Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Comforting the Afflicted
The therapy dog vest is slipped over Erin's head, dangling straps are buckled and pulled tight before a leisurely walk around the facility so an untimely accident doesn't occur inside. One final brushing of the flowing coat is performed to ensure she looks presentable to the awaiting audience and in this instance the audience happens to be patients of all ages in many degrees of physical and emotional health. Heads turn, people point, and a few come over to greet us as the lobby is entered; seeing a dog in the role of comforter puts folks at ease and is a most welcome sight. Erin always seemed to know the importance of the moment, she appears to prance across the floor like a show-dog walking around the ring. "Look at me, I'm here to do good things" she proclaims through her strut and beaming smile.
Entering a patients room was always unnerving, one never knew what to expect from the folks inside or the gravity of the situation. Usually the reaction upon seeing Erin was one of happiness, they would call her over to the bed where a hand was extended to stroke her head, feel the wet nose, or make contact as desired. When a patient was limited physically but wished to see or feel the dog, the bed railing was lowered as she stood upon her rear legs to lean over for an intimate encounter. With myself propping up her mid-section, a leg was stretched outward so her paw could be held and caressed; she never minded the attention and she returned the favor with loving glances and a broad grin. On a few occasions as the situation dictated, Erin was hoisted into the patients bed where she would lay her head upon their laps, gazing lovingly upwards or at their side she sat where both parties were able to devote their full attention to the other. Elderly and terminal patients told stories of past dogs thus they were transported to happier times when age and illness were not an issue, they were obviously happy to be in the presence of a loving dog.
Family members and friends of patients often had their sadness lifted as they encountered Erin in hallways or she entered a room where they were huddled around the bed. It was so touching to watch the grieving forget their sorrows for awhile and turn their attention towards the dog who came to bring some joy to their life's. They would lavish attention upon her and tell family stories while fighting back tears, during these intimate times I was thanked repeatedly for sharing Erin; she was too special to not be shared!! I often thought the visitors were comforted just as much as the ailing and from the positive reactions I'm sure that's true. Children would plop down on the cold hard floor beside her, they found it so fascinating that a dog was allowed inside with sick people while a constant topic of discussion was her vest adorned with identification tags and awards. They liked to read her id tags, hold the leash, and ask questions like "is she your dog?", or "does this dog live here?" The kids appeared to be unaware of the grave situation and just wanted to be friends with the dog, which was okay with Erin.
Hospices, nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities were visited in a 6 year plus span where many hearts were touched and spirits were lifted by Erin's presence. No one was immune to her charm as doctors, nurses, and staff members enjoyed the visitations and it was not uncommon to see her being loved on by someone wearing scrubs. She could be seen around the nurses station begging for whatever food was lying around but having to settle for love and attention but she was content with that. Families allowed us into their lifes, privy information was discussed openly, emotions ran deep and we were present when loved ones passed away; it was an honor to be allowed into such private moments. The visits brought great joy and comfort to those hurting and for a short time their smiles told the world they're doing alright. I'm so proud of Erin for her work as a therapy dog, she made a big difference while amongst us and she will be missed by many. RIP Erin!!