(Excerpt from Just for the Moment: The Remarkable Gift of the Therapy Dog.)
“Could you come again next month?” the director of assisted living asked me. She had invited us to come and dance for the residents. It had been a success.
“You don’t even have to dance if you don’t want to. It’s so wonderful for them just to have Lily visit. We’d love it if you could come every month.”
So my calendar sets aside a day a month to visit there. We dance, play games, visit, do tricks, and sometimes learn a new trick while the residents watch the learning process. Occasionally one of them dances with Lily. We have a photo of her dancing with a retired Colonel, both kicking in unison like Fred and Ginger. Lily was smiling and showing off and the Colonel was laughing out loud, remembering his ballroom days.
In preparation for her visits, the residents’ cooking class bakes dog treats cut out with a bone shaped cookie cutter. They are so pleased to give them to us in a little bag to take home. It must be fun for some of them to be back in the kitchen baking cookies, having a purpose. I’ll bet they stir up some sweet memories while they’re at it.
One month I took both Lily and Jessie because they were going to dance together to Sisters by Rosemary Clooney. The residents fell in love with Jessie. There is something about her, maybe her white face, maybe her light, fluffy coat and her stunted body size that makes her look like a chubby little lamb; she just melts hearts.
When she stopped at Jake’s chair to get petted, he was quite taken with her, and he handled her a lot, smiling at her softness. The director was thrilled with his response to her. Jake has little to say, not much expression since his wife died, and he’s generally unresponsive to stimulus, and very depressed.
“He seems uninterested in life without his wife,” the director explained. “Sometimes he forgets that he can talk, and his vacant stare would have you believe he’s not really clued in to the moment. His illness is advancing, and he sometimes isn’t sure of his grandkids’ names anymore.”
The next month when Lily came for the monthly visit, our “audience” was gathered. Silent Jake sat on the sofa staring at nothing on the wall and waiting for “the show.” We danced and Lily showed off a bit, and then we visited each person individually. When Lily stopped at Jake’s knee, he astonished everyone by asking in a loud voice, “Where’s the little fat one?” He had remembered Jessie for one whole month!
In this place, small victories are huge. I took Jessie the very next week to visit Jake in his room. He smiled at her and petted her. Jessie enjoyed him, too, and her plume never stopped wagging. There wasn’t a lot of talking involved, they just enjoyed being together. She wiggled and nuzzled, he petted and giggled. It was the last time we saw Jake. It’s nice to think that Jessie brought him some joy in his last days.
Deanna lives in the mountains of western North Carolina with husband Dave and golden retriever Buddy. Many hobbies have embroidered her life, but these days everything seems to revolve around writing, publishing and marketing. So much for retirement! Catch up with her writing at Books by Deanna.com.