These stories describe the special moments of comfort, healing, and connection that occur when Happy Tails pets visit. We are happy to share them with you for your personal use or for use in the classroom. However, these are copyrighted materials, so please contact us first to ask permission to use them for any other purpose.
Thank you note to a Happy Tails Volunteer
Dave, thanks so, so much for not only taking and sending photos, but also being instrumental in insuring there even was a photo opp in the first place by going the extra mile to make sure I got together with Ranger and Co. today! What you guys do at Happy Tails is truly amazing, in and of itself, but the fact that such wonderful people are involved makes it an experience beyond words. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that there is only one thing I love more than the people at Happy Tails - the dogs at Happy Tails, of course! Thanks again for putting a smile that won't quit on my face! When all this health nonsense is done and dusted, you WILL be seeing me (and my dog Scholes, once she settles down to an appropriately sedate level!) as a Happy Tails volunteer and prospective "dogunteer!" Thank you so much for all you do for Northside!
Shared by Dave Frew
(posted in Northside Hospital Auxiliary newletter)
The Dog that Heals
Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta
On a hot Saturday afternoon in late summer, Dakota, a small Lhasa mix, and I entered Wellstar Kennestone Hospital for our monthly visit in the inpatient rehabilitation department.
Knowing his job for the day, Dakota immediately jumped up on a table and laid down. The therapists rolled Mattie and Alma in for a visit. Mattie was recovering from a stroke and needed to use her body while petting Dakota. Little by little, she leaned forward as she pet Dakota, finally giving him a kiss on his head. Her speech was slurred, but her delight was evident.
When it was Alma’s turn, she was a little afraid. Years ago a dog had bitten her, but it wasn’t long before she was brushing Dakota while talking to Cathy. Dakota’s gentle demeanor had won her over.
Later, Mary was brought in and burst into tears as she touched Dakota, repeating over and over “I miss my Nicki.” As she buried her face in his fur, her hands wandered over Dakota’s body. When the tears disappeared, she told us about the accident that broke her hip. During a thunderstorm, Mary fell in her driveway. As soon as she fell, Nicki, her two-year old Cocker Spaniel, lay down beside her. Both she and the dog lay in the pouring rain for several hours until Mary’s neighbor came home and called 911. For just a moment, Dakota filled the void she felt for Nicki.
The smiles of the women in the rehabilitation unit that day showed that with Dakota’s help, their journey to recovery was perhaps a little brighter.
As told by Cathy Maher and written by Linda Wimberly
A Bunny's Tale
Bugs Bunny is adorable. His Happy Tails partner, Janis Rodriguez, loves to share Bugs, a gray dwarf rabbit, with the children at Lekotek, Scottish Rite, and Joan Glancy. Cute, yes, but what can a bunny actually do?
Bugs is small and sits absolutely still when the children pet him. A young boy, wheelchair bound, could not communicate well, but was clearly delighted by Bugs during a visit. Bugs happened to be molting and the fur flew around each time the boy would pet him. Janis would say, “Blow!” to help the boy keep the fuzzy fur from tickling his nose. Time and time again this command to blow made the boy laugh. He even started kissing the bunny just to feel the fur on his face. The staff and his parents were moved to see the youngster so animated and entertained.
During another visit, Janis sat next to a little boy on a bench who held Bugs possessively while she petted him. Another child of the same age noticed the fun and sat next to the little boy. He moved away from her as he had no intention of sharing Bugs. She then leaned over to kiss the bunny and the boy scooted across the bench away from her, pushing Janis right off the end. These antics put the staff into hysterics.
Months later, Janis received a phone call from the boy’s father. He told her that his son had gotten into the habit of pitching fits of rage and frustration every afternoon. They tried toys, games, and even a puppy to distract him from the storms of emotion that caused him to lose control daily. Finally, remembering his son’s response to Bugs, the boy’s parents got him a rabbit. “The bunny totally changed our child, calming him and soothing him,” the father expressed. And in honor of a very special Happy Tails pet, the family named him Bugs.
