Therapy Dog brings Joy to those in Hospitals and Convalescent Centers

Entering the darkened room the first thing noticed is the bed being lit up by the TV hanging from the wall. A closer look you could make out the figure of an old may stretched out under the covers. “We keep the TV on as a means to stimulate his senses,” said the nurses’ aid that accompanied me into the room. “He hasn’t spoken or acknowledged anyone since he has been here. That was six months ago,” the aid added.

As I approached with my dog, a giant Saint Bernard, I noticed that the old man wasn’t really paying any attention to the TV, but was looking blankly at what could only be described as into infinity. His world was somewhere beyond the here and now.

The aid called out his name but there was no response, just that blank gaze. She once again called out his name and stated that he should look over to the side of his bed as he had a visitor.

I moved forward with the Saint at my side. As we approached the dog placed its head on the bed and gave the old man laying there a gentle nuzzle. You could hear a pin drop as the sound of silence roared deafeningly in the room. The sound of a sheet could be heard rattling as this old hand exited from under the blanket. The hand, weathered with time and age, moved toward the head of the giant dog that still had it head resting on the bed. The hand reached up and placed itself on the top of the dogs head, stroking it ever so gently. “Good dog,” was heard coming from the old man. These were the first words that had been spoken in six month. This was the first time that the man laying in the bed had acknowledged that someone or something was in the room with him.

This is why I got into working with therapy dogs at the convalescent centers and various hospitals. I have been training Saint Bernards for 12 years. My first saint was an AKC champion in obedience. He weighed in at over 230 lbs. My second Saint was being trained in obedience when he developed cancer. Rather than put him through obedience his trainer suggested that I start working him as a therapy dog.

He definitely had the gentle temperament for the job unlike my first dog, Omar, who would have taken your head off outside the show ring. So as Barney went through his various treatments for cancer, twelve operations, 20 rounds of radiation and eight rounds of chemotherapy, he started working in the local convalescent centers and cancer hospitals. After all, what could be better for a cancer patient than to see another patient that was going through much the same treatment they were going through? Barney became certified and the organization he belonged to insured him and all the other dogs and animals belonging to the organization with an insurance policy of $100,000. This was how sure the organization was about the animals they used around hospital and convalescent patients.

Barney served as a therapy dog for over a year and a half when the cancer finally took its toll. Never once did he complain or show any signs of being in any pain. He simply went about doing what he did best, bringing joy and comfort to the sick and elderly.

Just before Barney passed away, Rose came to me as a rescue from the Colorado Prison System. At the prison they have a program that rescues dogs and then has prisoners raise and train them. To get into the program which is a special privilege, a convict has to be on their best behavior. Rose who came into the program at around eight weeks, stayed in the program until she was seven months old. I drove to Colorado and picked her up.

She now serves as Barney did, having become a fully registered therapy dog. Fact is she is so well trained that she has a couple of tricks that seems to bring a chuckle to those at our local convalescent hospital. She has been taught to wave and as she goes from room to room she waves to each patient as she leaves the room.

She has brought joy to those that seldom get to leave the facility as she goes about her duty bringing about somewhat of a feeling of normalcy to those confined to not only the general wards but also to those special patients that are having their minds being eaten away by that dreaded Alzheimer’s. She will go into the room and many will throw their arms around her neck in a bear hug simply because they can relate to an animal where they can’t with a human being. Rose takes the attention in stride, licking and kissing each one as she goes about doing her duty and bringing cheer.

Rose has even gone to the funerals of several of the people that have gotten to know her in life. One service comes to mind. It was at Bardsdale when the family and friends had finished paying their final respects, Rose and I walked quietly to the casket. As I also paid my final respects, you get to know many of the patients as you work with them, Rose sat beside me and raised her paw and waved good-by, her final show of respect for the person that had now passed on to the next life which hopefully will have animals to care for those in death that Rose cared for in life.