Furry Bundles of Joy

Furry Bundles of Joy

Given her aversion to nursing homes, how did she get herself–and her dogs–into this?

Dee Good with her current Pomeranians, Brownie and Muffy

Tuesday morning, 9:45. I stood outside the nursing home, clutching my dogs’ leashes. Deep breaths, I told myself. You don’t want them to pick up on your tension and start barking. My two Pomeranians, Honeybear and Cody, looked up at me expectantly, as if to ask, “So, what are we doing here?”

Good question. Why had I volunteered to bring the dogs to visit with the residents? “You’re welcome to spend as much time as you’d like,” the activity director had told me over the phone. “Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

What I was comfortable with would be not setting one foot (or paw) inside at all. Don’t get me wrong, I loved helping folks. But nursing homes? No way. They depressed me. And scared me.

It went back to my days as a high school choral director. A surprising profession considering my shyness. I joke with my husband, Danny, that I’m a hole-in-the-wall person: I’m so shy that in a social situation, if there were a hole in the wall, that’s where you’d find me, hiding.

While directing the chorus helped me develop some confidence–with students, fellow teachers, even in front of an audience–I never did work up the nerve to start a conversation with a stranger.

I thought that would be my stumbling block when our chorus performed at a convalescent home. No, the problem was the facility. The smell and grime turned my stomach. Worse, the residents seemed miserable.

I hoped our singing would bring them some joy, but it was impossible for me to be joyful in such a wretched place. After that, I vowed never to set foot in a nursing home again. And I hadn’t. Not for 20 years.

If only I hadn’t seen that article the other day! Danny was working in the basement (we run a home business making hand-painted silk accessories). I was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table when a photo caught my eye–adorable dogs being petted by senior citizens.

“Visit From Locals and Their Dogs Brings Joy to Nursing Home Residents,” the headline read.

Good for them, I thought, shuddering. Quickly, I turned the page.

That’s when I heard it. A voice. Male. Not Danny, who was still down in the basement. Not anyone I recognized.

You have cute little dogs, the voice said. You can do that too.

Wow, I’m hearing things, I thought. I must be really tired....

Dee, you can do that. There it was again, more emphatic.

“God, if that’s you, you’re going to have to give me something else to do,” I said. “I can’t do nursing homes, remember?” Not only was I hearing voices, I was talking back!

Yes, you can. This time it was more than a statement. It was a command.

“Fine, I’ll do it!” I blurted.

Silence. The voice was gone.

My promise hung in the air. I can’t back out on a promise to God. But what if there’s a good reason I can’t go through with it? I wondered. That’s how badly I wanted to avoid going into a nursing home.

I mean, walking into. But maybe “going into” in the more permanent sense was what really scared me, now that I was getting older myself.

I glanced at Honeybear and Cody. They perked up. Nothing shy about them. They loved people. Maybe a little too much. Whenever we took them into a place with a lot of people, they got excited. And excited Poms, well, they get yappy, which I was sure folks in a nursing home wouldn’t appreciate.

Besides, they probably had to get certified for pet therapy first. The dogs in that newspaper photo were wearing vests.

Poms are known for their soft, fluffy fur–that’s what makes them perfect for cuddling. If I had to cover up the dogs’ coats, wouldn’t that keep people from petting them and defeat the whole purpose of the visit?

Just to confirm my suspicions, I called a nursing home in town. “They don’t have to be certified therapy dogs,” the activity director told me. “We just need proof that they’re current on their vaccinations. How about next Tuesday morning? I’ll put you on the schedule.”

I hung up, muttering, “Guess I’m not getting out of this so easily....” I told Danny about the newspaper article, the voice, how I’d somehow signed myself up for the most dreadful volunteer work.

“This is crazy!” I exclaimed. “Even if I didn’t hate nursing homes, I’m no good at talking to strangers. I’m a hole-in-the-wall person. You and I both know that!”

“Maybe God knows something we don’t,” Danny said. “Why not try it? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Now I was at the nursing home, a nervous wreck. The worst that could happen? The dogs could start yapping and upset the residents. I could freeze up or, heck, even pass out–from fear, shyness or both.

Get a grip, Dee, I told myself. I grabbed the leashes more firmly and said in what I hoped was a confident voice, “Come on, boys.”

In the lobby there was a fresh, lemony scent. The place was sparkling. So different from that miserable home I’d visited years before. A woman with a friendly smile came up to us. “You must be Dee,” she said, then bent down to pet the dogs. “The folks here can’t wait to meet you guys. Follow me.”

She led us into the TV room. I didn’t even have a chance to worry about what to say to people. They peppered me with questions about the dogs.

Honeybear and Cody lapped up the attention, their fluffy tails wagging like wild, their tongues out in their biggest doggie grins. They were definitely excited, but they didn’t bark once. All I heard was happy panting. Amazing.

Next we visited the physical-therapy department. After that, we went room to room. I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to strangers about my dogs.

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