Not bad for a bunny that doesn’t really do anything
By Meg Croot
A Day in the Life of a Happy Tails Volunteer
Waking up with a yawn, I climb out of bed and stretch in preparation for the start of another workday. After a brief walk through my neighborhood, I get ready for my work as a therapist. My hair is brushed and my nails are trimmed. Today I will wear a new scarf. My small bag is packed with the day’s appointment basics: snacks, a brush, identification badge, maybe some stickers, and a camera. Oops, almost forgot my leash!
You see, my name is Cousteau The Wonder Dog and I am off to a Happy Tails visit.
Judy, my human, drives me to my first appointment, a nursing home. Before we go inside, I take a few minutes to stretch my legs and greet my Happy Tails co-workers: Kaitlyn, a cute Sheltie; Buddy, whose middle name is “Fetch;” and Cherise, everyone’s friend. Then it’s time. As we step through the doorway, our real work begins. For the next hour, we are therapists.
My Happy Tails friends and I go from room to room. Sometimes all of us are in a room at the same time. Sometimes one of us stays a little longer with a special person while the others move on. And sometimes there are lots of people in a big room clapping as we do tricks.
Today I visit first with Johnny who, unlike most humans, cannot speak. Instead he grins and gives me a big hug as soon as he sees me. He looks at my face and tells me with his eyes that he missed me. I would love to spend the day following Johnnie around as he wheels himself from place to place, but I only have an hour and there are so many other clients who need me.
My next stop is Matilda. She wakes from her dozing and tells me how glad she is to see me. I stand beside her bed while she reaches through the safety railing to pet me with the hand that is not attached to the medicine pole. She tells me how soft my coat is and compliments me on my new scarf. Then Matilda drifts off to sleep again.
My last stop is Kathy. My human tells her my name. I move closer. I put my head in her lap. She touches me and says, “Oh, I know you. You were a pilgrim for Halloween!” I love that costume, but I only get to wear it when it’s Halloween or Thanksgiving. I wonder why. Hmmmm. A moment later Kathy asks my name again.
Then she says, “Oh, I know you. You were a pilgrim for Halloween!” I don’t understand why Kathy always repeats things. But I don’t mind because I know she has Alzheimer’s and sometimes she remembers to tell me that funny story about her dog Smokey. Gets me laughing every time. It’s a doozy!
Our time is up. The hour sure went by fast. As we leave, a nurse with squeaky shoes gives us each a quick hug and says, “Thanks for coming.” I say goodbye to the other Happy Tails pets and their chauffeurs, hop in my car and get comfortable as we head home.
I sigh, remembering the people I saw today. My human looks at me after this visit to see if I am sad, but I never am. I love my job!
Back at home, I stretch out, exhausted, and enjoy my much needed nap. I will soon be ready for the next opportunity to pack my bag, hop in the car, and dispense my special medicine.
Close to Home
Tranquility Hospice in Austell
When Sierra, my Golden Retriever, and I joined Happy Tails almost two years ago, I had not expected to find myself in the position of providing pet therapy to someone near and dear to me. Yet, one New Years’ Eve sparked off a chain of events that resulted in Sierra and I acting as a therapy team for my 83-year old mother, Susan. On that day, Susan was diagnosed with advanced Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) and given only weeks to live. At the doctor’s recommendation, and in full agreement, she moved to Wellstar Cobb Hospital’s hospice facility, Tranquility.
An animal lover her whole life, Susan was delighted to learn that I had received special permission from Tranquility to bring my Golden Retriever, Sierra, for regular visits to her room. Sweet, gentle Sierra often just lays on Susan’s bed, sleeping, or hops up to share her dinner. At other times, Sierra dons one of her favorite costumes and she parades through the room, performing tricks along the way. Whatever her routine, Sierra represents a welcome, entertaining distraction that provides my mother with a link to her past and the outside world.
