From pitiful to ‘pawsome’

We had hospital duty over the weekend and you know what that means…a bath for the “Muppet.” Cue the scary music…dum, dum, dum. Poor Sam, have you ever seen anything so pitiful looking?

H.E.L.P.  me
H.E.L.P. me

Can’t you just practically hear that tiny little voice from the movie The Fly?  I nearly wet myself laughing at his pitifully sad, drowned-rat expression. To get even at my laughing, he shook water all over me, twice. 🙁

What a difference a couple of hours makes! Such a handsome boy and you could see from his prancing around, he was thinking he’s a real dandy. Well, YOU can’t actually see it, but trust me on that–he was doing the happy dance prancing all over. 🙂 He was so soft and fluffy, like a big dandelion. A couple drops of an essential oil blend later (clove and vanilla-my current favs) and W-O-W, he smelled just fabulous on top of it!


So off we went to hospice where Sam’s favorite nurse, Ann was back (yay!). He was so glad to see her and immediately started loping toward her so he could do the ‘lean’ against her leg. She laughed and said how much she’d missed him. It’d been a couple of months since we last saw her and Sam had missed his favorite nurse.

Hospice was filled with loads of people visiting loved ones–I’d never seen the parking lot as full before. When we first walked in, there was a sobbing young girl near the lobby entrance, perhaps 6 or 7 years old with her mom who was trying to comfort her. Sam’s ears pricked up as I logged us in and he immediately pulled toward her. He’s super sensitive with crying kids and I knew it was upsetting him that this little girl was so crestfallen. He walked up and pushed his noise under her elbow between her and her mom. She turned and laid her hand on Sam’s head and began petting him. His tail started that furious, crazy wag and she stopped crying (her mom smiled, mouthing “thank you” toward us). Sam must have thought his job was done there because he turned to leave and encountered an older fellow who was sitting nearby reading a book. As he began to pet Sam, a family came by and oohed and awed and from then on Sam was in 7th heaven with people. The family asked all about him, “What’s his name, how old is he, is he a poodle or a doodle, how’d you get him so soft?” The usual small talk. I answered their questions and then the fellow reading his book chimed in that he’d never seen a big poodle. We all chatted for a few more minutes about poodle size and other sundry stuff and then Sam and I went to check in at the nurses desk. Sam had begun working his therapy mojo making people smile.

Our first visit was a rarity-the patient was quite conscious and chatting with this sister. “John” reached out to shake my hand and held it firmly, with clear eyes locked on mine. This wasn’t what I expected from a hospice patient. Sam wanted to get in on the action so we put his front paws up on the bed next to John. His sister was so taken with Sam and he with her because he immediately got down from the bed and went to her side which was where he stayed most of the rest our fairly lengthy visit. Sam senses when someone needs him and clearly she did.

John was one of the most charming and delightful humans I’ve ever met. It was hard for me to see this lovely man in hospice especially since he was probably around my age. I just wanted to hug him and take him home with me. Even the nurse said they were all going to miss him very much when he left. He was one of those kinds of people who impress you with their genuine spirit and lovely demeanor. He talked about when he raised Angora goats and we smiled at all his stories. When we finally left his room, I was profoundly affected. It is so rare that I get an up close and personal idea about a patient and their life first hand but this visit I found a light that shined from within this gentle man’s spirit.  He will indeed be missed not only by his family but by those of us who recently had met him. When it came time to leave, he again firmly took my hand and repeatedly thanked us for visiting. He wished us well. A life can be defined by those who greatly impact it. While it was a chance encounter, I am much richer for making John’s acquaintance. I can only hope we made as much of a difference to him as he did for us. I know that Sam had impacted his sister, and just hoped our visit did the same for John; he truly deserved that much.

No sooner had we left John’s room but we visited with the same family we encountered when we first walked in. Their mother was the patient and although she was sleeping, the son asked if we’d put Sam’s feet next to her so they could let her hand touch him. When I put his feet up, the son tried to wake her to no avail and rather than pull away, Sam completely relaxed and sank deeply onto the bed. The grandson lovingly took his grandmother’s hand and stroked Sam’s head. It was sweet seeing these men in a tender moment and Sam was a great therapy ambassador.

Shortly thereafter a woman came running after us to see if I’d bring Sam by for a few moments. We always accommodate requests whenever possible and Sam happily strolled in, ready to be the center of attention. They all fell in love with Sam and he made the rounds with each person. We answered all the questions about him and he ended up laying next to the most vocal in the group, a daughter. She was so touched by Sam’s response to everyone that she reached down and hugged him mightily, saying how she just loved him.

