Pawz for Alz is an idea that I had a while back for a non-profit organization. It would involve people volunteering to visit Alzheimer’s patients with their dogs. The visits would occur in nursing homes or in assisted living homes, but also in the private residences of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. These visits would provide pet therapy to the patients, as well as to their caregivers. My parents are the inspiration for this idea, as they are both major dog-lovers and benefit greatly from time spent with their three grand-dogs, Oakley, Lucy, and Riley. My Mom is 67-years-old and she is in stage 5 or 6 of Alzheimer’s disease. My Dad is 69-years-old and he serves as her full-time caregiver. I would do absolutely anything to bring a smile to either one of their faces, especially my Dad. He loves spending time with Oakley and Lucy whenever I bring them over to his house. Often times, he will come to my house to pick them up and take them for a nice, long walk somewhere. He really enjoys spending time with them. My Mom also loves them both to death. She loves to watch Oakley swim in their pool and she loves to snuggle with Lucy. Oakley and Lucy have even had several sleepovers at my Mom and Dad’s house. My Dad always tells me how they all cuddle up in bed together at night. My Mom and Dad just love it.
There are days that my Mom can’t remember my name, but she never ever forgets Oakley’s or Lucy’s name. And, the best part about doggie therapy is that even if my Mom did forget Lucy’s name, Lucy would never even know. She would never be upset or offended by it. She would never judge my Mom for it or for anything else, such as wearing her shirt inside out or backwards. She would never judge my Mom for saying something strange or for the fact that she hasn’t washed her hair in weeks. She would never judge her for not being able to effectively participate in a conversation. Dogs are incapable of judging people or being rude to them. They can’t give someone a dirty look. They are incapable of being impatient with people or verbally snapping at them. They don’t exclude anyone for being different or not fitting in. Dogs are only capable of loving people. If you love him and treat him well, a dog will be your best friend and your companion for life. They make the most loyal friends and they will always look out for you. They will always be there for you. Who better to have by your side when battling such a horrific disease as Alzheimer’s? A dog will never let you down. He will never leave your side. He will never talk about you behind your back. All he will do is love you.
So, Pawz for Alz would have volunteers take their dogs for weekly or monthly visits with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, to provide some joy and some relief to them through doggie therapy. The patients and caregivers can pet and snuggle with the dogs. They can feed them treats or take them for walks, if they are able to do so. Or, they can just sit back and watch the dogs play fetch or do tricks. The visits would be on a case by case basis so that they can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual patient. We would do whatever it takes to bring a smile to the patient and caregiver’s faces. Obviously, the dogs and their handlers would have to be certified at some point. And, there are a lot of logistics and details that would need to be worked out before this idea came to fruition. But, every big idea has to start somewhere small, right?
My first step toward this big idea was creating a team for The Longest Day fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. Each team is tasked with participating in an activity that they love throughout the day on the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year. Each team also raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association. My team, Pawz for Alz, will participate in dog-related activities throughout the day. We will walk our dogs, play with them, take them to the dog park or to go swimming, or any other activity that we enjoy doing with our pooches. I also decided to contact a few local assisted living homes so that I could bring the much calmer of my two dogs, Oakley, in to visit with the Alzheimer’s residents. I wanted to do this as part of my fundraiser, but also just in general. Like I said, it is a small, first step toward my much bigger and long-term goal of starting a non-profit organization. I was extremely thrilled and thankful when I heard back from one of the facilities, The Terrace at Grove Park, who said that they would love for me and Oakley to come in for a trial visit. I was told that if the trial visit went well, then we could set up a schedule for future visits. Knowing that Oakley has no professional training and is not a certified therapy dog, I was grateful that this facility was willing to give us a chance anyway.
We had our trial visit on Tuesday, May 26 at 11:00am. Oakley and I arrived a few minutes early so that Oakley could sniff around outside and go potty if he needed to. We were both a little nervous and unsure of what to expect. Oakley was also very excited to be in a new place and to smell all the new smells. The Terrace at Grove Park is an absolutely beautiful community. The main building looks exactly like a southern plantation home. It has a huge front porch, which is lined with white rocking chairs. Oakley and I liked it right away. We walked through the front entrance together and told the woman at the front desk that we had arrived. She introduced us to Sharon, who is the woman that I had been speaking to about our visit. Sharon met Oakley and he gave her a bunch of kisses. She explained to us that there was a group of residents that had gathered for singing in one of the parlor rooms. She thought it would be good for us to sit in on some of the singing and then I could introduce Oakley to everyone. We followed her into the parlor room and stood at the front of the room. Someone was playing the piano and the group of residents was singing songs along with it. We listened for a few minutes and once they were done, Sharon introduced me to the group. Then, I introduced Oakley to the group. I told them a little bit about his background and his life now. I told them where he is from and where he lives now. I told them about his family and his little sister, Lucy. I told them all about how he loves to go for walks, swim, and play with Lucy. Then, I walked Oakley around the room to each person and gave them each a chance to say hello to him. As you can imagine, some of the people shied away from Oakley and were afraid of him. But, many others just absolutely loved him. Oakley is such a sweet, gentle boy that he would sit in front of each person as he/she would pet him and talk sweetly to him. There were a few women in particular who made such a fuss over Oakley and were obviously very excited to see him. Once we finished going around the room, we sat and listened to the group sing a few more songs. I gave Oakley a few treats to let him know that he did a good job. Once the group was finished singing, we gave them another chance to see Oakley as they left the room. Oakley and I both felt pretty good about the visit and we knew that we had passed the test. Oakley also felt like he had made out pretty good with all of the attention and treats, especially because he didn’t have to share any of it with his little sister for once.
We followed Sharon into her office and she told us that we did, indeed, pass the test! She said that she would love to have us back again. We decided that Oakley and I will visit once a month from here on out. We scheduled our next visit for the end of June. Sharon and I talked for a few minutes about my Mom. She explained to me that not everyone in the singing group has Alzheimer’s. She said that out of the group of 16, probably about 8-10 of them have Alzheimer’s. She also said that their Alzheimer’s residents are not severe. It struck me that no one in the room seemed to be as far along in the disease as my Mom. It also struck me that the group was made up of mostly women, with only one or two men. I explained to Sharon my passion for Alzheimer’s awareness and expressed my interest in visiting solely with the Alzheimer’s residents. She told me that during our next visit, she will take me into the Alzheimer’s unit so that Oakley can visit with the other residents, as not all of them come to the singing group that we had attended. Oakley and I were very excited to hear this and are already looking forward to our next visit!
On our way out, we saw an elderly woman and an elderly man sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch. The man had on a plaid shirt and jeans that were pulled up way past his belly button. He used a walker to get around and it was clear that he has some difficulties. Oakley went up to the man on his own to say hello. This man spoke so softly and sweetly to Oakley. He kept petting him on the back and rubbing his ears. Oakley was definitely loving it. This man had a smile on his face and a sense of peace in his eyes that made the whole visit worth it. I could tell that he really enjoyed meeting Oakley. I told him that we would be back once a month to visit and he seemed happy with that. Oakley and I walked to the car with our heads held high, knowing that we had done not only a good job, but a good thing. We helped put a smile on a few faces that day. Pawz for Alz may be a long shot. It may just be an idea, a big idea with even bigger goals. But, all of the big things in life are nothing without all of the little things that make them up. The little things like the smile on that man’s face. And, for that, I will keep going.