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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rooms with a View: Revisited

Long time readers know that we actually have two dogs working as therapy animals. The vast majority of articles here on the blog our based on experiences I have had with Gopher. My wife's dog is Squirrel and together we go to visit hospitals, splitting the floors and covering the entirety of their Animal Assisted Activities approved floors.

Carla and myself are also fans of the old sitcom "Frasier" and no we will not apologize for our taste in television. One of our favorite episodes is from the shows 10th season titled "Rooms with a View". In the episode we see our fictional characters sharing their various visits to the same hospital over the years while they wait for news on Nile's surgical procedure. It is a great episode and you should check it out.

Many people approach the hospital with trepidation and fear, we go in with smiles looking forward to another great set of experiences while working with our boys. Unlike "Frasier" our stories are not works of fiction, but all true. We go from room to room to find a vast array of patients going through a just as wide range of emotions, we never know what we will find when we knock on a door.

Don't judge a book

Gopher and I knock on the door and are greeted by a rather gruff, deep voice. "What" he yelled out, "Excuse me sir, would you like a visit with Gopher the therapy dog?" "Dog?" he responded. "Yes sir, we are here for a visit with you if you would like.". "Bring him in".

We enter the room to see a very large, muscular man sitting in the chair by his bed. He is covered in tattoos, his head is shave and he has a large handlebar mustache.

"Good evening, sir..." I get cut off and before I know it this large man has scooped Gopher up with one arm. At first Gopher gives me a look, then settles in burying his head on the mans chest while he begins to sob.

Nothing else is said for several moments and Gopher gets in deep. The man continues to sob, but the starts to speak to Gopher while stroking him and clutching him to his chest. "Tomorrow they are going to fix my heart, boy, but I think you beat them to it. "

Across the language divide

Squirrel and I walked into a room where 3/4 couldn't speak English.The granddaughter in the room translated for the older couple but it was not needed.  

The looks on their faces transcended language.
The grandmother scooped Squirrel up off his front paws by the chest and hugged him and tried to put him in her lap.  I went in to distract, and make sure Squirrel was uncomfortable but my dog just looked at me and so "don't worry about this I got it" and proceeded to be hug and petted repeatedly by this very lovely women.  He ate it up! The family did as well.

Just lie with me a minute    

Gopher and I went into the room and were greeted by the beaming smile of a middle aged woman. 

"Would you like to visit with Gopher for a bit?"

"Yes, please"

We went further in the room and she began to pet Gopher, and we visited for a few moments.

"Could he lay with me for a bit?"

"Yes, just let me grab a sheet."

I lay down the barrier and Gopher climbs gently up on the bed and slides down along her body to ensure no space is left unfilled between the two of them.

She lowers her head to his and kisses him and says to Gopher. "Thank you, I am just so lonely, I don't understand as my family was just here, but I feel alone. Something about you makes me feel better, can you just lie with me for a minute or two, I know other people need you too."

She went on petting Gopher for several minutes, but then started to doze off, and we excused ourselves to let her rest.


Squirrel and I were asked to visit a room we knew was off limits, despite being on a regular floor we saw the sign limiting contact. We are not typically allowed to visit Contact precaution rooms but as I was leaving a wing a woman asked me if we had visited her mother in the area we just left.

I didn't think so so she took us back to her room. When I noticed why and explained hospital policy to her she understood but asked the nearby nurse anyway to see if their was anything we could do.  

The nurse was understood the need and gave us instructions to walk a few feet into the room but no further. 

Once the patient saw us she cried.  It was hard for both her and Squirrel to not be right next to each other but both behaved.  Squirrel wagged his tale in anticipation at her from across the room which made her happy. We all chatted for a few minutes, and through tears she said good bye, but was happy to get to see him even if she was not able to touch him.

Hate to be alone...

Squirrel and I knocked on the door, and entered the room as is protocol.

"Would you like to visit with Squirrel?"

"Yes, I hate being alone." she cried.

Squirrel and I walked up to the bed and she pat him gently a couple of times and talked to me about he life and her family and why she wished they were with her.  All through tears.  

It was one of those instances where I was doing the therapy more than Squirrel.  He was there to assist but what she really wanted was someone to talk to. Squirrel acted more as my therapist so I could help her.  It was a team effort. 