This kind of interaction always deserves a treat which I bring to keep Sam fully engaged while he’s working. Normally, he either doesn’t understand the concept of tricks for treats, or he thinks he’s cute enough not to have to perform them. The only ‘trick’ he will do on command is to lick his chops when a treat is offered. Trust me, I have no idea where he picked that up-as I’ve said many times before, this dog, sweet as he is, is about as dumb as a stump! He’ll lick the left side and when I say “can you lick the other side?” he promptly licks the right side. It cracks me up every time and he always impresses patients and visitors. Right on cue he sat like a prim and proper gentlemen and when I asked him to lick his chops, he did it twice, alternating each side when prompted. The family absolutely loved it, Sam loved his treat and we all smiled. It was that way the entire weekend, great connections with wonderful people and lots of shared smiles.

Normally after our sessions, Sam is pretty wiped out. Being such a good boy and absorbing all that negative energy for even a few minutes can take a real toll on his energy level and he will fall fast asleep when we get home. Gotta love the one paw hanging out there. He never even stirred when I got up to grab the camera. My buddy was a super star this weekend and I couldn’t have been any prouder of his hospital work. Care to share any proud moments of your ‘pawsome’ pet?

All tuckered out
My work is done for the weekend

Live, love, bark! <3

It all changed in a heartbeat

Good dog.
Good dog

It started out like most hospital weekends…running a few errands early on and then getting ready for our shift. Every time we work at the hospital Sam has to be bathed. He’s professionally groomed every other month, but it was my turn this time. I’m pretty good at the in-between clean-ups and certainly think it’s easier on Sam since we can take breaks if necessary but it’s definitely not our favorite activity (oy my aching back).

It begins when the collar comes off. In the past, removing Sam’s collar always seemed to make him jump for joy at the thought of complete and unbridled freedom. Lately though, I think Sam has figured out that removal of the collar is a prelude to getting a bath, an adventure in which he’d rather not partake. I gather up the necessary stuff while he’s celebrating but think he’s on to me now. He used to be so excited at getting the collar off but now he seems to have figured out that it will involve being in a room where there’s running water and Sam avoids water like the plague. I grabbed a pile of towels…some for him as well as for the walls afterwards and the shampoo but he went MIA. I called and called but no Sam (cue cricket noises). Once I found him, he assumed the hang-dog posture as if he was being horribly abused and s-l-o-w-l-y made his way to the ‘liquid guillotine.’ Sheesh, talk about dramatic! Despite having webbed feet like all Standards (who were originally bred to hunt and retrieve waterfowl mind you), Sam despises water and has been known to completely walk around puddles on sidewalks. Lately though I think he might be harkening back to a previous life…one in which he had been an attorney specially trained in finding loopholes–in this case, an escape for himself.

My bathroom has one of those sprayer attachments but it’s just about 6” short of completely reaching the back-end of the tub easily.  Sam will reluctantly hop into the tub, with the “oh my God, I can’t believe you’re making me do this” look on his face. But lately his MO is to hop toward the back of the tub, with a ‘ha, ha, ha…the water can’t reach me’ smugness.  This forces me to get into the tub with him so I can keep him from hanging back just out of reach or from jumping out (which he did this time anyway).

As soon as I got him firmly positioned in the OSA (optimal spray area), I started the sudsing/rinse cycles. We go through lots of body shakings with water & suds flinging all over on the walls, window & ceiling so as soon as the dog is sparkly clean, I get to start mopping and cleaning up–oh joy. It’s a regular ritual which makes me often wonder if doing him at home is worth the effort of bathing and cleaning up rather than just going to a dog-wash. This time we tried out a new rosemary/mint-scented shampoo with built-in conditioner. Suffice to say, this stuff was ‘pawsome’ and I could hardly wait til he hopped in bed with me later that night. He smelled that good!

In addition to not liking water, Sam despises hair dryers too but he did remarkably well while being fluffed-n-buffed. He patiently endured a few swipes with the clippers and scissors and 90+ minutes later he emerged a sweet-smelling, handsome dude. We were ready, or so I thought.

It was a lovely Saturday and we excitedly left for our assignment. First we visited with several people with loads of little kids. Sam loves kids so it took us a while to finally get to see patients; they all want to touch and pet his soft hair. Many patients were being released and there were family members there to take them home. It can be kind of hectic for the staff but they manage it all really well.

