Mar 29th 2008

Barb and Izzy, in the Adirondacks

Posted in Barb, Izzy, Lenore

March 29, 2008 – Izzy and Lenore and I headed up to the Adirondacks to visit Barb, our third visit to her. The Adirondacks are compelling for me, long drives through beautiful, mostly impoverished and struggling towns, filled with abandoned homes and businesses, the air of a lost world.  There are successful businesses and nice houses, and much beautiful scenery, but the overall sense of of a Brigadoon on hard times.
Barb is very attached to Izzy, and watching him today – he grows into this work continuously – I was reminded of how critical agility is to a Hospice dog. In some therapy work, the patients can get to the dogs, but not usually in this work.
The spaces we work in are almost never easy. The patients are often gravely ill, sometimes in pain, quite sensitive to movement and touch, and they are usually in Hospital beds, wheelchairs or recliners. It is physically difficult to reach many of them, and they can’t usually come to us or, often, even bend over. So we have to figure out ways to get the dogs into very confined spaces, filled with medical equipment and tubes and medicines, without damaging anything or harming or disturbing the patients. This aspect is always difficult. If you can’t get the dog to the patient, you can’t do much bonding or comforting, and then there is the problem of the dog.
Few dogs, including Lenore on some occasions, can get themselves into confined spaces and stay there for long periods. Izzy has mastered this.
I point to the spot I want him to go, and say “Izzy, up” and he delicately hops up, and lays still, while he is petted or stroked. He has squeezed into some tiny spaces – above, he is perching delicately on the edge of a medical recliner, almost hanging off, yet he lay still there for 15 minutes, a paw balanced on Barb’s handbag.  Often, you can’t move equipment, or patients. Barb was too weak to move today.
Lenore hopped up and stayed for four or five minutes, but just couldn’t fit herself in comfortably. Izzy is remarkable in this work, and I can’t emphasize enough that there was little site-specific training involved, beyond calming and obedience, and continuous reinforcing of the physical contact with patients. I have not had another dog with that particular combination of agility and intuition, although Lenore shows a lot of promise.  Still, she is much stockier and just can’t squeeze into the spaces he can, and is more prone to the distractions – smells, machines, tubes.
Izzy and Barb have bonded strongly, and she likes to have stories read to her, but mostly, she loves to sit and stroke Izzy’s back and head and talk to him. She tells him stories of her life, her late husband and her dogs, and it is a pleasure to listen as these two connect. “Good dog, good, good dog,” she whispers to him. He likes it.
Below, Barb admires a quilt made for her by a friend (she wishes to remain anonymous.) Barb also has a photo of Rose, which she is hanging in her bedroom. Rose couldn’t handle Hospice work for a second, but people seem to love photos of her, and sense her working ethos.
I enjoy her soft and gentle way, and hearing the stories of her life. She was weak and tired today.

Barb and the quilt a Washington County quilter made for her.

Barb and the quilt a Washington County quilter made for her.