Hi! My name is Ambro
, I’m a St John Ambulance Therapy Dog and today, donning my scarf and accompanied by my wonderful handler, Steve, I am visiting my 5 sweethearts in a nursing home.
Staff and residents greet me warmly as I make my way to room 228 – Reg’s room. Reg is 94, blind and confined to a wheelchair, but as sharp as a tack. He hears my footsteps and greets me before I even enter his room. We have grown close over this past year of visits. He knows just where to scratch my coat to make me squirm with delight. He always has a stash of special treats for me and Steve, allows me to have two at each visit. I must, of course, earn them by sitting and shaking a paw with Reg.
Having done with the preliminaries, I cuddle up at Reg’s feet. Welcoming his hand stroking my neck, I listen to the animated conversation between two good buddies. Reg’s intellect amazes me. He and Steve are football enthusiasts. Every pass and every fumble from Saturday’s game is laid out for discussion. Steve has taken the time to emboss a drawing of a controversial play that he now presents to Reg to ‘feel’. Reg’s eyes glow with appreciation as the drawing helps him understand the complex play. He laughs and teases Steve as the two recall similar plays from past games.
Too soon, our time with Reg elapses and we must visit our next shut-in. Reg knows the routine and accepts the need to share us with other residents. A fond farewell and a promise to return next week, and we are away.
Room 233 – Rachel – a sweet lady in her 80′s and a dog lover of the first order. I can’t wait to see her. But… the room is empty, so we go looking for her. The resident nurse approaches us with the news that Rachel was taken to emergency during the night – a heart attack. She passed away quietly a few hours ago. I am unable to grasp the loss but I am quite disturbed by Steve’s sadness. He instinctively reaches out for me, and feeling his need, I cuddle close to him. Rachel had been quite special to Steve. She was so much like his own mother. The nurse offers him a coffee and a gentle chat to ease him through this setback. Steve will need to grieve this loss. He will depend on me to help him so I must be strong.
A deep breath, a firm resolve and we are down the corridor again.
Room 237 – Janet. Janet is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer. Her ‘reality’ is that of a 30 year old mother of 2. The past 50 years of her life have vanished. The loving husband who comes to visit her every day is, to her, just a ‘funny old man’. She finds it amusing that he calls her sweetheart. In her narrowed world, her husband is a vibrant young father who spends hours playing and teaching his children. Steve has adapted to Janet’s reality and, as we enter, he greets her warmly and brings me to her side. Her face lights up as I approach. She had a dog ‘just like me’, she repeats, when she was a girl. My visits are the highlight of her week. It is a good thing that I am so big because her hugs would choke anything smaller than I am. From the time I arrive to the time I leave, Janet’s arms embrace me. She had a dog ‘just like me’…
Steve brought some photos of his own children in the hope that they might evoke Janet’s memories of happy times with her children. A brief chuckle rises from the octogenarian as she tries to describe a happy moment shared with her child. The words are confused and disjointed, but Steve hangs onto her every word, acknowledging the joy she feels – however brief that memory may be. Steve is thankful for that small success as he watches the light fade from the old woman’s eyes and slumber overtake her consciousness. It’s time to move on. A gentle tug on my leash and we slip slowly out of Janet’s room. She had a dog ‘just like me’…
Another deep breath and a walk to room 312 – Kathy’s room. Kathy has been bedridden for quite a number of months. Without family to visit, her days are long and lonely. A small crucifix above her bed gives some insight into the woman’s strength of character.
I rush into her room, excited to see the poor darling. She reaches out to me and asks Steve to let me place my front paws on the bed to allow her to scratch my head. I can only hold that position for a short time but I do my best. This is the only time when I wish I were a tiny dog, like Fluffy, who can get right up on people’s beds. But Kathy’s loving strokes make the awkward position worthwhile. She asks Steve for treats to give to me. Kathy strains to reach in my direction. I very gently take the treat from her hand.
Again Steve has chosen something special to cheer Kathy. She had, on a previous visit, indicated a love of musicals. Steve has brought her a simple recorder with a CD of Oklahoma. He shows her how to operate the hand-held machine and plays a few minutes of music for her. Tears well in her eyes and her gnarled hand reaches out to Steve in gratitude. He promises to find other CD’s for future visits. The conversation moves to Kathy’s brief stage experience. She had a great voice at that time. The memories flood her countenance and her eyes glow once more.
Another jump to the side of the bed, another delicious treat and we bid farewell to a lovely lady.
Room 325 – Charlie. Charlie is a gruff old guy but I love him. They say that the only time they see him smile is when he sees me. I find that hard to believe. He is always so kind to me.
Today he hobbles to the door to meet us. Steve knows how easily someone of Charlie’s instability can fall so he invites Charlie to join us at the lounge for a juice and biscuit. The offer is accepted and I am at last able to greet my good friend. I lay my massive head on his lap and relish the gentle strokes offered.
Charlie’s list of complaints is legendary. Steve patiently listens, acknowledges and tries to move the conversation along more positive lines. When this fails, he offers to take Charlie for a stroll in the garden. A gruff snort is the old man’s acquiescence. As we slowly make our way into the warm sunshine, Charlie’s spirits rise and his complaints cease. He wraps his arm around my bulk and disappears into a gentler world of his own.
Our visits have come to an end for the day. In the hour or so spent in the nursing home, we hope to have brought a few moments of joy to the people we visited.
Both Steve and I are weary and in need of some fun. We head straight to the park to play frisbees for an hour before returning home.
I love being a St John Ambulance Therapy Dog, and I love my special Steve, and I love the people I visit.