Changing my mind about the “book talks” tonight and going with another subject (one dear to my heart). We’ll do books on Monday – I promise!
Note: Header photograph was taken during a previous Pet Partner visit.
On Monday Bear and I joined Linda & Buddy (a poodle/terrier mix), Cheryl & Missy (an Airedale), and Barbara & Charlye (a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel) for our bi-weekly visit to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. After two years of being “the one who holds the leash” in a Pet Partner team, I’ve found it’s the hospital visits I enjoy the most. Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting the assisted living homes, the nursing homes, and the adult care facilities. Bear and I have taken part in the Paws for Reading program at a middle school, and last month we visited a Regional Youth Detention Center. Wherever we go, there is always someone who we feel is touched by our dogs – usually more than one person. Even very troubled teenagers incarcerated behind barbed wire fencing just can’t stay tough for too long when faced with furry heads, scratchy tongues, and adoring eyes.
Bear hasn’t told me if he prefers one place over another. He simply jumps in the car (yes!), rides to wherever we’re going, jumps out and sits quietly while I snap on his working harness, and then starts wiggling with joy when he first spots the other team members.
But back to my original thought. I think I enjoy the hospital so much because we never know what situation we’ll encounter, and some of that is because we cover such a large area while we’re there. We visit five different departments in two hours, but opportunities to bring a smile to someone’s face abound even as we walk from one department to another, or get on the elevators, or pass through the busy main lobby. We just never know when one of those “moments” will happen.
On Monday, it happened for Bear and me in the Oncology waiting room and for Barbara & Charlye in Behavioral Health.
It’s hard to predict how many folks will be in Oncology on any given day. Sometimes that waiting room is teeming with family and friends waiting for loved ones to return from their scheduled cancer treatment, and occasionally there is a patient waiting to be called to the back.
Monday there were six people waiting. Bear and I approached a couple of folks, but neither of them wanted to visit, and we moved on. A lady sat by herself in one area, watching the dogs and smiling, waiting for us to get to her. She was so sweet and clearly couldn’t wait to get her hands on one of the dogs. Bear “pulled a Bear” and practically climbed into her lap, nestling in as close as possible to her knees and putting his big head snugly on her lap. She immediately bent down and gave him a kiss between his ears, and I knew we were in the presence of a dog lover.
She asked Bear’s name, and I asked if she was there waiting for someone. She said yes, her husband was in the back for a scheduled treatment. I asked how he was doing, and her eyes filled with tears as she shook her head. She didn’t have to say anything else. We started talking about dogs, and she shared they lost their 15-year-old Maltese last year, just before her husband’s diagnosis. I sat down on the table next to her chair, something I don’t make a habit of doing because usually Bear will move to me and away from whom he’s visiting if I do that. But Bear didn’t move an inch.
The sweet lady held Bear’s head, looked into his eyes, rubbed his ears and talked to him softly for almost 15 minutes. Occasionally, she’d bend down and hug him tightly, tears falling on his fur. Bear looked up at me over her shoulder, but never moved. When she sat back up, he gave all attention back to her – listening to every word.
Her name was called, and she was asked to come to the back where her husband was. She gave Bear one more squeeze and looked at me as she stood.
“Thank you for being here with Bear,” she said. “He was just what I needed today.” I promised she and her husband would be in our prayers, and she nodded, eyes filling once more. I was hoping we’d still be there when they returned from the back, but time pushed us on to another floor.
We visited two Behavioral Health group sessions and two general medicine floors before our time at the hospital ended. In one Behavioral Health session, a patient spent 20 minutes talking with Barbara and Charlye about a beloved dog he had put down due to age and illness. The nurse told Barbara it was the first time the man had spoken in group, and she was encouraged by his interaction with this sweet team.
Phoebe is huge, and the dogs are always tired after the visits. I sometimes wonder if they understand the healing that takes place when they are hugged and petted. People cry on their shoulders, whisper in their ears, and smile at their sweetness and sometime silly antics. For some, it may be their only reason to smile that whole day.
I’ve thought about the lady in the waiting room a lot since that morning, stopping in the middle of what I’m doing to send a brief prayer Heaven-ward. We all do that after a visit. We come away, I feel, as blessed as the patients we visit.
It is a source of constant amazement to me that there are people who look at dogs and see “just a dog”. A friend recently sent me a poem by that title, and one line reads: In some of my saddest moments, in those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “just a dog” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day. That pretty much sums up the work of Pet Partners. We provide the transportation, and the dogs offer their loving souls to someone who needs to smile, needs to cry, or needs to simply run their fingers through doggy fur and see unconditional love shining back at them through soft eyes.
What a joy to hold the leash and witness “moments like these”.