Three years ago, Willie Nelson Neely Harrelson came into our lives and home. It’s funny to think about how little he was! And it’s hard to believe that this was three years ago. As he has grown, he has gained a puppy brother, a job as a therapy dog, and now a mini-human to take care of.
Believe it or not, I was terrified of dogs when I was MH and LC’s age, especially big dogs. We had a Dalmatian named Sparky who lived outside because I had siblings who had dog allergies, and I had been knocked down more than once from his jumping up to greet me. I can remember standing in the carport really close to the door and being nervous and scared as Sparky ran around playing. There was always someone who was close to me and watching me and could pick me up if I needed to be rescued, but I can still remember being terrified, so it’s surprising to much of my family that I ended up in a family and a house with two one hundred pound dogs.
As I watch Waylon laying on MH’s feet as she watches a movie and Willie snuggle with the girls as we read at bedtime and their hands naturally pet the pups’ head, I realize the impact caring and living with another living being can have on kids. Ben already smiles at Willie as he comes and smells his ear, his diaper, and his hands to make sure he is ok.
Willie reminds me so much of Nana from Peter Pan. He knows that Ben, LC, and MH are his pack, his pups. He knows part of his work is to care for them and love them. His serious about his work and his purpose in life. I sure am glad he came into our lives three years ago.
Willie and I found out yesterday that our friend Mr. Joe passed away. It’s interesting to me that I found this out the same day that Willie mysteriously stopped eating. Now, I know what you are going to say about the subtext of that statement, but what if there is some way that he knew that his friend had passed on.
The time we spent with Joe was special for both of us. Joe was patient and willing to guide us as Willie learned to be a therapy dog andas I learned to be a therapy dog handler. Willie started to pout when he couldn’t go to work because of scheduling. There was something about putting on that vest and getting in my car to head out to Lexington that made his German Shepherd nature come alive.
Mr. Joe certainly wasn’t the only person we visited with at the retirement center, but it will be hard for both of to go back and not walk down the hall to Mr. Joe’s room. Willie will miss the treats, the nap, and the good ear scratches. I will miss the stories and reflections on life.
Rest in peace, Mr. Joe. We miss you.
Last Thursday, Willie had three therapy dogs visits! He went the nursing home as usual. It’s great that more and more of the residents are recognizing us and looking forward to our visits! He also checked in on the people who are in the same office building as our church, including the mail lady. Willie really likes to see her because her truck smells so good.
Then, Willie had his first educational visit with an after school program at Park North Apartments. Park North Apartments are a government subsidies housing facility. They have a small library and computers for residents to come after school so that they have a place to do their homework as well as relax. They are also one of the recipients of our Little Free Libraries, so that students can check out books and take them home to read.
As you can tell by the picture, Willie had a blast. He showed off all his tricks, including sit, down, stay, wait, catch, up, and find. He did tricks when some of the students took the reigns and issued commands as well. His favorite was find where all the kids hold out their fists and he has to sniff out the treats!
As his handler, this was a wonderful experience for me. It was awesome to be able to reconnect with the children where we put the Little Free Library, but there was something even more than that for me. The students I used to teach came from apartment complexes just like this one (except there wasn’t a place where they could hang out after school) and so to be able to come to see them and bring smiles to their faces by sharing Willie’s good spirit and love was awesome.
We love Therapy Thursdays and would be glad to add you to our schedule! Just let us know where and when!
Last week, Willie and I went back to visit the Assisted Living facility where we have been going this summer. Willie was excited to be back in his vest after having been on vacation for the past two weeks as I did hospital visits. He was even more excited to see his friends at the facility again. He even left the tennis balls that some of the residents have on their wheelchair break handle alone this time!
There was another dog visiting this time and Willie made sure to meet and greet that dog, but also made sure to the dog knew that there were certain residents that were his. Now as I sit down and visit with the residents, Willie immediately goes into his down stay position without a command. He knows what his job is.
It’s amazing to see the residents respond to him and the way that his presence opens up conversations about their lives and their families. I can’t wait for Willie to take his test for hospital in the coming month so that we can spread his smile with lots of other people!
Let us know if you would like Willie to come and visit!
This week Willie went to visit two different places. In addition to the seeing Mr. Joe, we were also asked to visit another assisted living community. It was exciting to be asked to go to a new place and visit new people.
