Ans is the animal half of the Pet Partner Team with Liz Goldman.
Ans Story: (as told by Liz)
My parents had an elderly German Shepherd. I thought it would be good for them to get another dog before they lost Sissy, so I went to Patty Ryan at Happy Tales and described what I wanted. We talked about the good luck I had with the two I got from Animal Control, and we decided I would “rescue” one instead of taking one that was already rescued and placed in a foster. Patty called Debby Leddy, described what I wanted, said to find one meeting those criteria that they were about to put down, and told her we were on the way over. Debby brought Annie out, and I was smitten. It was her last day; she was scheduled to be euthanized that afternoon. My parents ended up with another dog–I couldn’t let Ans go.
Ans is a Delta-certified Animal Assisted Activities/Animal Assisted Therapy dog, who works with me in residential Alzheimer’s/dementia facilities and Adult Day Services programs. She is a big, fuzzy Golden/St. Bernard mix, who knows absolutely no “trick,” but she is affectionate, well behaved, and her looks alone are entertaining.
In the residential facilities we visit, many of the clients have very little communication and mobility skills, and it is sometimes difficult to know how much effect we have. Occasionally something happens that convinces me that we do make a difference. The following is one such incident.
Al is one of our special petters. He has almost no communication with people, but he talks a little to the dogs and obviously loves them–he pets for as long as I’ll stay.
Last month on one of our visits we went in to the dining area in Al’s pod, and a young woman was there with a violin (“fiddle” in Tennessee), sitting next to Al and entertaining the residents with bluegrass music. She finished playing just as we walked in, and two things happened: Al reached over and, very carefully, took the violin from her, and he spotted Ans.
Al’s face lighted up, and he said the only thing I’ve ever heard him say: “Hello Tiger.” “Tiger” is what he calls any of the dogs. He seemed not to know whether to pay attention to Ans or to the violin, but he touched the strings with the bow a couple of times. Ans has a funny way of cocking her head when she is puzzled, and she did this when she heard the sound of the violin.
The young woman picked up on it and had the presence of mind to say: “He wants you to play for him.” (Everybody thinks Ans is a “him.”) Al grinned. He tucked the violin under his chin and began to play Red River Valley. Not bluegrass and not concert–but poignant and haunting, with much expression. Who would have known!The woman was as surprised as I.
Ans sat down in front of Al and cocked her head from side to side, fascinated by the sound. The woman said: “Oh, he loves your playing!” Al beamed and played on, totally focused on Ans. “Come and sit by my side if you love me, do not hasten to bid me adieu….” no words, but we all understood.
Ans got tired of sitting and cocking her head, and she went over and lay down on Al’s feet. Al played on, oblivious to everything except Ans on his feet. Ans started snoring.
Staff and another dog team heard the music and came in. We were all entranced. It must have gone on for fifteen or twenty minutes–Red River Valley, over and over. Al’s expression was beyond description. Ans snored through it all on Al’s feet.
This is what keeps me going back.
NOTE: This was posted in March, 2004. Al died several weeks after it was written. In two of our last three visits before he died, Ans and I were not able to rouse him. On the last, however, he was quite alert, and we had a conversation about his playing the violin. He said he learned to play in his high school orchestra.