On September 23rd, Stephanie was anxiously looking forward to finally getting out of the hospital. As she sat waiting for her discharge orders, she saw the bright face of our English Springer Spaniel, Shelby, peak around the corner. An anxious face turned warm with smiles as she motioned Shelby and I into her room. Stephanie is a dog lover and had owned several dogs in her lifetime. As Shelby approached Stephanie’s bedside she seemed to be immediately aware of Stephanie’s love for dogs. When she asked if Shelby could get up on her bed, Shelby eagerly replied! This was just one of the many wonderful interactions Shelby and I had this same day.
Shelby and I both agree that this work we do is so important and the very best job we have ever had in our lives!
From Don Papsdorf and his 10 pound Italian Greyhound, Ozzy
It was a great visit as I see Ozzy eager to go into rooms and meet people. He clearly is gaining in confidence. One particular visit to a patient in ER was amazing. There was a 60ish gentleman in real distress getting ready to be wheeled into operating room. His family member asked for us to let the man see Ozzy and pet him.
I was a little hesitant because he looked to me to be almost comatose, eyes closed and no signs of anything. Anyway as I brought Ozzy up close to the fellow he went from no expression to a huge smile. With his free hand he immediately started stroking Ozzy’s head. Bill, my hospital escort, said he watched as the man’s vitals on the monitor changed dramatically.
From fast heart rate to slow and steady and the rest leveled out. I and Bill were amazed. If nothing else positive at all were to happen that day I would still have been overjoyed to see this little guy work his magic on that occasion.
One other note, as we started the visit on our way in we were stopped by a gentleman that couldn’t thank us enough for bringing dogs into the hospital. He began to share with his eyes watering how visit by Brody and Spencer earlier in the week had meant the world to his wife that was in very bad condition. He was just leaving the hospital after being with her and had to let us know how much that meant to him and his wife.
We don’t really know I guess the positive impact this program has for those in need of some "Fur Therapy” :)
From Stephanie Herthel
Bigger than Life Experience
18’’ X 18’’ Space
Boots and I were making our debut PetPartner visit. We prepared for this like all the teams must. We attended the class, practiced commands, and passed the tests. I was emotionally prepared for being a therapy team with my pet. I knew the wonderful benefits and possibilities. Last step, I approached a location and set up the paperwork. We were approved to visit an Alzheimer’s neighborhood. Today, Boots was clean and healthy. Our bag was ready; complete with hand sanitizer, the important notebook with documentation, wet wipes, poopie bag, and his all exciting, doggie cards. We were ready for today.
Boots, the two year old Small Munsterlander Dog, and I walked in confidently. We received our list of people who hoped to see the PetPartner Team. The list was long… my nerves kicked in. “Keep the leash loose…anxiety travels straight down the leash to your partner. Stay confident.” Lots of other ideas from the handbook came to mind. Instantly, I reached down and patted my partner’s head.
“Steph, there’s an exercise class going on. They’d love to see you.” Morgan, my Person of Contact interrupted my thoughts.
Our first visit had purpose, already . Off we went to the exercise group. Whew, maybe I wouldn’t have to enter anyone’s actual room. I could do exercise class then go visit those folks watching the birds in the middle circle. Besides, that would be good payoff for those many hours we’d spent un-training a bred hunter. As I walked, I prayed and planned how to stay in my comfort zone.
The ten people in exercise group all enjoyed seeing Boots. One lady was turning 97. “The birthday girl really loves dogs.” the staff said. She slowly, but with great intention and desire, reached out her small withered hand to pet Boots vigorously. She had a happy expression on her face.
A good feeling swept over me and I suddenly was relaxed. We finished that 30 minutes as if time stood still. I placed Boots in a down/stay so I could put a mark next to the residence’s name we’d seen in that area, I wiped Boot’s head off and without much thought I turned. I was headed down what I thought was my father’s hallway. The individuals were no longer watching the birds. I was going to have to go into rooms.
