One day Bev Johnson visited her mother, who was nearing the end of her struggle with Alzheimer’s. It had been many months since her mother recognized her or had spoken or shown any sign that she was aware of her surroundings. Mom lived in her private fog.
That day a therapy dog visited the facility. Bev noticed that her mother’s eyes followed the dog visiting the home’s clients. When the dog came over to where they were siting, Bev’s mother’s eyes fixed on the dog. After a few moments of staring, her mother asked, “What’s the dog’s name?” That’s all, a simple question. Then she slipped back into her fog.
“But,” Bev said, “for a few moments, I had my mother back.” It was an emotional moment and I promised myself that one day I would give that experience to others.”
Bev’s telling of her life-changing moment sent a shiver through me.
Today, Bev is president of the Dynamic Dogs Club, in The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida. Bev has trained 67 therapy dogs. (More at DynamicDogClub.com)
This is the story of her dog, Tucker.
Tucker is a 17-pound European miniature poodle. At seven years, he is in the prime of his life and works at several jobs.
He works as a reading dog in the Reading Education Assistive Dog (R.E.A.D) program. Tucker sits quietly and listens to children read. Usually the kids are 7 years old or younger and English is their second language. Dogs are patient listeners, ya know.
If Bev wants to check on the child’s comprehension, she tugs her ear to signal Tucker. This is Tucker’s cue to reach out his paw and place it on the reader’s book.
“Tucker has a question,” Bev will say as she leans down to put her ear to the dog’s lips. “Tucker wants to know . . .” and Bev will ask a question from the book’s narrative.
More information about R.E.A.D. from Intermountain Therapy Animals at http://www.therapyanimals.org
Tucker’s second job is at a hospital in Leesburg, FL.
I was invited to join him at his Friday job at the Lady Lake Specialty Care Center. He arrives and makes an entrance like a rock star. He takes his fan club in stride. Everyone on the staff stops and comes over to exchange big smiles and kisses with Tucker. He is getting warmed up for the real work of visiting with the Center’s clients.
We enter a room lined on one side with wheelchairs and on the other with exercise equipment. Faces brighten. Smiles curl. The anticipation is palpable.
Every space is occupied. A dozen therapists in the room help, encourage, cajole.
“Take one more step.”
“You can do it.”
“Can you lift your knee without using your hands?”
“There’s Tucker. Do you want to say hello?”
Tucker and Bev make their rounds, leaving joy in their wake.
Tucker doesn’t always wait for an assignment. One day after completing a shift at a the Center, as he and Bev were leaving, Tucker saw a man in a wheelchair at the end of a hall near the nurses’ station. He stood as Bev tugged on his leash. In spite of her insistence, Tucker sat down and stared down the hall. When Bev realized they weren’t going anywhere until Tucker reached out to the man, they walked the length of the hall and greeted the man.
The man sagged in his wheelchair, his head on his chest, his left arm hung limp outside the armrest. He was motionless, seemed unaware of the activity around him. And he seemed invisible to the busy nurses coming and going about their chores.
Tucker walked to the man and ducked his head under the man’s left hand. When there was no response, Tucker bobbed his head back and forth beneath the hand. After a time the man’s fingers found some energy and began tiny flexes in the soft apricot hair of Tucker’s head.
“Nice doggie,” he was heard to say.
The frenzy at the nurse’s station froze. Jaws dropped.
It was the first words the man had spoken in two years.
It makes you want to lead a good life so that in the next one you might come back as a therapy dog.