There’s something about bringing Willie with me that invites a conversation. Today, I heard about collies and basset hounds whose ears hung to the floor. I heard about growing up during the time of WWII. I heard about first family cars, first electricity, and first TVs. As they pet Willie, their words flowed.
Remembering is powerful. Remembering that we are not alone and there are people around us who one visit can make a world of difference.
This week Willie’s sisters came with him while he went to work. The first thing Mr. Joe asked was if he could have a hug and both girls complied. His face lit up with a smile. Although he can’t see completely, he could tell that they were young. We told him that after our visit we were heading to Chick-fil-A to be cows for Cow Appreciation Day, and he smiled again.
It’s those little things like a hug and knowing what other people’s lives and schedules comprise of that make all the difference to someone who is living in a new place with new surroundings. I am glad our girls got to see his life, too. I can remember how I would visit residents with my parents when we would visit our grandparents at Martha Franks. I remember being shy, but I know those memories have stayed with me. That time giving and seeing others has shaped who I am.
Seeing the girls take the cross necklaces that Mr. Joe gave them and seeing them fiddle with those necklaces for the rest of the day makes me think perhaps this short visit will last longer than just the short time we spent there.
Willie and I went back to see Mr. Joe today. Today, he told us about his service in the military, and he told us the story of the 5 Sullivan brothers who were all serving on the same ship when it was attacked by a Japanese sub. He told us that was why he couldn’t serve with his brother.
He told us about his job in the military with technical terms that we didn’t understand. Willie and I just sat and listened to his stories today. Thank you, Mr. Joe, for sharing your stories with us.
This week when we went to see Mr. Joe, he was sitting on the porch, which is where we usually find him. But there was a storm blowing in. Mr. Joe doesn’t see very well, but he would tell that Willie was not sitting down, and he could feel the wind and hear the thunder.
As we moved inside, Willie calmed down and started greeting the workers he knew. He also made sure to say another hello to the family who was sitting on the porch with us before moving inside. Willie has never been scared of thunderstorms, but he has always stuck pretty close to me during the storms. It must be something about the way the air smells that he can tell there’s something different and a potentially dangerous about thunderstorms that causes him to be a little extra attentive. It wasn’t surprising that he did the same thing for Mr. Joe on Thursday.
As we hustled to our car as the storm died down, I watched Mr. Joe through the window waving at us who he probably couldn’t see anymore and I thought about the trust he had. He relied on other people to see for him. He relied on other people to come and see him.
And I wonder if there isn’t more that I’m learning from these Therapy Thursdays than I planned on. In going and seeing the way that Willie can make people smile with his ears up and open mouth, I am learning that everyone wants to be seen, everyone wants to know that someone cares about them whether that being is 4-legged or 2-legged.
This week, Willie and I went to see a member of our congregation who had to have unexpected surgery. We decided that she needed some flowers to help her feel better and even better, Willie decided not to dig the soil out of the planter or eat the flowers! (This was a pretty hard choice for him.)
It is interesting to see how much the familiarity of a dog who wants to say hey and be petted can calm a family who had to readjust all their plans for the week. There’s something stable and predictable about a dog with his tongue hanging out making circles around his human. It makes you take a deep breath and think that things might just return to normal soon.
That’s why Willie and I do what we do. There’s always someone, every week, who needs to know they are loved and who needs someone else to see that, whether that being is four-legged or two-legged.
It’s funny to me that Willie and I started off the day with him sitting on our porch waiting for me to get the backseat ready for him to ride. Then, when we got to Mr. J, we ended up sitting on the porch with him. We sat next to him and Willie settled at his feet looking out over the parking lot and making sure to keep an eye on the people coming and going.
Ms. C came out in her wheelchair a little while later and asked if Willie was a friendly dog. When I said yes, she asked if she could pet him. I responded with of course! Willie responded by wagging his tail and turning around so she could scratch his haunches. Ms. C said she used to have a dog just like Willie whose ears would stand up just like Willie’s. It was great to be able to talk to her and tell her about how we got Willie.
Mr. J chimed in that if we could train Willie to be a seeing-eye dog, he’d like to go on walks with him instead of his walker. You never can tell what’s ahead, but Willie was certainly glad to see Mr. J today and make sure he was doing alright. Willie was also glad to sit out on a different porch and be the greeting committee and the come back soon committee.