensed clown, know as “Pepper”). She and Carol Edeker, one of her best friends, wanted to cross that activity off their bucket list, and that’s the only thing that could have kept her from working with her precious Pet Partner friends. So, my first meeting with Pat and Charlie was when Bear and I were evaluated by Delta Society to become Pet Partners. That day I was lamenting that Bear had a “thing” about the car and mentioned that someone might have to help me get him into it when we left. When we got ready to go, Pat followed me out to the SUV and bodily picked up my 80-lb dog like he was a feather and placed him gently into the back of the Ford. As I was thanking her profusely, she grinned and said, “That’s what we’re here for – to help out.”
Pat had one of those faces that just makes you want to smile – even on your gloomiest day. In reading through some of the comments friends wrote about Pat, the most commonly repeated phrase was the “twinkle in Pat’s eye”, that “she loved passionately and compassionately”, and her “devoted love for all living things.” Her faithful sidekick, Charlie, was Benji reincarnated. Over the next few weeks I discovered that Pat and Charlie had been working as Delta Pet Partners for nearly eight years. She had been visiting a friend in a nursing home one day when the four-legged brigade arrived, and after watching them in action, she went home and told Charlie she had found their mission. After obedience school for Charlie, a Delta workshop for Pat, and passing the Delta Pet Partners evaluation, the two became one of the most popular visiting teams in Albany. Charlie passed his complex rating test with flying colors, so he was allowed into environments where patients’ behaviors could not always be predicted. They made friends wherever they went.
When Pat retired as Assistant Director of the Department of Family and Children Services her presence in the community never slowed down. In fact, upon retirement she found herself busier than ever. She was part of an Alzheimer’s Support Group, a member of the World Wildlife Federation, an active Red Hat Society lady, and a passionate RV camper and member of RVing Women – and then, of course, there was Delta Society.
The story of Pat and Charlie is such a sweet one. It didn’t start that way exactly because Pat met Charlie in Alabama in 1998 by hitting him with her car as he dashed across the road. Unbelievably, Charlie’s owners didn’t want him and weren’t interested in taking him to the vet. So Pat picked up the injured little dog and placed him in her car. After he was treated, he went home to Albany with Pat, and that – as they say – was that. After they became Pet Partners (five years after Pat saved him), they began visiting hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, schools, pre-schools, Alzheimer’s day care centers, day care centers for the mentally and physically handicapped (ARC and PRIMUS), Youth Detention Center for the READ program, Project Hero and Humane Education, Georgia Special Olympics, SOWEGA Council On Aging, Girl Scout groups, Easter Seals, Lions Learning Center, summer grief workshops for children, Easter Egg Hunts and many more.
With a history of heart disease in her family, Pat always credited Charlie with keeping her active and healthy. Even when she didn’t feel like going anywhere, Charlie was always ready for a walk, and doing their community visits together got them out and going on a regular basis.
There are so many “special” stories I could write about this wonderful team, but I will only share one with you today – in the words of Kaycee Dilliard, the Adult Day Care Director. “Pat and Charlie loved visiting the Albany Advocacy Resource Center day program, which serves 30+ developmentally disabled adults. This is a high activity level area and is recommended for medium to large dogs with complex ratings. There are all levels of developmentally disabled adults at the facility, and one especially noticeable person is a young man named Chad. He does not speak, and initially demonstrated fear of the Delta dogs that visit there. After many visits and encouragements, Chad began paying some attention to the dogs, especially Charlie. There were many high fives and much praise when he would do any interaction with Charlie. Chad is now to the point where his face lights up, and he reacts with glee when Charlie and Pat enter the room. He smiles and snaps his fingers and points down wanting Charlie to sit. The sit sign is given to Charlie, and Chad is estatic thinking that he has made Charlie sit. He then shakes Charlie’s paw and this produces more sounds of joy. More high fives are done, and he takes much pleasure in this procedure. He does sign language, and at each visit he signs that he loves Pat and Charlie. Chad and his caregiver are often seen in the community at the grocery store or at an assisted living facility where he visits a relative. He
always recognizes Pat even when Charlie is not there and demonstrates much pleasure in seeing her. What a gift it has been to this Delta Pet Partner Team to see the change in Chad from the time when he was frightened of the dogs and showed no concern for the people, to the present time when he is so very happy when
Charlie and Pat come into the room.”
Bear and I were scheduled to work Monday afternoon at the hospital from 1-3. Marty called Sunday to tell me that before Pat died she had requested that the Pet Partners – with our dogs – serve as the honor guard at her memorial service. If anything can be funny about all this, it was Carol’s description of her conversation with the funeral home director, asking if “these dogs” were going to be disruptive of the service. Carol patiently explained that they were all trained and would behave beautifully. So on Monday afternoon, after some of us worked at the hospital, we joined the rest of our group at the funeral home at 4 p.m. Special seating had been arranged for us, with space beside each chair for our dogs. Everyone there knew of Pat’s profound love for this organization, and they welcomed us with sweet smiles and quite a few tears. The most poignant moment came when Marty came in with Charlie. Since Pat had been in the hospital for several weeks, Charlie had not been working (at Delta we aren’t allowed to work with any dog we haven’t been evaluated with). He came in with Marty after we had all been seated, and when he spotted all his buddies, he was so excited to see them all. Charlie is 13 now. Marty had kept him often for Pat when she was on trips, so Charlie is used to being at Marty’s house, and that is where he’s been since Pat first entered the hospital. He fits right in with Marty’s Happy Jack and Bridget, and Marty told Pat years ago that if anything ever happened to her, Charlie would have a forever home at her house. Marty and Betty Hester plan to be evaluated with Charlie, and as soon as that happens, he will be back at work. Marty thinks Charlie still thinks Pat is “on vacation” and will return, so she is hoping having a job to do again will redirect his thinking. Linda and Buddy and Bear and I visited Marty and her entourage Thursday afternoon to watch a video on the Paws for Reading program. Charlie seemed very much at home – happy and outgoing, enjoying the attention Linda and I gave him and playing with Bear and Buddy. As Marty said in the memorial she wrote for Pat for Delta Society, “I am honored that Pat has entrusted me with the care of Charlie. He and I will seek our Delta Pet Partner registry as soon as possible, so he can continue the work he loves with the people and dogs he loves . . . until Pat comes to take him home.”