Maximus – a Good Therapy Dog
“Good morning Lena,” I called as Max and I entered her room at the *Fountains Assisted Living Lodge. Max, my yellow Labrador retriever, and I were on our weekly volunteer assignment. Max wagged his tail in greeting. Lena’s eyes lit up when she saw him. I didn’t mind that she greeted Max before acknowledging me. After all, he was the therapy; I merely tagged along. He was the main act; I was the sideshow.
I opened the blinds to let in some spring sunshine; then got down to the task at hand. Max knew the routine. He flopped down by the side of the bed, with that look – hey, it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.
“What’s for breakfast?” I asked. Lena, what was left of her at 90, was sitting up in bed. Her breakfast tray, laden with dishes, hovered in front of her. Lena was essentially bedridden and needed help walking, eating, and dressing. She opted to eat breakfast in her room and my job was to feed her and get as much nutrition into her fragile frame as possible.
While I fed Lena, Max lifted his head, his nose aquiver with the potpourri of smells wafting his way. After a few spoons of oatmeal, Lena lost interest. “What about this coffee cake,” I asked. “It looks like a special treat.” “Oh, I’ll save it for later,” she said, so I set the cake on her bedside table and removed the tray so we could talk. At the word “treat,” Max went on full alert. I should have noticed.
I rearranged her pillows so she could sit back comfortably, then pulled up a chair. We were chatting away, when Lena, making a point, absentmindedly patted the bedcovers. That was all the invitation Max needed. With one leap he bounded up from the floor and landed, PLOP, on top of Lena. All 100 lbs. of him! Thinking he’d squashed the breath out of her, I pulled him away. Where was she? I was about to ring for a nurse, when I heard a faint sound like wheezing, coming from her direction. Lena, under a heap of bedcovers and pillows, was barely visible, but a huge smile was plastered on her face. The wheezing sounds were chuckles.
Relieved we hadn’t killed our patient, I straightened her out as best I could. “Are you alright?” I asked.
“I haven’t had a good laugh like this in a long time,” she wheezed. “Good boy,” she said, as she stroked Max’s silky, golden fur. Good dog, Really? When it was time to go, Max jumped down and an exhausted Lena settled in for a nap. I straightened up and we left. Walking down the hall, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct cluster of crumbs on Max’s nose. That too, I wondered?
Another time, I came to play the piano for the residents during the lunch hour. As Max and I walked to the dining room, a fire alarm went off in the building. Max stiffened. I’ll let you in on a secret: for all his 100 lbs., grandeur, and majestic bearing, Max is a wimp. Beeping smoke alarms, sirens, and thunder – anything with a high frequency, sends him into spasms. At home, he heads downstairs, where he hides under a desk in my husband’s office – the farthest point from the noise. I was about to leave, when the director came by. “False alarm,” she explained. When the alarm sounded a second time, I headed for the door. “No, no,” she said. “I’ll go find out what the problem is. There’s no fire drill scheduled for today. Please stay. The people love to hear you play.”
When the ringing stopped, I tethered Max to a chair and told him to lie down. He was still shaking and gave me a worried look. An aide promised to keep an eye on him, so I proceeded to the piano at the other end of the room. I was well into my concert of oldies, when the alarm sounded yet again. I stopped playing and looked across the room where Max was. He was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh no,” I thought. Perhaps the aide had taken him outside away from the noise, which this time, didn’t stop. Finally I spied him. He was heading to an exit, laboriously pulling the chair along behind. When I freed him, he looked at me, raw fear in his eyes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting out of here.
These were just a few of the adventures I enjoyed with Max. He was still a pup when we started volunteering. One of my first assignments was answering phones at the Hospice office. Max was in training then and the staff loved him. He was allowed free rein of the building. And, he reigned. Once he returned to my desk with a soup can stuck on his nose. He had a hard time explaining that one. Another time, he emptied the garbage can in the staff room and finished off a big Mac value meal. To his credit, he had enough manners to leave the condiments. And the time we were invited to a resident’s birthday party. She’d invited a few friends to her room for cake. Max and I stopped by with a card and balloon. The birthday girl, who was 90, was passing around slices of cake, when one of her friends looked at the plate she was given and said, “Ellen, where’s my cake? You gave me an empty plate.” I looked at Max. Staring straight ahead. “No matter,” cooed the hostess, unphased. “Here’s another piece.” Then she winked at me. That said it all.
No wonder Max loved doing therapy work. Laying around, just being himself. How hard is that? The people adored him. And the payoffs were huge.
Note: Max was a Paws with a Cause reject, but he made a great therapy/Hospice dog. I credit Max with helping us find Pelican Cove, our winter abode in FL. He was loved by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.
*Fountains Assisted Living Center is a fictional name as are the names of the residents in the story.