Greek to me

Gopher and I didn't even have a chance to knock.

"Yes, yes" and ushered us in her room with her hand,

No one else was in the room and the lights were dim. Gopher walked right up and she began petting him. He leaned in tighter to the bed. "" she uttered in a thick Greek accent. She smiled at me with a tear in her eye and kept petting Gopher. He lifted his chin so she could  get his chest, where the therapy comes from is what we call this move.

Several minutes passed, "Thank you.....lungs no work, happy to again." Her DNR bracelet became more visible through Gophers fur where she was still petting him and Gopher tried to get even closer. She smiled, "Thank you.....go now....more people....need you."

Not the paws, well for you maybe

Squirrel hates having his feet handled, while he will tolerate grooming he does not do "paw" work. He doesn
t offers his paw, no shake nothing.

However if you are an ill little girl with some finger nail polish doesn't suddenly he doesn't mind. We were able to meet her several times in her extended stay.  He walked away from a couple of visits with either black or glittery toes.  His paycheck for the torture was using most of her bed to sleep on while she did it.  I think he took advantage of the pillow a couple of times too.

Just like my grandsons dog, but not as obnoxious

"Would you like to visit with Gopher?"

"Oh, yes"

She pets Gopher as soon as he gets to the bed and then stops.

"He's so beautiful and so calm, my grandson has one of these, and she is not, she is obnoxious."

"Yes", I reply "Gopher is working now, so he is really calm, he loves his job, but as soon as it is over he is a typical Golden Retriever"

"But is he obnoxious"

"Well, I don't think so, but some people may disagree"

"Can you come train my grandson?"

Because I'm dying?

Their was one woman that was so excited to see Squirrel that when she patted the bed he instantly jumped into it like it was an invitation. He was too quick for me to stop him!  He is well aware of his rights and limitations when it comes to visiting patients and he also knows when to through all of that out the window and do the job he knows needs to be done.  

The patient became very concerned when I told her he doesn't usually do that.  Her first concern was that he was paying special attention to her because she was dying.  I said "No, he just knows a person who needs a hug when he sees it".  

He proceeded to lay next to her in bed for awhile while she pet him.  I left the visit when Squirrel was getting so comfortable he was taking up most of the bed.


Every time we visit it is a cluster of these stories, brief windows into the lives of strangers. We never know what the impact we have is for the long run, it could merely be a nice story told to friends once or twice over dinner or it could impact their lives in way we will never understand. Often we get questions: This is great, can I do this? How long does it take to train? Do you have to be a certain age? How much are you required to visit? Do you think I could do this with my dog? We answer the questions, and always hope that they may follow through, create their own stories. It is the same mission with the blog is that we hope one person who reads it may go, yes this is something I can do and want to do with my dog. Working with a therapy dog is not a grand gesture, it is simple and holds infinite possibilities for providing small impacts. 

This week, we lost a great comedian, actor and philanthropist whom I was a great fan of his work. Mr. Williams would often quote Mother Teresa in interviews and in his work "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." 

While reflecting on the public persona that brought me so much joy, and his final act I was reminded of one of my great friends, a man who I love greatly and have great admiration. He had the opportunity to happen upon a young woman who was facing a similar final act. When he saw her, he embraced her in a bear hug, for what must have felt like an eternity until help would arrive. She is alive today, because he stopped. I wonder if presented with a similar circumstance if I would have done the same thing or would I have not been able to believe my eyes and just put my head down, not wanting to get involved. 

We, as a society tend to put our heads down, avert our eyes. The gesture itself was not grand, it was simply a bear hug, a few moments when he looked up and saw something and acted. So that is my challenge for anyone who may read this, look up, do something small it may be just taking the trash out for the elderly neighbor, it need not be grand as you will never know how large an impact a small gesture may have on  those around us. 

Our world is scary at times, there is bad in the world and we get caught up in the negativity get to a point we cannot handle it anymore and hang out heads and close our eyes, but look up, see the simple acts and together all of these simple acts will make the world a better place to live, you never know when you will provide the 'bear hug' someone else needs at just the right time.

I leave you with "Do it anyway" written by Mother Teresa. Take care of yourselves.

"Do it Anyway" 

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.
-Mother Teresa