When Sierra and I go to Tranquility, we are not visiting as Happy Tails members; rather, we are simply there as Susan’s daughter and “granddog.” Our visits are no longer limited to Susan’s room. Other residents and staff, having heard about “the zoo” (Susan’s room), request visits from Sierra, too. Whether disguised in a costume, entertaining with tricks, or simply sitting quietly for a petting, Sierra has brought many smiles, and a brief respite from pain, to several residents, some with no family or friends, whose days otherwise are spent sleeping.
Now, here it is nearly the end of March and spring has arrived. My Mom, Susan, her interior toughness masked by a perpetually sweet exterior, is still with us. Her vision is fading and she is now confined to her bed. Sierra’s visits continue to bring smiles to her face. Has Sierra kept her alive? Maybe, maybe not. But I know that just having Sierra there has made this difficult time in our lives just a little easier to face - with grace
As told by Ethel Kaufman and written by Lisa Rodier
Atria Assisted Living Center in Woodstock
An elderly gentleman at Atria Woodstock experienced trouble sleeping and had frustrated the staff and his family despite their efforts to help end his insomnia. They tried keeping the lights on, turning all the lights off, playing soothing music, even using a background noise machine that simulated a gentle spring shower, ocean surf, rainforest sounds, etc., etc. Nothing helped. The man began to dread the evenings. He was certain he was destined to endure another night of sleeplessness.
On a visit just before the holidays, the Happy Tails team visited this gentleman. He seemed to enjoy our dogs and their festive attire so much that we offered to take his picture with them. As we gave him the Polaroid picture, we wished him a happy holiday season.
That night, preparing for bed, he asked to have the picture. He held it and looked at it through his glasses. He then placed his glasses on the table and said to the attendant, "Tonight I will sleep with my guardian angels."
He closed his eyes and soon was asleep. The next day he attributed his speedy and complete sleep to the presence of his "angels."
By Judy Rath
Morning Starr Assisted Living Center in Atlanta
On a daily basis, for the past 11 years, I have been inspired by my dear friend, favorite tennis partner, mother of 12, and friend to all she meets. Now blind, deaf and suffering from arthritis, Sarah, (who has long floppy ears and four legs) continually demonstrates to me the importance of attitude on the outcome of each day.
Although infirm, Sarah still shares her joy of our Happy Tails visits with me. All I need to do to get Sarah’s tail wagging is to place her scarf around her neck, telling her that we are off on a visit to Morningstar Assisted Living Center. She hurries straight to the door with the anticipation of a child at Christmas. Once there, she welcomes the company of her canine friends, Boo, Blackie, Sparkie, Mabel, Tristan, Helen, Maggie, and a feline friend, Morgan. Sarah greets her aging human friends with great confidence and eagerness. Her sweet and gentle nature is apparent to all she meets. There seems to be a special bond between Sarah and her seniors (I’m sure that’s how she would describe them) for she is aging too, and her ailments are much like theirs.
Because of her handicaps, her daily routine has changed a bit, but Sarah’s wonderful outlook has become more apparent to all of us who love her. We are inspired. I am so thankful for my precious friend, for out of her darkened world shines a brilliant light of joyful optimism.
By Ellen Morrison
Garrison Home/Baptist Inn in Stockbridge
When I visit the Garrison Home in Stockbridge, one of the challenges I face is getting the more inactive residents to take part in our Happy Tails Pet Therapy visits. I find that some people have a hard time reaching out of their comfort zone and making the effort to get involved. If they will take that first step, I know they will benefit so much from the love and acceptance of my wonderful Jack Russell Terrier, Whitney.
I always noticed one resident, Mr. Smith, who would not take part in the visits. I could see him as he just stood and watched from the other side of the room. Hopefully, with a little encouragement, I could get him involved. I kept him in the back of my mind.
