At the start of the New Year, Teach and I were full of enthusiasm and energy. We were ready to set out as a Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team to the four different facilities we signed up to visit this year.
Our visiting day is Monday. So here it was January 6th and we planned to visit two facilities that morning. First on the agenda was a new place for us, a preschool, a 30-minute ride from our home. This age group is a new one for both of us. We were looking forward to starting there. Coupled with that visit was a stop at an assisted living facility where Teach visits the folks in the Alzheimer’s Unit. Oh, how they love Teach – and the feeling is mutual! Teach and I both enjoy going there. For me, I see how much it helps people afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Visits from my therapy dogs often elicit memories seemingly locked away forever.
Both of us were pretty excited to get started. Teach jumped into his vest as he always does on visiting day. The night before, I lay out the gear we need for visiting: Teach’s vest, leash and collar, brush for last minute touch-ups, and his ID badge and mine. All the while, Teach is watching. We all know dogs are smart…. so he knows with these cues that tomorrow is Monday, Visits with Teach day.
What I didn’t count on was snow. It wasn’t in the forecast – and it was coming down hard. Schools in our area were cancelled, but not the preschool where we were headed nor other schools that much further north. Heck, I thought, it’s winter. If we let snow stop us we won’t be visiting for several months. On with the gear and off we went. I knew immediately that the untreated roads were slippery. Maybe you should head back home and cancel, said my little voice inside. But, no, on we pressed, arriving at the preschool on time, signing in and heading down the hallway to visit with two different classrooms. The young children surrounded Teach, petting his speckled fur and soft feathering. Teach, of course, was in his element! Since this was our first visit, we kept it to 45 minutes. Always good for the dog to ease into a new visiting experience.
Back in the car, we were headed over to the assisted living facility. Once again my little voice advised me to abort the visit and start driving home. The weather was getting worse.
But my determination to brighten the day for the Alzheimer’s folks who have very few visitors, moved us on. The facility is a mere six minutes from the school. The parking lots in front of the facility were completely full. So, we headed to a side lot and found the last spot. The sidewalk from that lot into the facility was not as well tended as the main sidewalks, but good enough to by-pass the patches of ice dotting it’s surface. Inside the facility it was warm and cozy and Teach was immediately embraced by several residents sitting in the lobby. We then headed down the hallway to the left, pressed the code opening the locked doors to the unit and proceeded to spend time with every resident on the unit. Teach was all smiles (you know how dogs smile!) and his tail was wagging. Pure joy all around. Worries of inclement weather were replaced by the overwhelming sense of pride I felt in the way Teach brought smiles, laughter, and, in some cases, words to these folks. We had just finished having a little visit with each resident (and some even got a second visit!) when the food was being delivered to the small dining area in the unit. Time for lunch, signaled time for us to leave.
As Teach and I headed out of the assisted living facility we both felt very happy with our morning. Out the door we went, turning to the sidewalk that was now covered with a thin layer of slippery snow.
With just 8′ of sidewalk left to take, down I went with a slam and I couldn’t get up. Dear Teach sat there next to me, staring down into my face. Pain shot through my back as I lay there assessing the damage. After 10 minutes of lying on the snow-covered icy sidewalk, I slowly got to my feet and headed to the car. The half-hour drive home took one-hour to make and I got in the house, sat in an upright chair with the heating pad on my back until my physician-husband arrived home to assess my injury. Nope, no broken bones. Just severe muscular damage to my upper back.
That’s when Teach began his therapy dog work at home. Dogs are extremely intuitive. They know when something is wrong with a family member.
He’s been right there for me, watching every painful movement I make. Here we are, now the end of January. I am finally able to move around and take deep breathes with little pain. I remain thankful that I didn’t break any bones… such a fall could have resulted in far worse an outcome. And, Teach will be resuming his therapy dog duties outside the home. Starting in February, Teach will be seen at the Westhampton Elementary School as a Reading Buddy for the kindergarteners, at Bradley International Airport as a Bradley Buddy, the Academy of Learning, and Charlene Manor. He’ll be a busy boy… and he hopes his teammate can stay on her feet! Perhaps it’s wise in the long run to listen to that little voice inside. It may be little but it’s very wise!