Dogs That Bring Cheer to the Elderly and the Sick

One is a brave Labrador retriever, and the other is a devoted shih tzu. They both cheerfully labor, like thousands of other dogs, to bring joy to the elderly and infirm. Here are the stories of Maddie and Chloe as related by their owners, Kate Bland and Sharon Sneary, in response to’s tribute to working animals.

Maddie’s Tale

Maddie has a very important job. She spends two mornings a week visiting with 21 residents in the memory impaired and Alzheimer’s “neighborhood” of an assisted living center. But to appreciate her, you have to know her whole story.

Maddie was 6 years old when we adopted her – she came to us through Lab Rescue – and she is now 10. She is by far the nicest, most gentle loving dog I have ever known, and she made a great addition to our family. We had another Labrador, Sammy, who was 2 years old at the time.

We have learned so much from Maddie over the past 4 years – about living and loving and making the most of every moment – but mostly about giving from the heart. Maddie is the one who taught me the real reason why dogs have full coats of fur: To hide their angel wings.

In April 2000, during a regular toothbrushing, we discovered a lump on the front of Maddie’s gum in her upper mouth. We assumed that it was just an abscess and we took her to the vet to be sure. It turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma. Within a week, Maddie had undergone a partial maxillectomy – having all her teeth, gums, bone and the palette in front of her upper large canines removed. We caught the cancer early and the surgery was a tremendous success. Within weeks Maddie was eating, drinking and playing just like her old self – maybe even better.

We were so grateful to all of her and our friends at Rainbow Bridge. We were certain that they had watched over Maddie during her battle and given her strength to help her fight. As she recovered you could see in Maddie’s eyes the desire to do something more with her time – and ours. We sought out something special and found a local assisted living center with its 21 memory impaired residents.

Maddie and I have adopted these residents, visiting them twice a week. Many come to their communal living room for our visits. They take her for walks around their outdoor courtyard and play fetch on their grassy knoll on sunny days. Some of the residents stay in their rooms. Maddie seeks them out and waits for her blanket to be laid on their bed so that she can jump up and cuddle with them. It has been amazing to watch the transformation in their lives, and ours as well. She brings her friends hope, reminds them of happier times now past and shares her love of life freely.

I am not certain who benefits the most from these visits. Those who were “afraid” or standoffish have warmed to this dog with the lopsided smile that came with her battle against cancer. She has taken a lady who spent 23 hours of each and every day in her bed to the point where she gets dressed and comes to the living room to visit with Maddie or even walk her in the courtyard.

No matter how rough things get for Maddie, she just buckles down and
gives back more. She makes everyone who touches her life want to do the same.

Last week we decided to take what we call Maddie and Sammy’s biscuit bucks (our loose change) to buy flowers for the residents – just stems of daisies with ribbons tied around them. I took Maddie into the florist to buy them on our way to the nursing home. When the owner heard what Maddie “did for a living,” she didn’t say much at all. But when we went to pay, she turned down the money, saying it was the least she could do for a dog who did so much. The next day we dropped off a thank you note with a picture of Maddie visiting with one of the residents. That picture now proudly sits on the wall of the store by the cash register – with an angel hanging above it. Fitting for the dog who has fur to hide her angel wings.

Chloe’s Story

I take my 2-year-old shih tzu, Chloe, to work everyday. We work in a nursing home and some say she runs the place. She has been going to work with me since she was 20 weeks old and she becomes VERY upset if I can’t take her for some reason.

I am a social worker and she follows me everywhere, especially into the residents’ rooms, where she brings great joy. The residents look forward to seeing her. She has the staff “trained.” They bring snacks and have to come into our office to get a “Chloe fix” when things get tense. She even has made friends with the state surveyors (that always helps)!

On several occasions, business has taken me to other facilities, and Chloe loves to go to new places and make new friends. The therapy department uses her for physical therapy at times, and she is a regular visitor to our Alzheimer’s unit where she is greeted with open arms and hugs and kisses. These residents have a difficult time remembering family, but they instantly recognize Chloe. One of our residents has written a poem about her and she “writes” an article in the facility newspaper every month.

Usually, Chloe is one of the first staff members’ new families and residents meet, as she wanders into the Admissions Director’s office to meet and greet them. Chloe is a definite asset to our residents.