“Can I bring my dog with me?”
“No, Mrs. Johnson, pets are not allowed to live in the facility.”
Mrs. Johnson’s health had significantly declined in the past year. She had tried very hard to stay at home. But multiple falls and her increasing need for daily assistance forced her to make the decision that no elderly person wants to make: moving into a nursing home.
Mrs. Johnson was ready to give up the home she had rented for years. Although she cared about her furniture, clothing, books, photos, jewelry, and everything else that reminded her of her life, nothing would compare to her prized poodle, Gizzie.
“I came into this world with nothing, I can leave this world the same way,” she commented. “But I just can’t abandon Gizzie. She is my baby,” She said, determined.
Mrs. Johnson had been a widow for many years. She had no children or close family. “Gizzie is my family!” Mrs. Johnson exclaimed with tears in her eyes. “She has been my companion for fifteen years.”
Dogs have played a special role in my experience as a nursing home social worker. I remember one woman who came to a facility where I worked, wanting to talk to the administrator. She told the administrator that her grandmother had recently died, and the family wanted to donate her dog to the nursing home.
“She likes older people, and is really good to them.” the woman stated. "She is up-to-date on her vaccinations and is well trained."
“I will be glad to take her,” the administrator replied. That very same day Koya, a beautiful black and white Collie, was brought to the facility.
An odd resident, I mused, grinning.
Koya was, indeed, a good dog. Calm, kind, obedient. She loved the residents and some began giving her dog treats. Soon Koya had established her daily route down the halls, collecting her treats from the residents she knew would have them.
My son Ernie was a high school student and worked part time in the nursing home, helping in the kitchen. Ernie joined the club of Koya’s fans, petting her and handing her treats. Suddenly, Koya started to follow Ernie on his way home as we lived within walking distance of the facility. The next I knew, Koya was spending nights on our porch, and days later, she was comfortably sleeping in our house. She became our part-time pet.
Koya alternated her time in between the nursing home during the day, and our house at night. She gave companionship and love to the residents. And to Ernie and I as well.
Koya had been like an angel to her former owner, and her mission was not over after the elderly woman died.
She is now our angel dog, I thought.
After several months with us, Koya, who was already elderly herself, became very ill and had to be taken to a vet hospital. She spent a few days there and, sadly, had to be put to sleep. This information was handled with caution as we didn’t want the residents to get upset. But in my times of solitude, I shed several tears.
“When will Koya be back?” Ernie had asked. “I don’t know,” was all I could say.
I didn’t let Ernie know she was put to sleep until I was certain he was used to her being absent. For a while he continued thinking she was in the hospital. By the time I revealed the terrible truth, he seemed more prepared to handle it. Or perhaps I was more prepared to tell him.
I understood why Mrs. Johnson was so heartbroken about giving up her dog, Gizzie.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Johnson,” I sympathized. And I felt so helpless.
But something wonderful happened. A home health nurse that had assisted Mrs. Johnson for a long time, and who had bonded with her, offered to take care of Gizzie, and to bring her to the facility for frequent visits.
“Thank you!, thank you!” Mrs. Johnson exclaimed with excitement, and tears rolling down her face.
Thank you, God. I silently prayed.
Mrs. Johnson transitioned well into her new living environment, and enjoyed Gizzie’s visits almost daily. Mrs. Johnson voiced no more worries.
Months later, Mrs. Johnson’s health declined rapidly. In her final days, the administrator made an exception and allowed the dog to stay with her in her room. Gizzie watched over Mrs. Johnson with tenderness. She laid in bed with her at night, like in the old times, as Mrs. Johnson had mentioned.
Mrs. Johnson’s angel dog, I mused.
With her hand on Gizzie’s soft and warm body, Mrs. Johnson took her last breath.