One day Whitney and I went to Garrison Home to visit. She trotted in wearing her hot pink movie star shades that she acquired after a Happy Tails membership meeting. Completing the outfit was her stunning doggie visor (totally coordinated, of course). Who could resist her?
And wonder of wonders, Mr. Smith just walked right up and, taking Whitney by the hand (paw) said, “She is the funniest little thing I have ever seen.”
After that moment, our “stand off to the side” observer was actively participating in our visits and we had a new friend. Our “mission” was accomplished.
As told by Vicki Jacobs
The Best Medicine
Peachford Hospital in Dunwoody
I arrived at Peachford Psychiatric Hospital for my first Happy Tails visit. Otto, my golden retriever, hung back nervously. We met our other teammates and the therapist, Melinda, who would accompany us. Everyone assured me that Otto would relax and would know what to do during the visit. I wasn’t so sure.
Otto was the first one through the door as Melinda unlocked the door to the senior unit. With me in tow, he headed straight for an elderly man hunched over in a wheelchair against the far wall. The patient didn’t look up or smile. His body language seemed to shout that he didn’t want to have any contact with anyone. But Otto was determined to say hello.
Otto placed his head in the patient’s lap and the patient smiled. Otto sat down and the patient introduced himself as “John.” Otto leaned against John’s legs, getting as close as he could despite the wheelchair that separated them. And after just a few moments, John was telling Otto his life story.
John described his dog, his three children and his four grandchildren. We shared stories and laughed at the antics of our kids and our dogs. And throughout our visit, John stroked Otto and Otto sat glued to John’s legs.
Too quickly our visit was over. As we prepared to leave, John gave Otto a hug and, with tears in his eyes, said “Thank you so much for coming to see me, Otto.”
As we left, I saw John chatting with a staff member and I caught a look of amazement on Melinda’s face. She pulled me aside and said, “I want you to know the breakthrough that you and Otto just made with John. He hasn’t spoken with anyone since he arrived a week ago.”
Otto knew just what to do – he did what the therapists, doctors and medicine hadn’t been able to do. He reached through John’s loneliness and pain and gently brought him back in touch with those around him.
Epilogue: On our next visit, Melinda reported that John had continued interacting with staff, patients and doctors.
As told by Jill O’Brien
A Run for a Smile
Challenger Day Camp for Special Needs Children in Kennesaw
Nine-year-old Phillip lives in his own world of the autistic, where others cannot reach, and from where he only occasionally lashes out. During nearly six months of Happy Tails visits, Phillip would mostly ignore the dogs and their owners, except when he pulled the dogs’ fur or clenched their bandanas. He stayed removed, alone within himself. His therapists weren’t able to bring him “out” to interact with anyone.
And then one day during a Happy Tails visit, Phillip reached for the leash of one of the dogs. He spent the entire hour walking and running with Roman, a gentle Golden Retriever. They went around and around the room, with a beaming smile across his face. When the walk was over, the boy hugged Roman and got a big lick on top of his smile. A gentle dog did what therapists could only hope for.
By Robin Nelson & Kyla Rayne
Connecting with One Teen at a Time
The Phoenix Program in Marietta
For the past year I have visited the Phoenix Program, a drug rehab program for teens, with my Bouvier, Jolie. Housed in a bright, cheerful building, the Phoenix’ interior belies the turmoil found within the teens fortunate enough to be enrolled here.
While results are often easy to see at facilities such as assisted living homes and children’s hospitals, one must look a little deeper, and have a little more patience, at the Phoenix Program. With low levels of self-esteem and not much confidence, the teens there are slow to open up and slow to trust.
Ironically, that describes my dog, Jolie, too. Rescued from the Humane Society as a two- year old, Jolie can be timid around strangers, but in particular, around teenage boys. With males making up the majority of the program’s client base, selfishly, our visits have been as good for Jolie as they have been for the teens.
On one particular visit, I was attempting to get a reaction from the row of blank faces that stared at us. Jolie demonstrated some simple tricks: sit, down, wave, high-five, take a bow, and jump through a hoop.
