As a registered therapy dog Ranger makes regular visits to a local nursing home. Visiting the locked ward today (dementia patients) one of the patients was just finishing breakfast. Ranger indicated strongly that he wanted to visit her first. I knew he wanted to mooch whatever he could so I started him visiting on the other side of the room. Later when I noticed she had finished we went back to visit with her. There were a couple of bits of whatever she'd been eating--sausage would be my guess--left on her plate and the plate had been pushed toward the middle of the table. Ranger walked over and sat politely for some petting which the resident obligingly provided. Then before I knew what was happening she picked up the smaller bit of leftover and fed it to Ranger. He sat there eyeing the larger bit of leftover breakfast clearly hoping it would come his way, too. The resident told him he couldn't have the big piece but he continued to hope. Never once did he sign food. We moved on to another resident and visited with them for a bit and continued to make the rounds returning to the first one when she indicated she wanted us back. Apparently she wanted us back so she could give Ranger the last bit of her breakfast. Note to self: remember this is the dementia ward and the residents aren't predictable and don't remember what you told them or what they said seconds ago. We definitely need work on the leave it command--not so much him minding as me remembering that we have this tool.
Visiting the nursing home is taxing work on many levels but the smiles make it all worthwhile. There's nothing quite as sweet as seeing an old lady who was sitting dejectedly in her wheelchair smile all over her face when she starts petting the dog or watching Ranger settle comfortably next to another wheelchair, lounging against it while a woman chatters away to him about how he's so gorgeous and such a good dog. It's also fun to see staff drop whatever they were doing to come pet Ranger. Or the deskbound staff invite him to stand on their desks as they lean across to pet him. There was also a very tiny Asian lady who was fascinated by Ranger. She'd never met a dog so big. He probably weighed as much or more than she did. I very much enjoyed watching the guy emptying the trashcans grin all over his face when he met Ranger. His English was pretty limited but my impression was that he couldn't get over what a big friendly dog Ranger is. I didn't recognize the language but I think that's what he was saying. I was also entertained by the Activity Director getting Ranger cup after cup of water from the water cooler. He was thirsty and really appreciated the water but I had expected to get it for him. Still I enjoyed watching her give Ranger cups of water because it was clearly giving her so much pleasure. Some of visting is a bit bittersweet listening as residents describe the dogs they once knew and how much they miss them or watching the one woman fade from recognizing Ranger as himself to identifying him as her dog Skeeter or the gentleman who struggled to find the words he was losing because he wanted to describe what a beauty Ranger is. He wanted to tell me what a beautiful coat Ranger has with the black frosting on his brown fur but needed me to supply the words coat and fur, such common easy words and yet ones he could no longer find. Still, it's good to watch Ranger clearly enjoying himself doing what he loves best, meeting people and getting them to pet him. And it's a good feeling to know that we brightened some days even if just for awhile.
Because this kind of visiting is taxing work the other gal that had her dog visiting with us brings treats that her dog gets at the end of the visit. When the treat bag came out Ranger's bottom hit the floor and his left paw whipped up and down in a very clear sign for food. I'm wondering why in the first instance when the food was slow in coming he didn't sign and in the second case when it the food was practically on it's way he still signed. Could he recognize that the resident wouldn't have understood the sign and the other therapy dog partner could understand it? Interesting to speculate.