23 August 2010

Therapy Dogs

The names I use in this blog are not their real names, to protect the individuals and the dog (although long deceased). Therapy dogs are service dogs, but not what most people think of when service dogs is a topic of conversation.

While visiting a former neighbor in one of the nursing facilities in a town not too far from our home, I was in the lounge with him when a therapy dog was introduced to the group in the lounge. “Therapy dogs” sneered another resident named Jon, as he got up and left the room. What set him off I wondered? So I asked his daughter, Janet, who was visiting her father in the nursing facility.

At first she was not going to answer me, but after hesitating, said her father was a hunting dog person and did not like being around other dogs. I thought okay, some people are biased about what they like and dislike. I asked her what breed of dogs would get his attention. She had decided she had enough and got up to follow her father. On her way past me, she said, “coon dogs”. Okay, not what I expected, but at least I had something. I had no idea how important this information would become.

Now where in this area was I going to find someone with coon dogs that would have a therapy dog as well. Yes, many raccoon hunters live near here, so I headed out to one of the farms that I knew raised raccoon hunting dogs. They were home when I drove in the driveway. I asked the oldest son if his father, Jason, was in the barn. It was then that their mother, Mattie, came out of the house. I introduced myself and stated the purpose of my visit.

Her face lit up when I said something about therapy dogs and mentioned Jon's name from the nursing facility. It was like I had gotten everyone's attention with his name. They all gather around and they all wanted to know how he was, where he was, and when I had seen him. The short of it is that his farm adjoins their farm and they knew him well. All they knew when I arrived was that about two weeks earlier, his daughter had showed up and taken him somewhere and had not let anyone know.

Mattie said that she and one of their dogs had just completed the therapy dog training course, and she was hoping to start taking the dog to schools and nursing homes in the area. Now she knew where she had to go first. After discussing how to get the dog into the nursing facility, she said she would call them in the morning. I said he may be a little on the difficult side, but she knew that he would be happy to see Sheba (the name of the dog) since it had been purchased from him about a year prior when Jon had sold his dogs.

Sheba is a sleek Redbone Coonhound with no color variations. I had not noticed her in the group of five dogs around us until she was called. I was introduced to the dog and then we went back to talking. Next I knew, I felt a wet nose at my hand. I let my hand slide along her muzzle and down her head and along her back. She was one gentle dog. She wanted the attention and made herself available to get it.

The next day, Mattie called me to say that they were not permitted to visit him by order of the daughter. Uh-ooh. Mattie asked me if I wanted to take the dog into see him as she had that approved. I met them in the visitors lot and went to check with the staff to get the full story.

Janet was the only person of record on the medical power of attorney and general power of attorney and admission records. I knew that Janet had two older brothers so I wondered what was happening. Since Jon was still in his room, I asked if he could be brought to the lounge while I brought the dog in.

Sheba seemed to sense something and was straining at the leash and once inside, her nose was on to something and I was having all I could do to restrain her. When entering the lounge, Sheba needed no more, she let out a howl and was almost more than I could handle. When Jon saw Sheba, he was out of his chair and on his way to greet Sheba with tears in his eyes.

After the two had greeted each other, Jon asked me where Jason and Mattie were. The nurse explained that they had orders from Janet that he we not to see them. Jon was very upset now and asked where his boys were and that he wanted to see them. The nurse said they were not part of his records. I asked if the order by Janet included the grounds outside and the nurse said no, only the indoors. I told the nurse to get her writing board and join us outside. Jon was very happy for a few minutes when he saw Sheba and was now wanting to see Jason and Mattie.

When we were outside and under a tree, Jon thanked me and asked how I had found his friends. I said that was purely by accident and a slip by his daughter when she told me that your favorite dogs were coon dogs. With Jon, Jason, and Mattie all talking, I asked if Jon knew how to reach his sons. He did not as he did not have addresses for them any longer, but knew that his brother would. Jason said he would get Jon's brother, and his sister, there that afternoon along with some other people to get to the bottom of what was happening. The nurse was taking notes and asking questions as well.

That was my introduction to therapy dogs about 18 years ago. Jon (after some legal hassles) was able to return to his farm and lived there for about 15 more years until he returned to the nursing facility where he passed earlier this summer. His daughter passed about 9 years ago.

Yes, there is much more to the story, but I will not go there at the request of Jon's sons who were just thankful that a particular therapy dog came back into their dad's life. Sheba was returned to live with Jon and lived about 8 more years working as a therapy dog with Jon under Mattie's guidance. They became regular visitors at the nursing facility and other nursing homes in a 60 mile area, and in my home.

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