“Where’s the dog?” my mom asked as I walked into her room at the nursing home.
I hadn’t seen my mother for several weeks, and in the wake of a debilitating injury, the first thing she asked about was my dog. When I told her that dad wouldn’t let me bring him, she looked utterly dejected. “Oh,” was all she said. Prior to that visit, I didn’t even think she liked Dipper.
My mom had been staying at the nursing home for physical therapy after breaking her hip in a fall. For her, it was an arduous, miserable experience.
We spoke over the phone frequently in the week between her fall and the visit. She talked about pain, mostly, but asked constantly about “the dog.”
My mom has always avoided referring to my pets by name. She claims it’s her way of not growing attached, but it always came across as a sort of resentment or distaste.
I hadn’t expected a positive response when I joked about bringing Dipper to the hospital to see her. Very seriously, she told me that visitors were allowed to bring pets. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that she’d asked about their pet policy. She finally got to see him when we brought her home for a visit instead.
Before my mom could even get out of the car, “the dog” wiggled his way into her lap. I waited for her to tell me to take him away, but she never did, despite the very real threat of him agitating her still-fresh sutures. My dad eventually had to peel them apart.
Over the course of several visits, I saw countless dogs walk up and down that sterile nursing home hallway. They were the only sign of life there, tails wagging and eyes bright. I’m sure they made whoever they were visiting just as happy as they made my mom.
In an upcoming post, I’ll be speaking with the handler of a resident therapy dog at a Philadelphia university to further understand the impact of dogs on human stress and healing.