Having a nursing home therapy dog is hard. It means seeing some of the most near-death people and still putting on a brave smile. My dogs don’t know when someone is dying. They still back their rears up to the wheelchair, begging for scratches, or they’ll calmly put their face in a resident’s lap and soulfully look up at them, slowly wagging their tail.
In my two years of visiting a local nursing home, sure, I’ve lost people I’ve cared about. There’s a bulletin board of pictures of people who have recently passed and that’s how I knew, because sadly I hardly ever get to know anyone by name.
Last week, the activity director had told me that our favorite resident had passed unexpectedly. I was riding the train home, but at that moment, it felt like we had jumped the tracks and were tipping over.
I remember meeting her for the first time. It was Logan’s first day and we were being given the grand tour. I was terrified. Logan was curious. I prayed that this would be good for her, that it would help give her confidence and make her less shy – and in reality, it was really doing the same for me, too.
We were walking down our first hallway when the activity director pointed to a lady waiting patiently in her doorway, watching to see what was going on. “She hates dogs,” he said, so instinctively I pulled Logan back. “You bet, I hate dogs,” she said, slowly pulling on the word. I made a mental note: Room 109 hates dogs.
“Where ya goin?” I heard once I had walked a little further down the hallway. I turned around to see her wheeling down after us. “I thought you hated dogs?” I said nervously. Both she and the activity director burst into laughter – they got me!
As the years went on, we would make her room the first stop; a transition between the outside and the rest of the residents, she didn’t care if Logan was still a little crazy and needed a period to slow down and collect her breath before visiting everyone else. I got to know this woman and she got to know me, my dog, and my family. I heard about her exotic travels.
She was the one who pushed Logan into the show ring. I’m so grateful she did. She told me to always do something that scared me, because one day you won’t have the same chance to conquer your fears.
Last week our visit wasn’t the same and I think Logan knew. She kept looking for the gentle hands and listening for the hearty laugh.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Dee. We miss you so much.