The Puppy That Helped an Alzheimer’s Patient

Discover the amazing true story of how a pound puppy helped a caregiver.

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The Heaven-Sent Stray

"No, we do not want a dog!” I told my daughter. “I don’t like dogs in the house, and besides, it would be too much additional work.” My daughter thought a dog would be good therapy for her father, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Because of his illness, he had to give up driving and could not go anyplace alone. His isolation and illness caused him to be depressed.

I, on the other hand, did not think having a dog would work. I was my husband’s full-time caregiver and did not have time to care for a dog. I knew that if a dog was going to help him, it would need to be in the house. But having grown up on a farm, I was raised to believe dogs belonged outside.

Since my daughter volunteered at the local animal shelter, I should not have been surprised when she arrived at our home shortly thereafter with a scrawny, sickly female puppy about eight weeks old. The puppy was a mixed terrier and beagle weighing less than four pounds.

My first instinct was to say, “No, it cannot stay here.” Then I saw the joy on my husband’s face as he cuddled the puppy in his arms.

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“Let her stay for a couple weeks,” my daughter insisted. “Then if it’s not working for you, I will take her back.”

I was still skeptical, but it sounded fair enough. Since we had to call the puppy something, we named her Skippy and moved her into a corner of the kitchen. She made herself right at home, and in no time she was sharing my husband’s favorite chair, watching television with him. Still, my intention was to ease Skippy out of my house after a few weeks.

I knew I was in trouble, however, when we had to take her to the veterinarian for an overnight stay to be treated for a viral infection she had contracted while still at the pound. While she was gone, my husband would ask over and over, “Where is Skippy?” or “When is Skippy coming home?” After that I did not have the heart to get rid of the puppy and disappoint my husband—which, of course, was my daughter’s plan all along.


It was truly amazing to see how quickly my husband and his new friend bonded. The early morning walks were eagerly anticipated by both. Skippy slept in the kitchen, and she would wait for her master by the door each morning to go walking and to get the paper at the end of the driveway. Then, settling into their favorite chair, they would read the paper, watch TV, and nap for a couple of hours, freeing me to do things around the house.

There were times I could have sworn the dog was able to read her master’s mind. She seemed to know instinctively when to be playful and frisky and when it was time to be quiet and lay her head on his knee and relax with him. At those times, my husband’s hand would be caressing her head and back. Having Skippy in our home meant more work for me— feeding her, cleaning up, and other chores necessitated by her being a house dog. She was housebroken within two weeks, so that was helpful. But the hours she freed up for me, the caretaker, by being a constant companion to my husband more than made up for the additional work she caused.

He was more content to be alone in a room, and he was getting more outside exercise while walking Skippy. Plus all this activity helped snap him out of the frequent bouts of depression caused by the disease. The routine established with his canine companion added a dimension to my husband’s confused existence that neither I nor our children could accomplish. And his love and concern for her welfare was a mental challenge that otherwise would have been missing in his life.

In the evenings, as the sun set over the hill in back of our house, I would look out the window and see the two of them walking in the backyard, and I would say a silent prayer of thanks for the miracle of the scruffy, mixed-breed pound puppy I had not wanted.

She gave my husband something to occupy his otherwise lost hours and brought him much happiness. I still do not especially like dogs. But then Skippy was not just a dog. She became a member of our family.


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