This story emphasizes the importance of the work Therapy Dogs do and the roles they play in what might seem to be just an ordinary day.
Tilda and I were just finishing our round of visitations at a local hospital that morning. It was an extremely busy day with lots of visits with many, many people. I could tell Tilda was wearing down a bit and appeared to be overly anxious to go so we headed towards our coat locker to grab my coat and headed for the vehicle. We had another couple hours of visits to do at another hospital in the afternoon so thought she would need a good rest before heading in that direction. The temperature outside when we arrived on this cold morning was -6 degrees and Tilda was “high stepping” all across the parking lot as we came into the building. On our visits that morning, people kept asking me why we came on such a bitterly cold morning. The only thing I could think of to respond was “because we wanted to” which may have seemed a bit of a lame response, but it was the truth.
As we were heading down the hallway towards our exit, we passed by the Transitional Care area of the hospital. This is the area where some patients pass through for special attention or therapy before they are discharged to go home. Part of our job is to pay attention to what is going on around us at all times. This is for Tilda’s safety and to make sure we don’t miss anything as we are roaming around the facility. When we passed by part of the TCU area, suddenly I felt Tilda’s leash get tight as she had stopped behind me. I turned to look at her and she had her ears perked up high and looked at me as if saying “we need to stop here”. At that very moment, I overhead a therapist telling an elderly lady that she needed to stand up now and grab the walker so she can get mobile again. The lady was crying out loud saying “No, I don’t want to” and every attempt by the therapist yielded a similar response. Then I heard the lady say “I don’t want to stand up, I want my doggie”. Of course, that phrase is a bell ringing attention grabber for Tilda and I and we both were at full atttention. We turned around and took a look around the corner so we could see what was going on with the patient in the adjourning hallway. The lady was in a wheel chair and the therapist had put a walker in front of the chair and was asking her to stand and try to walk a few steps with the walker. The lady was really distraught over this request and obviously wasn’t going to do the task. The therapist was very patient and just kept trying to convince the lady that she needed to make an attempt so she could be prepared for going home. The therapist was standing between us and the lady so the lady did not see us as we approached the couple. When we were about 20 feet from them, Tilda and I stopped and waited. The therapist turned around and saw us, smiled, and made a hand motion for us to hold fast and stay put, so we did.
The therapist then asked the lady “did you say you wanted your doggie?”. The lady responded immediately that she wanted her doggie and didn’t like this idea of having to stand up when she couldn’t as it hurt too much. “I just can’t do it” she screamed. The therapist then said “Do you like all doggies?” and the lady quickly shook her head affirmatively. The therapist said to the lady “Look at what just came to see you” as the therapist took a step to the side so the lady could see Tilda. The lady screamed for joy and was clapping her hands in wonderment and repeatedly said “a doggie, a doggie, oh my, a doggie”. The therapist said to the lady “if you try to stand up and grab this walker, I will ask the doggie to come visit you so you can pet her. Would that work for you?” The lady’s face immediately took on a whole new concerned and dedicated expression as she grabbed the walker and scooted her body forward and straightened her legs and stood up with a smile on her face that would glisten any moment in one’s life. When she was upright, the lady just kept repeating “come doggie, come doggie” over and over again. The therapist then waved us forward and Tilda went towards the lady with gusto and a tight leash ahead of me (that is what she does when she is purpose driven). It was as if Tilda knew exactly what was going on and wanted to give the lady her prize of a few pets.
Tilda lifted her head up high so the lady could reach the head for petting with one hand while holding the walker with the other hand. The lady stood straight and tall while the therapist took a position on the other side of the walker. After 30 seconds or so, the therapist asked the lady if she could take a short walk with the doggie and she responded “Oh Yes!”. So the therapist was on one side and Tilda on the other with me walking tightly alongside Tilda and everyone walked down the hall together slowly and carefully.
It was at that moment when I knew the answer to the question of why I came there on this cold morning. To witness that beautiful and loving smile on that wonderful lady’s face while walking with Tilda was “what it was all about” that day. I reminded myself on the way out of the building how it is so amazing to me to view this set of circumstances and how these dogs can make a difference in someone’s life for whatever reason. If there is any magic to these things, it all starts by allowing it to happen simply by being there, paying attention and following the dog’s instincts. I dread the thought of what I would have missed if I would have wimped out and stayed home because of the cold. Tilda’s tail was wagging the whole time. She knew! On the way out, Tilda kept looking at me with that smiling expression as if to say “we did a good thing there, didn’t we dad?”
When we arrived at the vehicle, I praised Tilda and thanked her for doing such a wonderful thing for that lady. The best part of it all was feeling the same smile on my face as I saw on that lady’s face earlier. What a great way to spend a few moments with my best friend. I am a very lucky fellow!