The first room however, was not my father’s room. I was in a different hall. “Boots, this isn’t the right hall“ I whispered to him out of my own anxiety. He looked up at me with his warm, beautiful, golden eyes as if to encourage me to “go for it!” (He really is the strong one in this partnership!) So, I checked my paper and indeed the person in this room likes dogs. I knocked… we were greeted with eye contact. The two of us entered. The man seemed pleased and Boots placed his little brown head on the man’s hand and leg. I helped the man pet Boots. It was nice! I again felt that this was where I needed to be at that second. We left, placed an x next to the man’s name on the paper and with a little more excitement went to the next room.
I peeked in the door. Boots was in a sit. The lady in the room was in a wheelchair facing a window. From where I was, I only saw the back of her head. She appeared to be sleeping. I started to leave. There was no way Boots could slip though that little passageway between her wheelchair and the dresser, anyway. In addition, she had two other chairs next to the window creating an 18’’ X 18’’ space for a 68 pound dog and myself. “Let’s go”, I whispered to my partner. Boots continued to sit. I looked down at him and reluctantly I knocked.
I called out, “Hi Helen.”
“My name is Betsy” came a gruff voice . Looking again at the paper it was indeed Betsy.
“Sorry, Betsy I am new. My name is Steph and I brought Boots the dog to see you. Would you like to see the dog?”
Betsy did not respond. I went ahead and had Boots enter the room with me. I stepped to where I could see her profile and her eyes were closed. My inner voice said leave. If there had been a fly on the wall looking at me…the scene would have been comical. I actually turned my body to leave her room not once, not twice, but three different times. If the fly focused on Boots on the other hand, it would have seen steadfastness. He never once appeared to be like me; ready to give up, jump ship, run for higher ground. My anxiety was at an all- time high. We shouldn’t bother her, I reasoned. We are brand new. We’ve seen 11 people already. That’s good. Being Boot’s advocate, I looked at him and said, “we’ve done enough today.”
Boots knew something I didn’t. He knew his LOVE was needed. So on the fourth body shift, I actually took a step towards the lady in the wheelchair. This time, Boots quickly came to his feet and was ready. I really didn’t know how his body would fit in that space and I didn’t know if I should wake her. Those were real concerns. I quickly said a prayer for guidance. This was my umpteenth prayer already this morning. But, it provided me with a renewed since of confidence.
I placed Boots in a sit, I proceeded forward through the space holding Boots’ 4 foot leash in one hand. My legs fit through so I figured Boots could actually fit without bumping the oxygen tank or wheelchair, too badly. I looked at Boots for courage and said, “Betsy, the paper says you like dogs. I want you to see Boots if you’d like.” She opened her eyes just barely. At that, I tugged slightly on his leash and without the slightest hesitation, Boots came right on through and looked straight up into Betsy’s eyes. Now, they were wide open! Her face changed from sad and expressionless to a smile. Her eyes went from closed to energized sparkling eyes. Boots was gentle even confined to this tiny 18’’ X 18’’ space. He scooted his body next to her legs apparently oblivious to the foot rest that was poking his ribs.
I changed too. My heart went from pounding with anxiety to pounding with love. Betsy and I talked for 10 minutes about her family. About how she raised children who trained Labs for hunting and now she had great grandchildren who were taking on that family tradition. Boots soaked up the stories, her love and attention and in return he gave her entertainment and much more than what I could even put into words. As she talked, I again said a prayer. Thanking God for not allowing me to walk away in fear of the gruff voice. Thanking Him for giving me the courage to turn down THAT hall, all be it, blindly at first. And, finally, I thanked Him for giving me a four legged dog partner who could help me to show love to those who need it most. Something I never could do under my own power.
Needless to say, Boots and I left that room and headed to the parking lot. Our first official two hours had ended with a bigger than life experience. And, who would have thought it would happen in an 18’’ X 18’’ space!
Response to Stephanie Herthel's Story
Please pass along to Stephanie Herthel my sincere thank-you. Her description of the inner voice panic and timidity helped me understand that my own trepidation may not be unique and from her description, all of my fears may not come to pass. Stephanie did a great job articulating what is going on inside my own mind. I’ll have a talk with my dog Watson before we head out to our first visit and remind him of his responsibility as part of this team.
Again, my thanks!
Matrese (Matty) Benkofske, Ph.D.
MO-KAN PET PARTNERS P.O. Box 7496 Overland Park, KS 66207