One of the more memorable patients we visited was a young woman, Frances who had been in the hospital for a week but was being discharged that afternoon. Her Mom, Barbara was there to take her home. Frances fell in love with Sam since his fur reminded her of the two Bedlington Terriers they’d once owned. After both of them had passed away unexpectedly, her Dad couldn’t bear the thought having to say goodbye to another pet so they were now bereft of any dog companionship. Sam was spot on, letting everyone hug and pet him all the while staying incredibly calm and completely into it. After spending several minutes with him, they were both eager to work on Dad to get another pooch back into the household. I had to chuckle since they planned to use Sam as Exhibit A as he was so patient at allowing the daughter to weave her fingers through his fur, while he looked soulfully into her eyes and leaning against Mom. I was beyond proud of him and left smiling knowing they were determined enough to probably convince Dad to let them bring a new addition home soon. 🙂

Then it was off to hospice. Sam loves going to hospice-the staff is wonderful and there usually are a number of people we can visit. The first was a young woman visiting her uncle. She lived in Florida but had come back to support her Dad while he said a final goodbye to his brother, her uncle. She fawned over Sam and he responded sweetly. We had just started to make our way to the uncle’s room, when a man probably in his 50’s approached Sam and got down on the floor and hugged him. It was quite unusual since most adults that age don’t normally sit cross-legged on the floor and hug a dog while sniffling and drying their eyes in the middle of a corridor. The man talked to Sam as though no one were around. He said, “my Daddy is going to die soon and be with his dogs, so if Sam could come by room 214, it would mean a lot to my Daddy.” The niece was touched by this man’s display of bare emotion and said no worries since her family had decided against a visit.

As I walked toward 214, the nurse said the family was in the room and we probably shouldn’t go in. I mentioned the son had specifically asked for us just a moment ago and she said then she’d check with them and sure enough, they absolutely wanted Sam to come in the room. We walked in to see the whole family gathered in a circle around the patient’s bed, arm-in-arm holding onto one another. This was not what I anticipated since the son was full on sobbing now as were a few others.

At times like this, I’m not really sure what to do or say and think probably the best approach is to not say anything. It’s hard enough to know what to do with someone you actually know but even more difficult with a complete stranger. Sam seemed a little bit nervous but at the insistence of the son, we put his feet on the bed touching his father’s hand. Sam must have sensed something because he pulled back quickly but had managed to touch the man’s hand and arm. The son thanked us and I tried to be as supportive as possible with a smile and a squeeze on the son’s arm. We left the room quietly. As I walked out with the nurse, she thanked me for going in because it had meant so much to the family. I told her, “I don’t know how you do it day after day.” She smiled, said they did it for the families and I knew exactly what she meant.

As I was walking toward the exit, the attending doctor was doing paperwork and Sam expressed an interest in visiting her. He had walked past her when we first arrived so she was all too happy to snuggle with him. As we spoke, the nurse came in and said “call it 3:52 for Mr. Walsh.” The doctor smiled and said thank you to us for visiting. I knew there would be more paperwork for them to handle now. It was 3:55 and I realized that Sam had touched the man moments before he passed. Maybe he knew he was on his way to ‘see his dogs’ and it was ok for him to join them, maybe it was just coincidence. All I knew was that in a blink of an eye, the weekend went from smiles to tears. It left me feeling off-balance. There’s nothing that could have been done to change the outcome for Mr. Walsh, but just knowing Sam’s presence meant a lot to his family was somewhat comforting. In the hub-bub of the staff making the arrangements for transporting Mr. Walsh to the mortuary, I hugged Sam extra tightly. He responded like he always does, a serious tail wag and then a ‘let’s go look–there are others to comfort.’ We started to walk out and a small family was meeting with a social worker. They stopped to hug on Sam and thanked us for coming to hospice; it had meant a lot to them and their loved one. Sam acted as if they were the first people we’d seen that day and gave them his all.

We left shortly thereafter for home where Sam enjoyed a deep sleep as he is apt to do after a long or draining shift. We’d been there much longer than our usual visits and I could see it had affected this loving creature. While I watched his chest rise and fall with each breath, I sat and thought about all the memorable patients we’d visited that day. The smiles with Francis and her Mom at the thought of going home and the sad tears of loss by Mr. Walsh’s son. These human connections, the hello’s and goodbye’s bind us all together and are all inevitable. We can only hope they know that we wish them well on their journeys, whether here or in the next world.