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Monday, February 13, 2012

Final Visits: Big Day

Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

For those who know me personally, you know I have been at a difficult point in my life professionally whereas personally I could not ask for more, except perhaps more financial security. Days spent at the computer seeking new professional opportunities in the limited market are difficult on their best days, but even worse on a Monday. Gopher being my ever present therapist and I thought it would be a good day to do some visits instead, so we lined up three for a dreary Monday morning.

Gopher anxiously hopped in the car to take Mom to work only to return to the house for a quick brush out and so I could clean up to head out on our visits. An hour later after doing some quick e-mails and looking at opportunities online and making myself look pretty we were off.

Gopher was wagging wildly as we climbed back into the car with therapy bag in tow ready to go off to work. Today he insisted on sitting in the front and watched as the cars and city of Minneapolis flew by the window.

We arrived at our destination and Gopher knew it was time. He hopped back to the back seat next to the bag and waited for the final quick brush, followed by putting on his gentle leader it was time to go to work. Slip on his bandanna and ID Badge and we were off. It was quiet and I just walked directly from the parking lot across the street to the facility door, but Gopher stopped me sitting at the curb and pausing reminding me that we should use caution when crossing the street.

We were finally in the facility and signed in; Gopher had been here before and led me to the elevators. He knew the people that needed him had to be up a few floors. I pressed the button and the elevator opened and up we went. Upon arriving on the floor of our first patient we were greeted with the same feeling of despair that unfortunately seems to linger, despite the upbeat staff, and well cared for facility it was still there.

Press a special button to open the door as our floor housed persons whose memory wasn’t the best and were confused easily. Then punch in a code to another door and we were on our wing.

We arrived at the room of our patient, but he was not there to be found. We found him in the common room sitting, watching television with a book in his lap. I gestured Gopher to go with me toward him and the wag of the tail signaled he knew it was time and who to go see first. We asked if he would like to visit, but only received a nod. I took the chair next to him and positioned it in such a way as to see the man and allow Gopher to get in close. The book in his lap was nothing other than a picture album of dogs. His hands firmly wrapped around the book. Gopher, having never modeled before, wanted to show him how much better looking he was and came in close, placing his head on the man’s knee.

Immediately the man lit up, leaned over Gopher and began scratching and talking incoherently to Gopher. Gopher’s tail got to wagging showing how much he liked this man and his wonderful scratches. Too soon though this seemed to tire him out and he leaned back in his chair and began to doze off. Gopher knew the visit time was up and he had done his job. There is no set needed time for this work, and even five minutes is enough to brighten one mans day. Gopher backed away and we said our goodbyes. Then off to the nurses’ station to chart our visit. The nurse on duty told me that was the most she had seen the man interact in weeks. Gopher wagged and I smiled at this, put our notes in the chart had the nurse sign off on it and we left to go to our next patient.

Back through the secured doors and out to the elevator lobby to go up another floor. This time with less secured entries, we entered the new wing. We headed right to the room to find our patient sleeping. I knew the lunch hour was approaching so she would be woken up soon by the staff so we went outside her room to sit and wait. Gopher is always the therapy animals as I have said and demonstrated before and once we obtained the permission of the staff we visited with some patients not listed in the common area adjacent to the room. We met a German woman whose family had raised Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, but she was always partial Golden Retrievers. A man who told me about the night his beagle went out and did not come back right away. The man spent the night looking for him and smoked an entire pack of cigarettes only to find that he had climbed up on the porch swing to sleep for the night after walking out the backyard gate. Closing with, “Damn dog anyway.” A woman whose son had an older Golden, and another woman who had always wanted a dog but never had the chance. The last woman we visited with told us both many times she wanted to go home. She pet Gopher for several minutes, and then said “I know I can’t go home, even though I want to, petting him makes me want to go home less.” I couldn't help but notice the ever present despair had seemed to lift for a bit as we did our 'unofficial' rounds in the common area.

The time had arrived for our assigned patient to be sat up for her meal. We went in and she did not see Gopher or appear to understand me at first. Then as we approached her bedside she looked down, and her face just beamed with pleasure. She began stroking Gopher and talking to him eliciting pinwheel tail. Shortly after this began the extra stimulation was too much and she began to sleep again. Just like before short but powerful. We said our goodbyes and left the room, walked through the common area bidding our farewells. To the nurses’ station to note our visit in the patients chart, back in the elevator to go down to the first floor sign out and back to the car.

Gopher hopped right in and I removed the leash for the drive. I called the social worker of the two patients visited, filled out and put in the envelope the additional paperwork recording our visits to send back to the office. After twenty minutes and three huffs from Gopher reminding me we had more to do we were off again. Flying past cars and downtown Minneapolis as we weaved our way to the final patient of the day.

We arrived signed in once again and headed to her room. We found her resting and gently woke her. She looked at me confused and then down out Gopher, her face lightened and a big smile appeared but only for a moment. Then she drifted off again staring into space, before falling back to sleep. Gopher looked up at me, gave me a Golden smile and turned toward the door, sat and looked back at me smiling like only a golden can really do. Once again our moment was brief this time only a few seconds, but Gopher seemed to know the work was done, and his smile reminded me that no matter how short the visit was, we, more specifically he helped his patients more than can be summed up in my limited writing skills. Now off to the nurses’ station to note the chart, sign out, and back into the car for the drive home. This time Gopher hopped in the back curled up in a ball and smiled at me in the rearview as he drifted off for his own nap. It was a busy day, and the nap was well deserved. Good boy, Gopher. 


  1. Oh definitely a good boy. I hoPe you are able find some new opportunities for yourself as well.

    1. Thanks Finn, I hope so as well. Gas budget is getting tight and I want to keep up our current visit schedule.