There’s an episode in the heartwarming Netflix series Derek (written and directed by British actor Ricky Gervais, who also portrays the delightful, childlike title character), in which residents of a British nursing home receive a visit from the local animal shelter.
In it, the lonely residents at Broad Hill Care Home are elated when the crew from Medway Animal Rescue Centre arrive with a cluster of four-legged fostered pets in tow.
Ivor, the hyper Jack Russell Terrier cross with an insatiable hankering for belly rubs, takes centre stage while the other cats and dogs sit back for an afternoon of warm cuddles.
It’s a touching scene full of warmth and tenderness, and one that actually made me tear up.
At the same time, the scene brought to mind an afternoon, about five years ago, when my father-in-law was holed up in the hospital with a broken leg that had become resistant to healing.
Irving’s hospital stay went on for weeks, leaving him with little else to do but lay in bed watching old black-and-white movies.
So one summer afternoon, my daughters and I decided to take our Lhasa apso cross for a long overdue visit, hoping Oliver’s furry face and friendly disposition would, if nothing else, cheer Irv up for a while.
And since a recent study showed emergency department patients experienced significant changes in pain, anxiety, depression and well-being following a 10-minute visit from a dog, I thought it might do him some good.
Now, from what I can recall, the hospital in the Interlake Health Region didn’t allow pets, although at the time I didn’t really bother to check. Somewhat oblivious to such matters, we led Oliver down the sterile hallways into Irv’s main-floor room and onto his yellow-blanketed bed.
My father-in-law, who has since passed, was a gruff man, a giant-sized fellow who oozed charisma and stood by a no-nonsense approach to life. But on that day, Irv was more than giddy to be engulfed in warm, pink-tongued kisses.
When a steadfast nurse popped in minutes later, we were relieved when she swooned over Oliver’s scruffy face, placing her lips gently on his head.
“Oh, he’s such a handsome boy,” she said, adding that given the chance, she might even take him for herself.
We had a few more laughs with the caregiver, and later, when it was time to head home, we confidently walked our pooch down the hospital corridors.
On our way out, hardworking medical staff beamed at the sight of him and an elderly man, sick and weak in a wheelchair, nearly burst into tears when he saw the rambunctious, four-legged visitor.
I remember how the patient bent to stroke my good-natured mutt, who kindly returned the warm greeting by nuzzling his wet muzzle into the man’s lap.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about that day.
My three daughters were overjoyed to see their old Afi smile, if only for a brief time. And like the residents on one of my all-time favourite Netflix series, he and the other patients at the hospital that day were treated to a bit of a reprieve from the rigours of loneliness.
Do you have any dog therapists in your life? Or another creature that helps with stress and anxiety?
Send me an email and let me know.
Have a great week!