When I was hired at Applewood Estates Assisted Living in Freehold, NJ, nearly two years ago, I was told to make that unit my own. What they didn't know back then was that I was an avid dog lover, involved in rescue for many years. At home I had six of my own dogs and always snuck in a foster that needed a warm, loving hand until their permanent home came along. I never told people how many dogs I had until I was comfortable enough because most people would think I was a "crazy dog lady." Well, now I hang that shingle proudly on my office door!
In early July one of my co-workers found a little dog wandering the streets. She did everything she could to find the owner but to no avail. Her daughter brought the old little guy into Applewood to show our residents their new pet. I was shocked to see how our residents responded to this little Pomeranian who did nothing other than just sit there and look back at them. The residents all started telling stories of the dogs they had in years past, and the smiles that went along brought shivers to my spine. Not only did the residents gather, but staff joined in and was smiling and laughing as well. I couldn't believe how this little eight-pound dog could change the air on our unit so much just by his presence.
My mind wandered, and I came up with the idea right there: we need a senior dog for our seniors. Not just any dog, a dog that needs us just as much as we need him. I was so excited, I emailed my director of nursing, Mary Cannon (thankfully a dog lover as well), and she was 100% behind my idea. The next step was to go to our administration. I presented my idea at our next managers' meeting and was thrilled when our vice president of senior services, Jay Solomon, thought it was an excellent idea. I didn't want a pet that I would take home with me at the end of the day; I wanted a house pet 24/7 for our residents, so I had to get the approval of my staff that they were willing to go above and beyond and partake in our future pet's care. There was not one person from the aides to the kitchen staff who was against having a resident pet. Even housekeeping was on-board!
I knew the search wouldn't be easy, as quite honestly I didn't even know where to begin. I wasn't looking for a therapy dog. I didn't want a dog who was there to "work." I just wanted a house pet who wouldn't be afraid of wheelchairs, who wouldn't get in the way of the walkers, one who wouldn't jump up on the residents, who didn't bark a lot, who was house broken. Not an easy find.
I turned on the computer and found a local rescue group, Castle of Dreams Animal Rescue, and there he was. His name was Boy. He was old, maybe around 9. He was a Pekingese mix, he was a throw away to some, but he was exactly what we were looking for. Boy, now Bo, was found wandering the streets in NYC, unable to walk from a very bad back injury. In addition he had a very bad abdominal wound, possibly bit by another dog. His nails were so long and he was so matted, he was deemed vicious by ACC and was to be euthanized. Thankfully he was pulled from ACC and was given a second chance. CODAR gave him his life back. They fixed his abdominal wounds; they gave him a wonderful loving foster home with Evelyn and the chance to heal. Evelyn and I spoke and I knew she loved Bo. She tried to tell me she had other senior dogs she would bring over to Applewood for us to meet. I told her, I have this feeling that Bo is the dog for us. It was love at first sight, underbite and all!
We did a two-week foster-to-adopt trial to see if Bo was for us and we were right for Bo. Evelyn came back in two weeks and the papers were signed. The residents and Bo had a big adoption party that same day. Bo does have his issues; his back is bad so he wears a bandana that says please don't pick me up. He sleeps alot, so he has his own suite set up in my office for him to escape all the attention a star like him deserves. Bo will spend the remainder of his life here at Applewood. This is by far the absolute best nursing I have ever done!
Ilisa Diamond, BSN, RN
Assisted Living Coordinator