There’s a woman named Pauline at the memory care center where my husband Fred lives. Pauline is a tall, handsome woman with a crown of white hair, but she’s quite far into Alzheimer’s. She does not speak to people. She walks around the building all day long like a ghost, bent forward, eyes glazed. I have seen her walk straight into musicians and other guests who don’t know to get out of the way. When she’s worn out from walking, she collapses on a bed. Often, it is not her bed. We have all found her in our loved ones’ rooms. If you wake her and tell her she’s in the wrong room, she nods and goes back to her ghost-walk.
Yesterday, I took my dog Annie to visit. My lovely lab-terrier had never been so far from home, but she loves to go for a ride, so I didn’t need to ask her twice. I didn’t know how she would behave. She’s young and energetic, but she did well. It’s a long drive, an hour and a half each way, but she mostly kept to her side of the car. Once we got there, she remembered all of our obedience training and proved it was worth the effort.
Fred lit up when he saw her. I haven’t seen that big smile in a long time. He spent the next two hours petting her. Various residents, workers and visitors stopped to touch her soft fur.
As Pauline approached in her mismatched clothes, she was muttering to herself about being chilly. It was 90 degrees outside and plenty warm inside. As she headed toward Fred’s back, she suddenly saw Annie. Her whole faced changed. She came alive. She walked with purpose up to the dog, her bruised hand outstretched. “Oh, you’re a pretty dog. Such a sweetheart,” she said as she pet her. Then she walked on, smiling, alert for a wonderful moment.
I was so inspired I decided to find out more about therapy dogs. Annie and I are not trained, but there are dogs that come to visit nursing homes, hospitals and schools all over the country. Seeing the effect, I want to get involved. There’s a group near here called Oregon Coast Therapy Animals which I plan to join. One can also find lots of information at Therapy Dogs International. Annie may be a bit too hyper to be certified, but I think it’s worthwhile supporting anything that can have such a wonderful effect.