Tuesday, February 14, 2012

10:00 - BELLE!!

In the lobby of a local nursing home, there is a dry erase board resting on an easel that lists the activities of the day. Singing groups, crafts workshops, and Bible studies are some of the many events that the board announces on a daily basis. Many of the residents plan their days around that simple dry erase board. 

Every other Wednesday, there is a special appointment written on the board that sends a surge of excitement throughout the facility. The announcement simply reads, "10:00 - BELLE!!" That’s when Belle the therapy dog makes her appointed rounds.

Belle is our nine year old Great Dane. We’ve always called her a petite Great Dane, because she’s significantly smaller than the breed standard. She was a stray when we took her in over eight years ago, dumped from where she was born, probably because she was the runt of the litter. Living in Louisiana at the time, my wife said she was a pretty Southern belle. The name stuck and Belle has been a part of our family since.

Belle became a certified therapy dog about a year ago, and has visited mostly nursing homes. She’s always had a loving disposition, wanting to please whomever she’s in contact with. During her regular Wednesday appointments, as Belle perfected the art of pet therapy, I’ve witnessed some special moments.

On Belle’s initial Wednesday visit, we were escorted by the activities director through the halls, day rooms, and into the residents’ individual rooms. I had a great deal of anxiety about how Belle would do. We’d been through all the training, passed our certification exams, but now we were actually going to be visiting real, live people. I imagined all kinds of calamities occurring.

Belle breezed through the first dozen or so visits and performed marvelously. I was beginning to relax, realizing that she was going to be just fine. Then, the activities director led us into a room where an elderly lady was laying on her bed, on her side, unable to speak. I asked her if she’d like to meet my dog and, while her eyes lit up when she saw Belle, it was obvious she was unable to move herself to a position where she could pet her. I noticed her frail, weak hand, reaching out the best she could in an attempt to pet Belle, who was sitting beside her bed, but far from her reach. I wasn’t sure what to do, but Belle instinctively provided the answer.

In the gentlest manner, Belle raised herself up and placed her front two paws on the woman’s bed. She began leaning toward the woman, moving ever so slowly and carefully. Then, she stretched out her long neck, putting her head under the woman’s outstretched hand. The instant her nose nuzzled beneath the lady’s frail fingers, the woman smiled a beautiful, warm smile. She slowly, lovingly stroked Belle’s head. Both the activity director and I stood in stunned silence at the moment. Finally, she asked me, "How did you train her to do that?"

All I could say through the lump in my throat was, "I didn’t. Somehow she just knew."

Another woman Belle visits has no one to talk to her. Not because the staff and other residents have shunned her, but because Vita only speaks Italian. She sits in silence most of her days, unable to communicate with those around her. Whenever Belle makes her appointed rounds though, a private moment of love is shared between the two. Sitting in her wheelchair, Vita wraps her arms around Belle’s neck and begins an outpouring of affection and lets loose a dialog of bottled-up conversation that only she and perhaps Belle understand. The staff have informed me that it is the only time they see Vita smile, when she’s "conversing" with Belle.

2Corinthians 1:3-4 says our Heavenly Father is the "...the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (NIV)

Perhaps like me, you’ve always read that passage and never thought in terms of that comfort and compassion coming from a dog. Belle’s appointed rounds will make you stop and realize that God’s love can come from a variety of sources.

1 comment:

  1. Her name is awfully close to mine. What you have written has caused me to examine myself. I pray I will display the love "Belle" displays.

    God Bless,