Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A dog walks into a nursing home . . .

That sounds like a setup for a great joke, doesn't it? (A dog walks into a nursing home. The guy at the front desk says, "Why the long face?") But according to Mike, it's the title of a great book by a lady named Sue Halpern.

The book is about the author's dog, a Labradoodle named Pransky, and how Ms. Halpern trained her to be a therapy dog. It goes on to describe the adventures they had visiting people in a nursing home called County. On a deeper level, it's about valuable lessons that Pransky taught Ms. Halpern through their visits with the nursing home residents--lessons about seven things called virtues. In fact the book's subtitle is: "Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher," though I'm not sure what makes a dog an unlikely teacher. I've been teaching M and J all kinds of valuable stuff ever since I let them rescue me from my life in the jungle almost three-and-a-half years ago.

I'm glad that M enjoyed this book and that he told me about it, because I've been interested in therapy dogs for some time. Regular readers of my blog may remember that I was once mistaken for a therapy dog when I went with M and J to visit my Grandpa George in a hospice. As we walked into the lobby, a lady was leaving with a group of children and said, "Oh, look, kids, it's one of those feel-good dogs!" I wasn't sure what she meant at first. But as soon as M clued me in and everyone there started talking nice to me and a nurse gave me graham crackers and another one said I'd make a good therapy dog--man, I was stoked! For a while I thought about trying to become a real therapy dog or maybe some other type of service dog, tempted by glamorous pictures such as this one. But in the end I thought I'd best leave that to dogs with more energy and focus, like Pransky, and stick to what I do best. Things like holding down couches.

Me & Arlo

Because Pransky worked in a nursing home, where the residents usually spend the last part of their lives, it's not surprising to learn that a key player in the book is death. That doesn't mean it's an overly sad book, but rather a realistic one.

I guess one part that is pretty sad from a surviving loved one's viewpoint is where Ms. Halpern talks about how people who love dogs will probably outlive several of their own. This puts them in a more-or-less constant state of "grieving in anticipation of grief." Strange, she says, but love will do that. As a dog who outlived his first owner, I can sort of relate to that feeling, but not completely, since I didn't expect my person to die. But afterwards I was very sad for a long, long time. I'm glad, frankly, that dogs don't have to go through this very often. Some, possibly most, never do. For this reason, I think that dogs who are lucky enough to have good, loving homes are luckier than their people.

Mike says what he liked best about A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home is its positive message of how the seven virtues of restraint, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope, love, and charity can lead to a fulfilling life, even if it doesn't turn out to be as long as you'd like. And he says Ms. Halpern tied things up nicely when she wrote, "Of all the things I learned going to County with my dog, this was the most valuable: though we are made of memories, we live only in the here and now."

M definitely gives the book two thumbs up. I would, too, if I had any thumbs.

Sue Halpern & Pransky


"TG" said...

Hey, Buddy,

Thanks for the book review! Sometimes dogs are just the best medicine in the world and can bring a smile to a resident’s face when nothing else can elicit a response. During my years in administration in a large nursing home, I often witnessed the joy and comfort our visiting pet program provided – to the residents’ family members and the staff as well. Keep on considering that new career path because you’d be great! (Tell M that visiting singer-guitarists are always very welcome too.)

Anonymous said...

Pransky says Forget about thumbs, this review gets one fluffy tail up and wagging!

Linda Weber said...

Buddy, thanks for the book review. I'll look for the book and give it a read. Tell M and J hello from me (and Sophie)