By Suzanne Reisler Litwin
Keeping it real – Weekly column West Island Blog
So the Doctor tells my Mother and I that my Father has about a year to live at best. Seriously, that’s a lot to process and accept in one sentence.
Now what am I supposed to do? Cry every day? Count down the days? Dread the final day, every day? Think about the “after his death”, kind of life I will have? Not leave his side for a moment, because the moment is coming soon?
Immediately I became impulsive and illogical. The order of my operations were completely out of order. I think I ate cereal for breakfast, lunch and supper for months.
As a family we decided that my Father was going to be in palliative care at home. For as long as we could keep him at home, we did. By the way, my Father didn’t know his life was severely limited at any pointed. He thought we were just hangin around a lot because he was home more.
We took shifts caring for him as my mother could never be alone. One day while watching tv, my Father and I were talking about regrets. I asked him if there was something he wanted to do or have that he didn’t.
He said he always wanted a dog, but Mother was terrified of dogs so for that reason we couldn’t have one. I thought about this seriously as it had been 4 months since the doctor gave him a year to live.
The next day I did something very impulsive. I went to buy my son football cleats in a shopping mall. After leaving the sports store I went into a pet shop and bought the smartest dog they had.
My criteria was that I needed a very smart dog which I could perfectly train in a very short amount of time. I bought a toy poodle, whom we named Bear. The need to get a dog for my Father superseded any logical reasoning. I know this was selfish, but I wasn’t thinking logically.
The next day I brought Bear to visit my father. He was having a rough day, but when he saw this puppy, his face lit up. He said, “A dog! Where did you get a dog? What’s his name? Is he male or female? I love dogs!”
My Mother locked herself in her bedroom.
I told my Father that I too always wanted a dog. So now was a good time to have one. I engaged my Father in helping me train and feed him. At home I studied pet therapy on the Internet. I followed a specific program for senior care pet therapy. Every morning I trained Bear from 8 to10 am in that course. At 10 am, my Mother called me with the daily plan for my Father.
Almost every day I brought the dog to visit him. Eventually, my Mother felt more comfortable with being around Bear. I mean, what could a puppy do to hurt her? Perhaps her slippers suffered more than she did.
In a short time Bear learned to sit, lay down, give a paw, wait attentively, and responded to his name. He was a huge joy for everyone. On the days I couldn’t bring Bear, my Father was disappointed. He would ask, “Hey! Where’s the pooch?”
During the following months there were times when my Father was in and out of the hospital. He would mention that he couldn’t wait to get home so he could be with Bear.
During the final weeks, Bear mostly sat on my Father’s lap. My Father caressed his body and gave him treats. They just sat quietly and watched TV. Both were comforted.
One day I was reading about a seniors residence that needed pet visitors. Bear! This is what he did so well. Bear and I went for an interview. He passed their test. He became a full fledged pet therapy dog. He wears a special bandana when he goes to do pet therapy. This is his badge of honor.
So what exactly does Bear do? We are given a list of people who have requested a pet visit. When visiting a resident I hold Bear firmly and allow the resident to caress and touch him. We talk about the love of dogs. Sometimes I need to guide their hands to help pet him. Bear just sits quietly and enjoys the attention. We visit for about 5 to 7 minutes per person. He does not bark or become adjetated when touched. He’s used to this. Primarily we visit people who have severe dementia and limited body movement. Sometimes, a resident will want to simply walk with me and Bear as if we are taking him for a walk. The reaction Bear causes is amazing. It’s as though he wakes people up and brings them back to life with joy.
For this and more I love him so. People who have dogs say there is nothing like a dog. It’s true. I wasn’t a dog lover. I couldn’t imagine that thought. I thought a dog is a dog, but they are so much more and more.
When I come home from a rough day, Bear jumps all over me bursting with joy to see me. He doesn’t leave my side. He follows me everywhere. If he can’t find me, he looks for me. When I’m sitting quietly, he sits with me – quietly. When I look at him, he looks back at me. When I feel sick or sad, he comforts me. He is a reflection of my being.
This isn’t a normal bond. It is a bond beyond a bond.
Am I pushing for dogs? Yes and No. The message I’m giving is that dogs are amazing animals that give a lot more love than is known. Not enough can be said about having a dog within a family. They are truly man’s best friend, companion, and filled with unconditional love to give and give and give.
On a final note. My Mother is crazy in love with Bear now. She is no longer afraid of dogs. When she comes to visit my home, Bear greets her with tons of love and they sit quietly on the couch or on a chair together. Bear comforts her just as he did with my father. Beyond-A-Bond Bear.
Suzanne Reisler Litwin is an author/writer/columnist/educator. She contributes every Monday morning to the West Island Blog.
She is an instructor at Concordia University in The Centre for Continuing Education. Suzanne is a freelance contributor to The Suburban newspaper. She is the author of the children’s book, The Black Velvet Jacket. She lives in Montreal, Canada with her 3 children, Allyn, Taylor, and Duke and her husband Laurie. Suzanne contributes regularly to West Island Blog under her column Keeping it Real. Please visit her website www.suzannereislerlitwin.com to read more of her published articles, books, and poetry.