The most accepted terms for this field are Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT involves
working with someone when a specific goal has been identified. If you do this as a
volunteer, you will work with a professional who will assist you in selecting goals for
different individuals. AAA are those activities designed to strengthen someone's quality
of life. Usually performed by volunteers, they are generally "meet and greet"
Meet Golden Judson
Robert Moore recently contacted me to share the story of his
Golden Judson. Jud
visited nursing homes, raised Grandchildren and
generally brought joy to everyone. "Nursing Home Charisma"
accounting of his visitation work.
Nursing Home Charisma
Time had come for Jud, our nine-year old Golden Retriever son, to get a job!
Grandkids were growing up, releasing him from most of his ball playing
responsibilities. He still had to walk us, but only an hour or so daily. Jud
needed a job!
Pets On Wheels, a pet-visitation therapy program serving health care centers
where volunteers and their dogs visit the elderly and infirm, sounded like Jud’s
dream job! The work suited Jud’s personality, and qualifying to visit nursing
homes through the County Health Department was a snap. For Jud. Now it was up to
Lucy and me to prove we were competent to tag along.
Jud’s presence would‘ve identified us that first Saturday as Pets On Wheels
people, but he wasn’t with us when the elevator door opened to usher Lucy and me
abruptly into a world hitherto unknown to us. This was our orientation. We’d
been instructed to make certain Jud did not eat anything spilled, warned not to
become too attached to individual residents as such would inevitably lead to
broken hearts and advised that most residents would remember Jud, but not us.
Our role that day was to observe how Elizabeth approached residents with her
Sheltie, and then decide whether we could do this. Everyone was confident of
Jud’s ability; Lucy and I were on trial.
We looked in on one-hundred year old Charlotte, tethered to an oxygen tank, and
frail Sammy, who didn’t care for Elizabeth’s Sheltie . . . Sammy only liked BIG
dogs! We encountered Jane, sporting an elegant feathered hat as she silently sat
in her wheel chair at the nurse’s station, and Joan, who was involved in an
intense argument with an invisible family member. Rachel, a frightened, fragile
woman did not want us to leave and we promised to come again. In the Alzheimer’s
ward Lucy came across a graduate school professor for whom she had worked, who
obviously had never seen her before. I recall staggering out an hour later,
shaken and unsettled. “I don’t know if I can do this! Not sure I can go back
The following Saturday when the elevator door opened Jud was with us, and a
totally different experience awaited. We’d planned to quickly see some of the
same folks and leave, only . . . well, this is Jud’s story.
Spotting the usual solemn group arrayed around the nurse’s station, Jud
confidently waded in. Only after a severe woman who long ago had forgotten how
to smile buried her face in his neck and began cooing and Jane wheeled her chair
close to tell him what a pretty boy he was, did we comprehend that Jud had
instantly, and effortlessly, changed that world! Nursing homes are hot, and
after two hours the nurses were following us around with cups of fresh water.
This was not the same place we’d visited a week earlier! Today we were seeing
residents, not as a group on the down side of life, but as vibrant individuals
with their own life stories. Sammy was the UPI photographer who took the famous
JFK pictures; Rachel had been General Eisenhower’s personal secretary; George,
commanding attention as he paced the halls, designed the set for the Oklahoma
Broadway production; and Philomena, whom Jud did teach to smile again, had
raised Poodles on a farm in Kentucky. And ninety-eight year old Ellen, a school
teacher, geologist and artist whose ageless beauty remained undiminished long
after she’d outlived family and friends, insisted she would paint a portrait of
the three of us.
Dr. Roberts, who had chaired the Romance Languages Department at New York
University, quoted poetry in French and Spanish to Jud, stretched out at his
feet. We even conducted a clinic brushing Jud’s teeth to the delight of
first-floor residents who’d “never heard of such a thing!” Lucy’s professor
never did remember her, but he sometimes remembered Jud, and enjoyed telling,
over and over, of adventures he’d encountered many years before . . . at least
until we were banished from the Alzheimer’s ward by a head nurse deathly
allergic to dog hair. Yikes!! Jud was a Golden Retriever!
Judson passed away March 18, 2003, one month and
ten days shy of his 15th birthday, with his Golden brother, Grady, laying at his
side. This tells a small bit of Robert's feelings for his Jud.
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