A Day Among Angels

Last week we visited the hospital and it was even more touching than usual. Our first visit was actually with a young visitor who was seeing her grandpa. Little ‘Angelica’ saw Sam and came squealing into the hallway. “Oh my gosh, is THAT a poodle?” she whispered. I assured her that in fact, Sam was a poodle. “But he’s soooo big,” she said. “Well, that’s because he’s a Standard Poodle, I replied.” I didn’t want to disillusion her by saying he’s really a substandard poodle-I mean, the kid is only 6 years old, who am I to burst her bubble at such an early age?

This little girl was one of the sweetest kids we’ve ever visited with since joining the pet therapy program. She had a bright twinkle in her eye, a soft voice and a special appreciation for that fluffy knucklehead. He nuzzled right up next to her and the two of them began an organizational meeting of their mutual admiration society. Sam leaned in heavily toward her and she kept stroking his head and ears and when she realized that she’d flattened his topknot, she fluffed it up. This little girl was absolutely adorable and we stayed chatting with her for quite a while. We sat on the floor in the hallway just outside the door to her grandpa’s room but didn’t go in because there were family members talking in serious tones and I didn’t want to crash their private time. Sam didn’t seem particularly interested in going in either; but he seemed to know this little girl needed him and he answered the call ‘pawfectly.’ My only regret was not grabbing a quick snapshot of her with Sam, but I’m religious about getting permission for photos at the hospital but especially where kids are concerned and there wasn’t an adult available to obtain the necessary okay without going into the room.

A couple of doors down from her grandpa’s room was another amazing opportunity for letting Sam do his thing. The patient had what looked like his daughter visiting with him but it became clear that the visitor was actually a sign language interpreter who the hospital had brought in for the benefit of any deaf patients. She asked if we’d drop in before leaving the floor, to which I said “we’d love to!” Sam took my enthusiastic response as his cue and he practically loped in to meet them. John’s face lit up when he caught sight of Sam, far more than most of the folks we visit. We learned that he also owned a Standard Poodle who was almost the exact color as Sam. He stroked Sam’s head and had I given him any indication it was ok to do so, Sam no doubt would have jumped up on the bed and crowded out the poor fella. Luckily he didn’t, instead he curled up right next to the bed while John (through the signer) told stories about his poodle. He had numerous questions regarding Sam…how old was he, how long had he been a therapy dog, stuff like that. Frequently when Sam is content with the energy in a room, he will lay down next to a patient. People think he’s bored, when in fact, he’s just comfortable with the person. We had a nice chat and when we started to leave, it was all I could do to get Sam up. He was prepared to stay with this kind, sweet man and the lovely woman who was helping him communicate the love for his own dog and the breed, as well as his appreciation toward the one visiting with him that day.

Sam in uniformAll in all, I couldn’t have been more proud of Sam and his visits that day. He showed why he’s a great ambassador for the use of pet therapy.

There are two entrances to the hospital grounds. You can enter the hospital from the north end of the campus which is where we usually arrive since it intersects with a major arterial road with quicker traffic flow. The other entrance from the south end is closer to the hospice center. We generally first visit the hospital entering from the north side and then head south toward hospice in kind of a loop. I had never before put 2 plus 2 together (math is NOT my forte) that the hospice is across the street from a large cemetery. It seemed ironic that you had the last stop for the living before heading across the street to a final resting place in such close proximity. That’s when I decided to swing by Crown Hill cemetery after we finished our visits to  meander among some of the older headstones.

When I was in college, I took a B&W photography class that sparked an interest in old cemeteries. In fact, my final portfolio was mostly of photos from a couple of the oldest ones in the metro area. How a society acknowledges the dearly departed says a lot about its customs and values so Sam and I walked around checking out some of the graves giving special notice to dates. It had rained hard when we left the hospital and the sky was moody and dark. After being touched so profoundly by our visits, it made me reflect about the lives of the people whose headstones we saw and it must have made Sam contemplative as well since he seemed pretty focused on one of the more distinctive ones ending a fascinating day among angels, past and present.

Have you ever walked through an old cemetery to see various headstones or am I just weird?

Live, love, bark! <3