Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Since moving from southeast Idaho to Fargo, North Dakota several years ago, my grandma has lived at Bethany Homes, a community for seniors. From what I hear it's a nice place and Grandma is quite popular among the staff and residents. She's a sharp and witty woman who easily makes others laugh. It's been difficult being so far away from her especially during her recent troubles. Most of the ideas I have about elder care and nursing homes come from Dateline, 20/20 and films about such places so it's sometimes difficult to reconcile what my father tells me about the place and what I've learned from the media. But, I try to be accepting and trusting until proven otherwise, and I can't believe my father would allow Grandma to live in a place that doesn't treat her with respect and great care.

Tonight after a lengthy and difficult discussion about her circumstances with my father I was relieved to learn that Bethany has provided their residents with dogs who act as a sort of community companion. My father told me about Simba, a very old, very shaggy and very fat Golden Retriever who spent many years loving and being loved by the residents. He told me how several months ago he and Grandma were walking around and stumbled upon Simba, who was dozing lazily in the lobby or some such place. Grandma reached down and scratched Simba's ears and said, "Good dog." Simba raised her head and rested it gently on my grandmother's foot, an act I am well-accustomed to with my own friends, Pip, Winnie, Olive and Duncan. Quite often one of them will stretch out a paw and touch me, or lean their head on me while sleeping, a sort of "Just being sure of you," gesture that is tender and precious, a simple and quiet act of trust and gratitude. Simba's kindness and generosity of spirit to my grandmother meant the world to me.

Simba recently passed away and the community gathered to say their farewells to her. Although Grandma attended she soon forgot all about it. I wanted to make sure that Simba's memory lived on. I took Duncan for a walk this evening and although there was much on my mind and my heart was heavy, Duncan was slow and kind and stayed close to me, sometimes stopping and just looking at me in that way he has, the way that's gotten me through so many difficult times. And when we got home and I curled up on the bed to watch the snow and rain clouds pull away and reveal a gray-blue evening sky, he curled up next to me and rested his chin on my shoulder, breathing softly against my cheek. He knows when things are tough and looks after me. Although I don't know much else about Simba, I know she must've been a remarkable dog to be loved by so many people at such an important and challenging part of their lives. And if grandma called her a good dog, then she certainly was one.

Godspeed, Simba. You will be missed.


Greg said...

What a thoughtful post. I love that dogs are being appreciated in our society as helpers to those beyond caring for one. They are such a wonderful source of love and support and having them around must be a comfort to aging dog lovers...as well as satisfying "work" for the dog!

I love that "being sure of you" moment. Our dog and cat both do that, as do we!

Lori said...

"The Eden Alternative" was a formalized effort to put dogs, cats, plants, etc., in nursing homes, and to have visits from children also... our golden rescue used to place dogs in facilities, but don't place that way now. They have to be adopted by an employee and go home at night. But many homes have dogs/cats, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere that didn't! It's a great life for the right dog! And Ripley and Sprocket and I did therapy dog visits for years. It's in my advance care directive that if I have to go to a care facility, there MUST be dogs.

NodakJack said...

When Mom was told that one of the two cats that live in the "Memory Care" floor, she was very happy. She loves cats and dogs. When told that one of the cats, (Martin, I think,) hangs out in Mom's room and used the litterbox in the rest room, she looked startled and said, "WHO CLEANS IT?" Everyone laughed except Mom who was serious...she didn't want anything to do with that...(She'd done it for years and years with Kiki and Foo Foo and Sheba...and...)

Love, yer dad....