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Boreal Community Media

For the love of a pet

Apr 16, 2018 10:09AM ● By Editor

By Lisa Bauer, Boreal staff member

If anyone had told me five years ago that I would one day become a dog owner, I would have laughed hysterically in their face.  Me - the one who believed that my mother's dog was the spawn of the devil.  Me - the one who could not believe all the dogs walking around with their families on vacations in Grand Marais.  Who in their right mind would want to take a dog on a trip anyway?  They just poo and bark, so I believed.

Fast forward to 2014.  Life changed drastically.  My son brought home the most beautiful little bundle of joy that I had ever laid eyes on (other than my own three children).  Her name was Aspen, and she was a gorgeous little mini-golden retriever.  It was love at first sight.  My life has never been the same since that day.  I crossed over to the other side and became one of "them".  You know, one of those people who had to take their dog everywhere.  One who has 973 photos of the dog on her phone.  One who talks about what "we" did over the weekend, as if the dog were a human.

I soon learned that not only did Aspen bring joy to my life, but she had a gift for bringing smiles to others as well.  We began volunteering as a pet therapy team at the State of Minnesota Veteran's Home in the Twin Cities.  We formed a weekend walking group with disabled veterans and their resident service dog.  We also stopped in during the week so that residents could play with Aspen, and she could get her fill of belly rubs and ear scratches.  The benefits of these visits went both ways.  We watched a miraculous transformation take place with one of the 76 year old veterans.  He had no family or friends visiting him.  He was angry, bitter and antisocial.  He began walking with us, and Aspen took an immediate liking to man with a heart of steel.  She soon learned what pockets he brought treats in, and would never leave his side.  She began greeting him with cries of joy and kisses.  He could not help but smile at the way she was so happy to see him.  The nursing staff said that he went from "gruff to fluff".  He began taking painting classes, going to bingo, and developed close friendships with others from the walking group. Three years later, Aspen and this veteran are still best of friends.  Even though we now live in Grand Marais, we travel back to see our veteran friends once a month.

Aspen is far from the perfectly behaved pet.  She begs for table scraps at home, especially if it involves cheese.  On some days, she thinks her cat brother is a chew toy.  She cannot contain her excitement if she sees a tennis ball.  She believes vacuum cleaners are out to get her, and will chase mine every time I clean at home.  She will find the first pile of dirt on our walks and roll in it.  Even with these "faults", she has been such a life-changing gift to me and to others who get to meet her. 

We moved to Grand Marais last fall.  I missed volunteering and was elated to learn that the Cook County Care Center had a volunteer program that we could become a part of.  Every Sunday, Aspen perks up when I turn my blinker on and we turn into the parking lot of the Care Center.  She happily jumps out of the car and has to make sure to stop and greet the Emergency Room registration ladies.  From there, she walks down the hall to greet her friends in the beautiful wing at the Care Center.

According to the American Senior Communities, "Seniors suffer from depression usually as a result of loneliness or isolation, either because friends and family members cannot visit on a regular basis, or they aren’t as active as they previously were.   Perhaps a loving spouse has passed away. Contact with therapy animals can bring some withdrawn seniors out of their shells, making them happier and more communicative." 

Many of the residents that we visit each week share photos and memories of pets that they owned.  Some had to surrender pets when they moved into the Care Center.  To see their faces light up when we approach them is priceless.  Aspen enjoys her visits with each and every resident.   She often lays at feet of the residents as Myron Bursheim plays folk music on his guitar and the residents sing along.  

Lisa Bloomquist works in the Activities Department at the Care Center.  She said that over the years, they have had many unique visitors such as cats, goats, chickens, rabbits and sheep.  She said that it's fun to see the huge smiles on the faces of the residents when they see these pets  She also remarked that some residents can relate to animals better than they can with people.

Aspen is currently studying to become a R.E.A.D Therapy Dog.  R.E.A.D. dogs are registered therapy animals who volunteer with their handler as a team, going to schools, libraries, and many other settings as reading companions for children.  Even after she completes that training, she will not forget her extended family at the Care Center and will continue to be a regular weekend visitor there.

To learn about how you can volunteer at the Cook County Care Center, please contact Belinda in the Activities Department at 218.387.3518.

An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language.
 -Martin Buber



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