Recognizing Animal Blessings
By Allen and Linda Anderson



Many nursing homes are starting the practice of having pets live on the premises. They have aquariums and aviaries in their lobbies, dogs padding down the hallway, and cats curled up on chairs and beds. When we were first beginning to bring our Angel Animals projects out into the world, we offered to do workshops in these nursing homes that have resident pets. Our intent was to inspire and regale the elderly with stories we had collected about how animals help people in amazing ways. We assumed they would be a most receptive audience since the residents were no doubt bonded to the pets who lived with them.

At our first such workshop, after we had set up a display and cued our videotape, we decided to introduce ourselves to the group that had gathered in the day room for our presentation. We threaded our way through wheelchairs and sofas where the residents eagerly awaited our golden words. A couple of dogs and a cat had settled in the back of the room. As we walked among the residents, we asked, “Don’t you just love having the animals here?” The first replies we heard were statements such as:

“I can’t stand those filthy things.”
“They lick all over me.”
“Those dogs stick their noses in my food tray.”
“The cats and dogs shed all over my clothes.”
“They smell bad.”

Many of the seniors ended their list of complaints by saying, “I just wish those animals would go away.”

You can imagine our surprise. Although many of the residents enjoyed the animals, a lot of them were from a generation that did not allow pets inside their homes. Some were farm people who believed animals belonged only in barns or fields. It had been their baby-boomer generation children who thought it would be a great idea to have Mom or Dad in a nursing home that has resident pets.

How Could We Tell Heartwarming Stories about Animals Now?
After getting an earful from the residents, with much trepidation, we started our workshop. We began by telling stories about animals who have served people by being loyal friends, offering love or protection, and bringing joy to their human companions.

No dice. They weren’t buying it. Someone shouted, “When this is over, we get ice cream! So when will this be over?” Others fell asleep or asked to be wheeled out.

Then one of the staff members raised her hand and wanted to speak. She said that she was very grateful to have the animals living in this nursing home. She told a story about how one night, one of the dogs had come to the nurse’s station and kept nudging her with his nose. The dog went to the door and seemed to indicate that the nurse should follow him. When she did, he led her to the room of a woman whose medical apparatus had stopped. The woman could have died had the dog not alerted this nurse about the problem.

Soon other staff members were telling similar stories. A cat who let a nurse know that a resident had stopped breathing. A dog who alerted an orderly that someone had fallen.

By the time the staff had finished with their stories, we looked around the room and saw that many of the people, who had expressed resentment toward the resident pets, were now listening intently. Some even smiled at us.

When we finished the workshop and were packing up to go, the animals, who had been listening to all these exchanges from the back of the room, bounded up to us. They licked and kissed us as if to say, “Thank you for telling them why we’re here.” And we thanked them for saving so many lives even though they hadn’t always received love and appreciation in return. We hoped that things would be better for them now. It was heartening later to see a few of the residents voluntarily sharing their ice cream cups with well deserving doggie friends.

A Nursing Home Angel
Lisa Yater from Rockville, Maryland wrote to us about her nursing home experiences with a sable and white sheltie named Shandon. After Lisa’s mother had a major stroke she had to be moved to a nursing home. So Lisa began taking her mother’s favorite pet to visit. She writes, “Shandon was the perfect dog. He’d lie in the bed with my mom and let her pet him for hours. He’d get as close to her as he could. Sometimes he’d actually get onto her chest and place his head across her heart. My mom loved it. Her eyes would always light up when she saw Shandon coming.”

Soon other residents wanted to spend time with Shandon also. Lisa’s daily visits with the dog by her side were bringing great comfort to the residents and staff. Then one day, Lisa and Shandon had a special experience that showed the dog’s ability and willingness to be a vehicle for blessings.

Lisa writes:
“One day, we were walking down the hall to leave and a gentleman asked if I’d bring Shandon into his dying wife’s room. He said that she loved animals.

“I agreed and brought our dog to see Betty. She loved it. Every night after that evening, when I was leaving the nursing home, I’d stop by Betty’s room with Shandon. She started having her husband bring in dog biscuits for him. Shandon would get on her bed, making sure he didn’t step on her, and Betty would give him two biscuits. After he received his biscuits, Shandon would kiss Betty on her cheek.

“We all loved to see the bond between Betty and Shandon. Nothing or no one brought a twinkle to her eye as much as this dog did. When she died, I think Shandon felt the loss, too.”

Even after Lisa’s mother passed on, she continued to bring Shandon to the nursing home. His unstinting love and service inspired her to give of herself. She says, “I feel that if a dog can do so much for a nursing home, I can spend a few hours taking him there. I have kept in touch with many of the residents and volunteer at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when most of them don’t have visitors. Since I have no family left, it makes me happy to help others. I’ve learned much from Shandon about how to give love unconditionally.”

Are there unrecognized blessings that animals are bringing into your life or the lives of others? Is there an animal who inspires you to give time and attention to someone who needs extra care?

Allen and Linda Anderson are co-editors of “Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals” (A Plume Book, 1999) in local and Internet bookstores and One Spirit Book Club. Get their free online news-letter by e-mailing  . Story sub-missions for their next book, website, and articles are grate-fully accepted at P.O. Box 26354, Minneapolis, MN 55426 or by e-mail at . For more information call (952) 925-3309.  

Return to the September/October Index page