A Visit to West Pines

We did our hospital visits this week including hospice and the hospital. What was different was we got the opportunity to visit with residents of the West Pines Behavioral Health facility located on the hospital campus.

But before sharing our experiences, a little background on West Pines. With a long legacy in treating addiction/substance abuse for adults up to age 60, this facility provides short-term psychiatric care. Short-term care (generally defined as 30 days or less) is provided as well as “an eight-week group therapy program that focuses on improving daily coping skills, establishing safety, and enhancing individual self-respect.” This program is designed for those “who may experience behavioral or emotional difficulties, but do not require (or no longer require) the intense level of psychiatric care provided in an inpatient or partial hospitalization program with treatments for depression, bi-polar disorder and anxiety disorders. Given this background and not knowing exactly what to expect, I was somewhat anxious but simultaneously looking forward to this cool opportunity.

The director of out-patient services greeted us and showed us around the facility. Phil Stone has been with the facility for 12 years. The staff were equally welcoming and professional. Upon introduction, he immediately hugged me when I offered my handshake. I liked the warm welcome. Sam’s tail didn’t stop wagging during the intros and as Phi was providing background info, Sam leaned against him indicating he was more than content. It may have been the first lean of the day but it certainly wasn’t the last. The only challenge for Sam was deciding whether to leave Phil’s most welcomed ear scratches and start greeting others in the reception area. I think the numbers ‘persuaded’ Sam to make the rounds of everyone in the room (guess his mama didn’t raise an ordinary shameless, attention-seeking fool). All the aw’s and ooh’s from everyone just egged Sam and his wagging tail on and he then spent time with each and every person we encountered.

Going from building to building (West Pines is a 76-bed facility), there were a couple of encounters that were most touching. First, was a young man who clearly had been crying in the common area. He was wrapped up in a blanket and trying to gain control over his emotions. Sam eagle-eye spotted him immediately, walked right over and began wagging his tail until the young man started petting Sam. He glanced away from my smile but his face lit up slightly as Sam got as close as he could. This encounter was incredibly touching for me. Sam knew this young man needed him and Sam made sure to let him know he was safe and wanted in return. Clearly the power of animals with those struggling with mental health issues was on full view and practice.

Our second memorable scene involved a young woman who was so taken with Sam she asked me if I knew where she could do something like what we were doing as she hugged and petted him. I asked if she had a dog and she smiled and then blithely responded, “oh shoot, I can barely take care of myself, let alone a dog.” It was a sad comment for me initially, then I thought how unencumbered she was to blurt it out and took comfort in her completely unfiltered observation, much like a small child. This woman knew her limitations yet she didn’t retreat from the fact.

And finally there was another young man, who was very shy and who stuttered. His dark features masked his face and yet when I asked him if he wanted to pet Sam, he embarrassingly smiled and ran his fingers through Sam’s fur. His voice was barely audible but he clearly was mesmerized by Sam. After a couple of minutes, he picked up his cell phone and I thought perhaps he was utilizing some deflecting kind of behavior to avoid contact with a stranger (me). Instead, he pulled up a photo of his own dog, a Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix. Cute little fluff ball, too. I commented on what a terrific photo it was and asked if it was taken by a professional photographer it was so well composed and the dog perfectly posed. He smiled, and said no, it was one he had taken and he had used software to provide the nautical-themed background. “Incredible,” I noted. “You must be very good with software and computers.” Again he smiled and whispered he was. About this time, his group was ready to resume their discussion and we left but not before he followed us to the door. I think (at least I hope) we made a difference in his day.

