Can we be PALS with the old folks?

This past Wednesday, Jelly and I reported for duty at the retirement home for our first assigned PALS placement. Despite a few hiccups, Jelly made it through the hour intact. I, on the other hand, experienced some challenges.

At this facility, there are a range of people from middle age onward with a range of impairments. Some residents are confused, others are without speech altogether, and still others are alert and cognitively intact. I will need time to get to know these people, to remember their names, and to understand their quirks.

One fellow initiated a very serious conversation with me in Russian, to which I responded in my native tongue, English. He was as confused with my language as I was with his. I wish I’d been able to communicate with him more effectively but I’ve never been much of a linguist. Another woman petting Jelly’s head told me she had a crack in it. Rather than assuring her Jelly’s skull was intact, I told her I’d check that out.

I may have been struggling, while Jelly was in her element during the visit, but not in the way I was hoping. She spent the majority of her time scrounging for stray food particles off the floor rather than visiting with people. I am hoping that next time we go she will attend more to the people than to their crumbs. Even better, maybe staff will sweep before we arrive.

One thing I can say for Jelly is that she is open to people of all types. She doesn’t care if someone is grumpy, missing teeth, or smells of cigarette smoke; she is an equal opportunity visitor.

Maybe I should qualify this: Jelly may show preferential treatment to those with food particles on their hands. They needn’t know that they’re garnering her rapt attention because they’re tasty.

I don’t know what staff were thinking arranging a special tea during our visit. I alerted those partaking that we could visit with them only after they’d finished their cakes and scones, if indeed they wanted to eat them.

As prepared as I thought I was, I made one significant tactical error. Because I am Jewish, I did not consider how important seasonal attire would be to this pre-Christmas visit. I don’t own an ugly Christmas sweater, and my half-hearted attempts to buy a Christmas outfit for Jelly had not borne fruit. Long, low Bassets need specially sized clothes.

Christmas may not be my celebration, but it is still important to bring the holiday spirit to others, especially those who are unable to be with family. Thankfully, the team leader had brought Jelly a Santa hat for that day.

Having learned from this last mistake, once the visit was over, I made it my mission to procure a seasonal outfit for next Christmas. No, I did not buy an ugly Christmas sweater; that would move this Jew a bit too far outside her comfort zone. I did, however, buy a jingle-bell collar for Jelly with a matching reindeer headband. I think she looks quite smashing, don’t you? Now if I could just get her to look a little happier when she’s fully adorned….

Basset hound with reindeer antlers on


8 thoughts on “Can we be PALS with the old folks?

  1. Isn’t it great dogs have no issues. Unconditional love in most cases. Give me attention and/or give me food. Which order they prefer is sometimes indiscriminate. As people we have to deal with feelings and touchy situations. People carry the baggage, it seems, and some of us, like you, will do it very well. So glad you embarked on this journey with Jelly. You are both so well suited to the task. I love the Jelly Christmas attire you acquired. Hopefully she likes to wear it as well. Ho Ho Ho! A visiting we will go. Dog cross all faiths for sure.


    • I always love your comments, Chriatine. They tell me you’re out there somewhere reading, and they give me lots to think about. I do hope we can succeed at this placement. We’ll certainly try. And I will follow Jelly’s lead not to judge. She has a lot to teach me. XO Annie


  2. Hi Dr. Annie! Love your post (as always) and have a very strong visual of Jelly sniffing out crumbs on the floor.. ‘yes mom, I’ll visit with people in a bit, .but I have a few pressing issues to address here first!”.
    This has made me laugh out loud,….so thank you, thank you!!
    FYI – I have a moderately distasteful Christmas sweater for you but I do think that maybe you have gone in the right direction by adorning sweet Jelly with something, rather than yourself. If you do have an overwhelming urge to wear something (tacky) on your next PALS visit, please get in touch with me, as I can help you to no end! I have a Christmas necklace that not only lights up, but flashes at the same time…


    • pjhill: I’m glad to have made you laugh out loud. Your comment had the same effect on me. I may just take you up n your ugly Christmas adornments next year. Who knows? By then, I may be fully into the Christmas spirit. I wonder if they make Christmukkah sweaters…. XO


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