Jellybean and I recently participated in a therapy visit to a local nursing home. There were five dogs and two cats along for the visit, in addition to each of their handlers. It was a unique visit for me, as the nursing home was located in a small town in the southern part of the county where I spent the first twenty three years of my life. As the residents walked, shuffled, wheeled or were in some cases assisted into the large activity room, now forty years later, I found myself looking deeply into the faces of the residents and searching for some familiarity. I found it in the face of a gentleman, who sat very quietly off to the side. He did not speak, nor did he reach out to pet Jellybean, nor any of the other visiting furry friends for that matter. I tried not to be obvious, but there was something very familiar about him. His hair line and squared off chin brought forth some very fuzzy images from my childhood, but not enough for me to determine where he fit in my life. Although he did not actively participate in touching the dogs and cats, there was a twinkle in his eye that let everyone know he was very much enjoying the visit.
The room was buzzing with chatter and laughter as the therapy pets and handlers made their way around the circle. One gentleman shared the story of how his dog brought him back to life. He was on the verge of passing and his family brought his dog into the hospital to visit with him. He told me with tear-filled eyes it took a few hours but all of a sudden he felt himself changing and he worked to bring himself out of his quiet reverie. As he continued to stroke Jellybean’s fluffy head, he looked up at me and said, “And here I am to tell you my story.” I need no further proof that the love between pets and their owners knows no bounds.
Jellybean and I then perched ourselves between an elderly resident and her mother, who had come in specifically to see her mother interact with the therapy animals. Jellybean had the benefit of sitting on my lap, which she loves, and having both women gently stroke her soft fur at the same time. In other words, she was in doggy heaven! They began asking questions about Jellybean, so I shared how my precious little puppy became part of my life. I also shared that because she is quite a little character when not in therapy mode, she inspired my first children’s picture books. They immediately asked about the books. Never one to disappoint, I reached into Jellybean’s back pack and produced not one, not two, but the entire Jellybean trilogy. Before long, the daughter began reading Naughty Little Puppy out loud to her mother. Those in close proximity leaned in closer so that they were able to hear. It was the most beautiful thing ever; story time in the nursing home. They giggled and laughed at Jellybean’s silly antics and talked about the colorful illustrations. Suddenly I was transported back to my kindergarten classroom in the midst of the best picture walk ever. Those in close proximity were engaged and focused on the book. It was actually quite humbling and yet it made me realize that it really is true that as we age, we sometimes revert back to seeing things through a child’s eyes.
It was a wonderful visit. The morning flew by and soon the resident’s attention was diverted by the enticing aroma of lunch being prepared for them. With that, the group began gathering back packs, water bowls, and of course dogs and cats and bid adieu until the next time. I walked Jellybean to the car, dropped off her accoutrements, took her on a potty walk, gave her a drink of cold water, then plopped her in her little car seat. She was fast asleep before we even made it back to Main Street. As I drove home, my mind wandered, and I began thinking about the opportunities animal therapy provides. Although my schedule does not allow us to do as many visits as I would like, I am honored to be involved in a program that makes people happy simply by sharing the love.
Beverly Stiffler Smith