Our visit was so touching to my heart and so profound that I vowed to request the assignment again. It was a remarkable day even if a somewhat shortened time that we were able to spend with people (our visits are chaperoned by the director while on campus and I wondered if Phil got any work done on Wednesday’s ‘dog-visit-day’). I left with a couple of observations of our visit. First, there seem to be more men at this facility than women and it made me wonder if substance abuse is more prevalent in younger men. From my experience visiting the senior behavioral floor at the hospital (see previous posts here, here and here in case you missed them), more women than men seem to have mental health issues as they get older, perhaps because they generally live longer than men. But certainly having a warm, engaging environment with committed staff makes all the difference in the world. I can’t imagine a staff more focused and dedicated to their patients with a successful history of treatment.

We saw so many people in the past couple of days and my little boy was completely wiped out. But I’m sure he’ll definitely be ready to visit again soon with a ready tail wag and a lean against a willing leg.

Live, love, bark! <3

48 thoughts on “A Visit to West Pines

  1. This story touched my heart so deeply that I had to put it down for a moment to catch my breath. I love all your therapy-visit stories, but this one grabbed my heart strings.

  2. I don’t think I realized that this type of facility used therapy dogs too. What a wonderful thing you and Sam are doing, bringing hope to people that are struggling so. This brought tears to my eyes, thank you for sharing about it.

  3. That’s great that you enjoy what you do so much. Everyone is into training their dog to be a therapy dog these days, but I’m sure not all of them really love what they do. It wouldn’t be for us, but it is perfect for you.

  4. Poor Sam he must be exhausted and worn out – as must you. What a rewarding experience you both had and what a joy it was to read your experiences. Yes, I think you made a difference in that you took the time to visit and talk and gave Sam the freedom to do what he had to do. It was a joy to read – thank you.

  5. I get so many emotional reactions just walking down the street. I can’t imagine how moving it must be to bring dogs to people who are going through some difficult times. Such wonderful work.

  6. What an amazing experience. My troubled rescue boxer Lulu felt threatened by most strangers (canine, human, and don’t even say feline around her) but she surprisingly had zero problems with my brother who has schizophrenia. Kindred spirits maybe but she was very affectionate toward him and you remember how rare that was. My other “normal” brother on the other hand was always right at the top of her sh*t list! Ha, she probably knew that he was always the spoiled, annoying kid in the family. LOL

  7. Wow, such a moving post, this brought tears to my eyes. What a testament to animal-assisted therapy! While animals for sure bring comfort to people with physical health issues, their effect seems to be even more profound with those struggling with mental health issues (of all kinds).

  8. I always say that if I have to get relocated to a facility (when I’m really old), it has to be pet friendly. I want living creatures walking the halls. It’s caring at a simplistic level.

  9. that was fascinating. More young men develop schizophrenia. They seem to gravitate to drugs too, maybe to cope. Sad. Sam’s connection was invaluable. Sam is so giving.

  10. That sounds like a well run and effective treatment centre….and didn’t Sam make a difference!
    No complications with interacting with a dog…dogs don’t have agendas – well, apart from obtaining treats…

    1. That’s the beauty of a dog. They don’t judge. And yes, that facility was most impressive. A very comfortable setting with genuinely caring people helping residents find comfort in their lives.

  11. The work you are doing is so fascinating! In my own volunteer work I’m involved with a lot of substance abuse clients, and from that perspective I definitely think Sam’s visit would be a huge help to those with this kind of trouble. You and Sam are such a blessing to so many people, and an inspiration!

  12. I’m glad that you visited this people… you brought hope to this woman I’m sure… and maybe the thought to help others and to have a dog like Sam once helped her more than the meds… Hugs to you for being the sunray for this people ;o)

  13. Made my eyes tear up. What a wonderful thing you and Sam do for your community. And, this touches a nerve, so to speak, as my adult son is a train wreck due to substance abuse. He was evicted yesterday and has not a penny to his name. Long story of course. He refuses (so far) to take a step towards AA, etc. And though his crumbling world is due to his choices in life it breaks my heart into a million pieces that my only son is in this mess…that he suffers so. Somehow The Poodle got it; he nudged his snout right into my armpit last night; he stayed snuggled by my side the entire night. <3

Feel free to bark your thoughts...but no growling please.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.