With some encouragement from me, as well as from a counselor, we were miraculously able to get one boy to join us. Handing him some stinky fish treats, I explained to him that he had to gain Jolie’s trust by first giving her a treat. She approached him timidly, but after a few rewards, realized that he was okay. He, too, soon opened up, and proudly, albeit awkwardly, gave Jolie a variety of cues and successfully elicited the desired behaviors.
After several rounds and lots of smiles, he tried to get one of his classmates to join us. Sadly, the reply was one of disdain. Bowing to intense peer pressure, “our boy” quickly wiped his hands off and shuffled away to rejoin his group.
Moments like that remind me of those days when the sun peeks through the clouds, just to disappear again. The ray of light was quick and fleeting, but it was there. And it’s those kinds of moments that make a tough visit like the Phoenix Program one that keeps drawing us back.
By Lisa Rodier
Christian City Senior Center in Union City
When I first agreed to go to Christian City, I was anxious about how this whole thing would work out. The visit coordinator said Happy Tails would be putting on a “show” and then visiting with patients afterwards. Well, my dog Atlas is the sweetest, gentlest 95-pound dog you have ever met in your life, but tricks are not his strong suit.
We were led into a vast auditorium that seated about 150 people. In the middle, a miniature stage was set up complete with a microphone. As the elderly residents and their families filed into the room, I noticed most of the residents were in wheelchairs.
The folks loved it when Atlas laid his huge, furry head into their laps and looked up with those big brown “old man in a dog suit” eyes. He has the ability to make you believe you are the only person on the planet who can pet him this way.
The families watched on as Atlas and I worked with the residents. It was inspiring to see people with arthritic hands that can barely grasp a wheelchair arm, reach out to pet Atlas. This was a good physical and emotional activity for them and that’s what Happy Tails is all about. The elderly got loving attention and my dog got the attention he loves. Atlas and I left Christian City relaxed and restored.
By Chad Boles
Sounds of Happiness
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Marietta
A five-year-old blonde boy named Timmy waited patiently while the speech therapist talked with the Happy Tails members about what she would like to work on today. You see, Timmy is mute and the therapist hoped we could help him with his speech.
Timmy held a hula-hoop for a small black and white Shih Tzu, Pebbles, to jump through. Pebbles jumped through the hoop several times, back and forth, while Timmy tried to say the word “Jump!” and Pebbles’ owner motioned for her to go through the hoop.
Timmy quickly became bored after a few minutes and wanted to run around the room. The team decided to open an expandable tunnel, which Timmy immediately crawled into. Pebbles followed, and when Timmy realized what had happened he got excited, making gleeful sounds.
Timmy’s therapist called to Pebbles and worked with Timmy to say, “Pebbles, come!” Timmy sounded out something and crawled through the tunnel. Pebbles dutifully followed. As Timmy crawled out the other end, with Pebbles right behind him, there were grins all around - from the therapist, the Happy Tails team members, and most of all, from Timmy.
By Robin Nelson & Kyla Rayne
Talking to the Animals
Sweetwater Springs Assisted Living in Lithia Springs
One of the Happy Tails Pet Therapy visits Karen and I share together is the Sweetwater Springs Assisted Living Center in Lithia Springs. My wife and I really enjoy going to this facility each month, especially the Rose Garden, which is the Alzheimer’s unit. It seems that every month something unbelievable happens here.
On our last visit, we met a new resident at the facility. The nurses told us that since this resident had arrived two weeks ago, he had not spoken a single word. We were prepared for silence when we approached him. But his reaction when he saw our Labrador Retriever, Abby, was more than we had hoped for. He began smiling, petting her and then best of all – talking. The nurses were amazed that just a few moments with Abby had opened up this speechless patient.
Our dog brings so much joy to our lives. The most rewarding part of Happy Tails is seeing other people enjoy her as much as we do.
As told by Justin and Karen Stratham