18 May 2009

When being a therapy dog requires a certain amount of bravery.

When Gustavo and I were at the nursing home yesterday, I was holding him up for a huge lady in an orange sweater with orange and white hair to pet. Spilling out of her plus size wheelchair, she had a white t-shirt with a patchwork star on it and no stains anywhere. I think I'm used to the old ladies being so tiny and frail. Collapsed laps, sometimes over swollen ankles wrapped in stretchy accessories, but tiny little arms and hands with skin as thin and brittle as tracing vellum. This lady, like a giant and lots of padding everywhere on her bones, still so strong.

Old people's hair, so very thin, like the thinnest acrylic threads hanging off of spotty and wrinkly scalps. Comes in white, gray, or strange shades of orange. Some ladies, have hair-dos and not sure how they get those hairs to do what they get them to do. Other ladies, just seems like they can barely keep those last few hairs brushed into however much order they can. I think hair dye just goes orangish on elderly hair, no matter what color they're shooting for. Orange and white hair lady had a wiggly perm on her very few hairs. They sort of popped out away from her big fleshy face, a little bit like Krusty the Klown.

At first, she wanted to grab Gustavo and hold him tight to her shoulder. He's not the cuddliest therapy dog. Likes to snuggle in with quiet people on their bed, but the more active people, usually make him squirmy and I hold him up for people to pet, or if they can bend, he likes to stand on the floor where they can reach down. Most old people though, can't bend down to Gustavo height so he gets carted around a lot. The orange sweater lady had a good grip and I had to kind of wrestle her for him when she grabbed him to her orange cardiganned bosum. She was so happy to have him for that moment, she didn't want to give him back. Since she couldn't have him, started making kissy noises at him, which makes him kiss you back. There was something about her boldness and loudness and orangeness, just had a feeling not a good one for him to kiss, so sort of moved him out of pucker range. She moves on to whistling at him. Which becomes meowing, and then starts to go through entire Noah's ark of animal sounds while she's grabbing his legs.

I moved him back away from her just a little farther, which was good because when she got through donkey and cattle noises to snarling, demonic boar, she tried to yank his leg off.

Usually, the nursing home patients are less strong. Gnarled, closed fists gently stroke the dogs. Arthritic arms can barely lift up, just enough to stroke soft clean fur and give a little pat. Blind people, pat around trying to find where are ears and eyes. Some hands, shake so hard can barely make contact. But have never had a giant orange and white lady snarling like the meanest pig in the pen try to pull a dog leg off.

I got him away and decided to have him do some tricks for her instead. Safely on the floor. That sit-down-rollover routine, always a hit with the over 80 crowd. Then I kind of backed away, calling out, "Nice to see you today!" and out of her room, just left her there still making the pig sounds. No one really seemed to mind. I guess they're used to her. Made me wonder, does this affect his teeter totter? Make him spookier today if we pass a box in the street on the way down to the beach? Ruin his trust in me because I almost let a giant old lady making pig sounds pull his leg out of the socket?

When we were finished making the rounds, got back in the car. He rides in a crate right the driver's seat, I can see him when I look in my rear view mirror or glance over my shoulder. He hardly ever sleeps in there. Rests by sticking his pointy fox nose through the wire front and stares at me when I drive. Doesn't seem to look out the windows, or conk out like the other dogs. Just stares at me. Jimmy Cliff came on the ipod as we were pulling out of the parking lot, Sitting Here in Limbo. He curled up in the back and laid with his head on his paws for a minute. I thought about the orange and white hair lady. Don't know if she'll be there next time. Grant, one of my favorite old men, he was gone this week. There's a sweet husband and wife I always visit with, and the wife, she couldn't talk anymore and I don't think even knew Gustavo was there. Next time I looked back, Gustavo back to nose sticking through his door, and those beady eyes locked on mine. We got back on the freeway and I feel his eyes on the back of my head, waiting for his dice to roll.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

maybe you should run an egg over him after therapy dog sessions--give him a limpia. that's weird energy to have to absorb crusty the clown with demonic pig noises. admire you, gustavo and laura