When I am out doing volunteer therapy visits with my furry partner, Dexter, or just talking to people about therapy visits, I am often asked. “Why or how did you decide to start doing this?”
For me the answer is simple. No soul searching or deep thinking. I do it for my dad. My father had Alzheimer’s. He lived with me for seven years before he passed away. While he was living with us, I got a 7 week old wire hair fox terrier and called him Dexter. At that point in his life, my father was already living more in the past than in the present. He spent long hours gazing out our windows at the mountains with little or no awareness of what was going on around him…until Dexter. Dexter would continuously go over and yip or nudge at dad. I would instantly try to remove him, until the day I noticed that dad was petting Dexter and talking to him. I was amazed.
Soon after I enrolled Dexter in obedience classes, not only for us, but to ensure that he behaved around dad who was losing his coordination and balance. Every day Dexter would go over and spend time with dad, and dad would come back to us for a while. He would recognize my mother and sometimes me. He would talk with us. Sometimes he would even ask to walk with Dexter and my mom, or he would go outside and throw a ball for Dexter.
I started researching dogs and Alzheimer’s and learned about therapy pets. While in the Dog Park one day, I saw a notice asking if anyone was interested in doing therapy work. (Jon’s posting with Duke.) I contacted Jon who graciously met with me, told me more, and allowed me to do a visit with him and Duke. At that time Dexter was too young to do Therapy Visits. He started on the day of his one year birthday.
Dad lived with us for two more years. He got to see Dexter certified and prancing proudly in his new blue vest. After each of our Therapy Visits Dexter would run over to dad and sit with him as though telling him all about his work. Dexter has been doing visits for almost 3 years now. We also have a second dog, Kenji, who started doing visits on his one year birthday, but his handler is my mother. She is 83 and does these visits knowing how much they can help, and the joy they bring to others.
Because of Dexter, we had many precious moments of awareness with dad that would have been lost to us. Thank you Dexter!!