Some years ago when I retired for the first time, I began looking around for volunteer activities. I don't know if I was caught up in the thought process to "give back to my community" or I just wanted to do fun things.
Following some research, I ran across an organization called the Companion Animal Association of Arizona or CAAA. Their website told me they sponsor pet therapy visits to patients who are room, wheelchair, or bed-bound in various medical facilities around the Valley of the Sun. At that time we had a total of three unemployed Black Labs milling around the house so I decided to put one of them to work partnering with me as an official, certified pet therapy team.
Maggie turned out to be perfectly assembled to provide a happy face and a wet nose to folks in need of social interaction, so we began a three-year pet therapy team odyssey during which we travelled to a nursing home in north Phoenix weekly.
It was clear to me from the beginning that Maggie was destined for stardom and I was merely the guy who delivered her to her adoring fans. Upon arrival, we'd no sooner reach the lobby when shouts of "Maggie's here!" reverberated up and down the corridors.
One day, I complained that no one noticed me or knew who I was although I accompanied Ms. Maggie everywhere she went. I was immediately advised that, yes, folks did know who I was - I was the fellow to brought Maggie to the home. It's satisfying to understand one's legitimate role in life. I guess.
It was amazing to me soon after we began meeting patients how quickly they found treats to offer to Maggie as we visited and how quickly Maggie learned which rooms had treats to offer. Her pace quickened noticeably as we neared the rooms with gustatory potential.
Early on, I wondered if our pet therapy visits made a difference. But then I thought what it must be like as a patient. They're awakened each morning for breakfast and to take medications. They spend the morning snoozing or sitting in the common room. After lunch, they nap some more and maybe watch television. Dinner is served, then more time in the bed or wheelchair until bedtime. Tomorrow would follow the same script, as would the next day.
But one morning, a Black Lab (or some other breed of dog) enters the room and trots over to see them. For a few precious minutes, they are the only person in that dog's eyes. They might forget the other 23 and a half hours of their day. For a while they laugh, smile and remember how Maggie reminds them of the dog they had, was it five years or 10 years ago? Yes, I think we - Maggie and I - made a difference. I saw it in the eyes and smiles of the people we came to call friends.
I also saw the glow in patients' eyes for days following the extraordinary visit of a fellow who periodically brought baby goats, miniature sheep and a chicken, who believe it or not, enjoyed entertaining anyone in a hospital gown.
While we were "in service," Hospice of the Valley started its own pet therapy program in Phoenix. I saw a photo of a miniature pony standing in someone's kitchen; three hundred pounds of therapy in one package!
CAAA is still going strong and providing valuable support to folks who don't ordinarily receive many guests. I'm thankful Maggie and I could be part of their team!
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