A Dog Walked Into a Nursing Home
By Sue Halpern
Those readers who love dogs will enjoy the cover of this book. The picture is of a Labradoodle wearing a nurse’s cap and a big friendly smile.
The Labradoodle is a relatively new breed of dog (1988), a cross between a poodle for smarts and a Labrador retriever for sweet personality and goodness. When things go right, this new breed does not shed, a legacy from its poodle side. Alas, the dog in this story, Pransky by name, missed that gene, but she got the sweetness and smarts in double measure.
The author Sue Halpern, named the dog Pransky (her grandmother’s maiden name) because she walked in a sprightly manner. She was also smart and a quick learner.
Since the author’s daughter was leaving home for school and her husband worked away most of the time, it was decided that the dog would be trained to be a “therapy” dog, thus keeping both dog and mistress busy and less lonely.
The dog’s training involved much more than just visiting in hospital and allowing strangers to pet her.
Pransky was seven years old when she began training for therapy visiting. She had been living on an acreage and had not been trained to a leash. She could run where she wanted and did.
Now she must learn to sit and come, to not bark or whine or move too fast. She must allow people to fondle her ears in different ways, and she must not mooch food, although everyone will want to give her treats.
She had to endure a trial by fire walking through a pet food store without nosing anything; she went to playgrounds where children ran and squealed, where skateboards flew too close and ladies pushed strollers all around her.
Pransky remained calm.
Most nursing homes and hospitals require rigorous training of animals that are intended to be therapy visitors.
This then is the story of Pransky’s job at the County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, in Vermont, every Tuesday morning. There, her “friendliness, kindness, loyalty, attentiveness, and openness” were at last put to work, and Sue learned that if she herself had a reluctance to approach old, sick people, Pransky did not.
You may think from what I’ve said that this is a warm and fuzzy book of fluff. It isn’t.
Sue Halpern had, in the past, taught ethics to medical students, and she uses the philosophers as her guide in presenting herself and her dog at a care facility.
Also, this County Nursing Home was found “to offer an extensive curriculum on graciousness and love.”
The author muses about the real good she and her dog are doing. Since many of the residents have memory loss, will they remember Pransky when he doesn’t come?
She says, “Of all the things I learned … this was the most valuable; though we are made of memories, we live only in the here and now.”
Here and now is enough.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.