We writers are often asked about our sources of inspiration. Fiction writers can be inspired by reading nonfiction whereas nonfiction writers may be inspired by fiction. Love of animals is one significant theme that draws readers and writers of both.
Lee Juslin, a graduate of Bucknell University with a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, is a freelance copywriter living in North Carolina. She owns I B Dog Gone, an embroidery company, and is dedicated to supporting a number of breed rescue groups. She sells her embroidery items for Cairns, Scotties, and Westie folks on Ebay and writes profiles of rescued dogs for King’s River Life, an online magazine. Lee is my guest blogger today.
In reading The Park Pack by Helen O’Neill, featured in A Murder of Crows edited by Sandra Murphy, I was reminded of my certified therapy dog, Frosty, and our visits to hospitals, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.
The bond between canine and human, so well illustrated in Ms. O’Neill’s story, I also saw with Frosty and the seniors we visited.
When we finished the training required for Frosty to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification (CGC) and become a certified therapy dog, the trainer approached and asked if we would be willing to do therapy visits at our local hospital. The hospital’s volunteer coordinator had asked her to recommend a therapy team. I was excited that we were her first choice.
After meeting with the hospital’s volunteer coordinator and confirming Frosty’s curriculum vitae—we had recently been accepted in Love on a Leash, a national therapy animal organization—we were assigned a ward to visit once a week.
On our visits we looked very official. Frosty had a Love On a Leash therapy vest and her official hospital name tag with her name and picture. I also had a hospital name tag with a picture but somehow mine didn’t look as interesting as Frosty’s with that big Scottie head and, large perky ears.
Every Tuesday when arriving at the hospital ward, we were given a list of rooms not to visit either because the patient was too ill or under quarantine or didn’t want a visit from a happy, friendly little Scottie dog. The latter reason was very seldom used.
The hospital also had a separate exercise/physical therapy building with a childcare facility. At Halloween all the children dressed in costume. The hospital asked if Frosty would serve as the Grand Marshall for the Halloween parade they were planning for the costumed kids.
When I told a seamstress friend, she insisted on making a nurse outfit for Frosty complete with the old-fashioned starched cap. That is how Frosty came to be known as Nurse Frosty and, as time went on, we incorporated the nurse costume into visits on special days. Later, she also got a Santa suit, and a kilt. She was gathering quite a wardrobe.
The day of the parade we were directed to the front of the line of dragons, princesses, and witches. We marched along through the facility enduring amused stares from adults working on treadmills and stationary bikes. I felt a total fool, but Frosty loved every minute of it as she was convinced the parade was in her honor.
When we reached the daycare room, all the costumed kids piled in. Frosty held back, not at all sure of the weirdly dressed folks shouting and carrying on. When they were in “her” parade walking quietly behind her, she hadn’t paid them much attention. I bent down and explained everything was O.K. After a minute, she agreed to go in. Immediately we were mobbed, the leash slipped out of my hand, and I lost sight of my girl. I felt panic. Then the crowd parted, and there was Frosty sitting happily in the lap of one of the adult caretakers.
The supervisor had the children line up and showed them how to gently pat Frosty. I learned a valuable lesson that day because though, nothing bad happened and Frosty was happy and safe, it could have been worse. I should have picked up Frosty before entering the room and asked that the children be organized either into a line or in their chairs. Happily, in our ten years of visiting, we never had a scary, out of control situation like that again.
On our regular visits to our assigned ward, we walked along the corridors, stopping in rooms, and visiting with patients. One visit that stands out in my mind was in a room that we were not supposed to enter. But, as we started to walk past, two women stepped out and approached us. One was in tears. “Please, can you visit our mother,” one asked.
I explained that we had been told not to bother them. The one in tears then begged me and said her mother was dying and had always loved dogs. Of course, we agreed and stepped into the room.
A pale and obviously ill woman lay propped up in bed. She managed a slight smile at the sight of Frosty coming in dressed in her therapy vest. On the other side of the room were several friends and relatives sitting quietly. They, too, smiled at the sight of my sweet Scottie girl.
We made our way over to the bed, and I lifted Frosty up. The woman managed to reach over to pat Frosty. Then she smiled and lay back. As I turned and started to put Frosty down, the audience on the sofa peppered me with questions. “What kind of dog is that” and “How did she get to be a therapy dog?”
We stayed for a bit, answered their questions, and let everyone have a turn at patting Frosty and rubbing her back. Then we left.
Several days later, I was reading the local paper and saw a death announcement of a lady named Lee. I was sure that was the woman we had visited because, during the visit, I saw that she and I had the same first name. I must have said, “Oh, she died” out loud as Frosty looked up at me from where she lay chewing a bone. I couldn’t explain to her but somehow, I felt she knew.
In The Park Pack, each of the people knows all the other dogs, their quirks, and tricks. No one knows any of the human’s names. That’s just the way it was at our hospital visits. No one remembered my name. Everyone knew Nurse Frosty, just as it should be.
Comments for Lee most welcome!