Things my dog has taught me this week

Senior woman smiling at yellow lab sitting at her feet

I hope this post will be the perfect anti-dote to the U.S. presidential inauguration. You’re welcome.

First, in case you’d forgotten, Canada’s national radio still has a sense of humour. I’m referring to a recent story on #DoesItFart, the database of animals that pass gas recently developed by biologists. (The whole rip-roaring interview is here.) Turns out chimpanzees’ farts help biologists locate them in the forest, birds have the anatomy necessary for farting but don’t, snakes fart, and millipedes let out noxious gas but whether they’re considered farts remains unclear. Oh, yes, and dogs are on the list too, as I can attest. Lucky visitors may hear my dog’s humanoid toots while she’s sleeping. I could tell you more about this topic, but I try to focus on more serious matters in my blog, as you know.

So I thought I might share some recent insights from my seniors’ visits with Jelly. My initial worries that Jelly wasn’t connecting well with the seniors because she was too busy cleaning the floor gave way to this week’s observation that every dog is a food-on-the-floor opportunist. Consider it instinct, right up there with chasing squirrels and begging for dinner. Who can fight instinct?

I was also worried that when she’d finished cleaning the floor, Jelly wasn’t properly attending to the seniors wanting to visit with her. Maybe she’s not always looking up adoringly but Jelly stands patiently while she’s being petted and wags her tail in response. Even those who can’t reach her enjoy looking at her and learning about her. This week, Jelly brought joy to a woman in the hospice wing, a former dog owner, who was too high up to pet the animals from her hospital bed.

Some of these residents may not get many, or any, visitors. They look forward to the dogs, who break up their long and sometimes lonely days. Also, the dogs bring joy to those who do visit and to the staff too. A woman planned a special visit the week after her husband died, planning it around the PALS visit. She needed the connection, and I’m glad we were there to greet her.

We visited a man who had had a stroke and did not have full use of the right side of his body. His eyes lit up as Jelly stood under his right hand, which he could barely move. He petted her as best he could, touching her soft little head. For the few minutes we stayed with him, he seemed content to maintain contact.

Then my colleague and I visited the rehabilitation unit with our pooches, where we spied two women in wheelchairs at opposite ends of parallel bars. The dogs visited with the women briefly, following which the frailer of the two, likely in her 80s, arose from her wheelchair and, with the physiotherapist following her for reassurance, walked the full length of those bars. When she arrived at the other end, she stood for a few minutes while I clapped and Jelly, sensing the excitement, gave a whole-body wag. Maybe we’re both getting the hang of this assignment.

Thanks to Jelly, I’ve come to realize that sometimes it’s enough just to be there. That we certainly can do.


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