Engaging with the not-so-disengaged

Jelly with her PALS bandana on standing at PALS visitJelly and I have our PALS routine down pat now. I show her that special blue bandana and she heads to the front door, rather than hiding under the dining room table as she often does before her walks. We head out to the car and she quivers–in fear or excitement? I don’t know–as I pick her up and toss her into the car. And off we head to our assignment.

In addition to our bi-monthly retirement-residence stint, we participate in many one-time visits, going to places that are unfamiliar to us and meeting new people. Wednesday’s visit was was one of these “special visits”, to use PALS’ terminology. We signed up to visit clients at a dementia program in the community. The room was full to overflowing with those with dementia, as well as staff, volunteers, and assorted supportive family members. The program staff had planned their activities around our visit.

The clients weren’t quite ready for us when we arrived, so we were directed to a couch to wait. Since waiting isn’t Jelly’s forté, she immediately started whining. If I understood her correctly, she was saying, “We’ve come all this way and I’m not the centre of attention? Why is no one petting me? I’m bored.”

Jelly’s vocalization was quite the ice breaker. Upon hearing her cries, people could not help but turn her way and smile. The group seemed eager to finish what they were doing so they could meet the disruptive little imp.

As clients started wandering over, the whining stopped, thank God. In no time, Jelly was in her glory, surrounded by the many doting dog people in that little room. Jelly pranced around, visiting with anyone who wanted to meet her. Some petted her head while others graciously took her rump. Some people bent down low enough for kisses (not from me, I have boundaries, remember?). She didn’t mind when clients asked what her name was, even if they’d asked a few minutes prior. She was my model of patience, acceptance, and inclusion.

Everyone actively participated in the visit except for one fellow, who was seated apart from the others at a table in the dining area. (We were asked to avoid this area because lunch was being laid out on the tables.) This fellow had paper on the table in front of him and a pencil to draw. I was informed he was the artist in the group. He loved to draw.

Unbeknownst to me, a staff member had taken a photograph of Jelly. While the rest of us were visiting, this fellow was using the photo and glances our way to draw a picture of Jelly. Had no one informed me, I would not have realized he was participating in the visit in his own way. Prior to our departure, a staff member told me about the drawing and shared her photos with me. I see quite a likeness, right down to Jelly’s little white socks.

Sketch of Jelly at PALS visit

As you go through your day today, remember that you too may touch that proverbial fellow in the corner. That one person in the room who seems disinterested and disengaged may show you he’s not, but in his own way. Make sure you don’t miss it. I almost did.

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