It took almost a century for my father to live with a dog. Having resided practically his entire life in New York City apartment buildings that didn’t allow pets, it just wasn’t going to happen — until he showed up on Barney’s doorstep one day. Celebrating his 89th birthday this month, Dad has moved into an assisted-living facility. And who should have been there to greet him but beagle-mix Barney.
Barney greets lots of the residents, actually — and their children, grandchildren and, in my father’s case, great-grandchildren. “We adopted him from a shelter a few years ago,” says the volunteer coordinator for my father’s residence, Alexandra Garcia. “We think he’s about 11 now. An elderly couple had owned him, and when they passed, he was in the shelter for only one day when we took him. Actually, all the assisted living facilities [that are owned and operated by the company] are supposed to have a dog.”
Why? “The residents love him,” Ms. Garcia says. “They feed him treats, play with him. They enjoy him. He has a bed on every floor and does whatever he wants — sleep on the couch” or hang out with people.
I can’t say my father has a particular hankering for Barney, but he does like to see him tooling about and also enjoys giving him a good pet now and then. “Hey, Dog,” Dad calls out (okay, so at 89 he can’t remember everyone’s name), and Barney, if he feels like it, strolls on over. Dad doesn’t seem to mind when Barney declines the offer of a pet or stroke on the muzzle. It just makes him smile to see the house dog, as he is called by the staff, while he ambles on.
Barney is living proof that a dog doesn’t have to be a perfectly trained, purebred specimen to provide a therapeutic experience for people working to adjust to a challenging situation, for instance, the loss of a spouse of almost 60 years. In fact, lots of dogs would make good therapy dogs — dogs with three legs, dogs adopted from shelters, diva dogs, and all other kinds of dogs, as the story starting on page 3 proves. In fact, there’s a very good chance that your dog would make a great therapy animal — and experience a much enriched life for him or herself in the process.
Barney sure doesn’t mind the work — and the hours suit him just fine.
Happy tails to you,