Casey: A Warrior of the Heart
A special dog brings love to a nursing home.
By Pat Eisenberger
When a Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) chooses a human companion, he or she will stick with the person through thick and thin. Some shelties see no reason to acknowledge the presence of anyone other than their chosen person, except to warn them to keep away. So I was shocked when one day my Sheltie, Casey, joyfully ran over to an elderly couple he did not know. He danced about them and cuddled up for their attention, ignoring me as I called for him to come back.
After that incident, I began carefully watching Casey’s behavior around other people. Casey didn’t care for strangers who were in their twenties, thirties, or forties, and he even ran away from children. But let someone with gray hair walk by, and Casey ran to greet him or her enthusiastically. Since this was not typical Sheltie behavior, I began to think that maybe Casey was intended to accomplish something greater with his life. And maybe I could help him.
I contacted my church’s nursing home and found out that they welcomed anyone, including dogs, to visit the residents. I felt confident that Casey could brighten the day for many of the people at this facility, but I was uncertain how I could handle taking him there. Most of the residents of this nursing home were Alzheimer’s patients. How could Casey and I communicate with them? I had been observing Casey become so much more than his Sheltie temperament dictated. I hoped that I, too, could step outside my comfort level and try to bring a little joy to people in the nursing home who needed it. So I arranged for Casey and me to make our first visit to the elderly.
The minute Casey stepped into the nursing home, people greeted us with smiles and laughter. Casey happily did his tricks for them. He stayed at the end of the hall until I called him, then came barreling around past people in wheelchairs. Having this furry bullet bolt by made them laugh. He sat, laid down, rolled over, crawled, weaved through my legs as I walked, and caught his tennis ball. After Casey finished entertaining the patients, he wagged his tail, cuddled up, and listened to his elders, especially when they called him “pretty dog.” Casey accepted every hand that reached out to him with a friendly lick and a wag of his tail.
The next thing I knew, people who couldn’t tell where they were or even who they were began to glow with a light in their eyes and reminisce about the dogs they had loved. When a nurse saw that one old gent had started talking to Casey, she pulled me aside and whispered, “He hasn’t said a word since he got here–until now!” Someone else asked me to take Casey to a woman who was unable to move from her bed or even speak. As the woman petted Casey’s head and hummed at him, I observed indications of a sharp and active mind behind her bright eyes. She happily responded to my questions with a smile and a nod or an elegant wave of her hand.
I left the nursing home that day feeling very grateful to Casey for the lesson he had taught me. I had been afraid to step outside the boundaries I had placed around myself and worried about how I would communicate with these people. But I learned that no one ever forgets the language of love. Casey and I continued visiting nursing homes for another two years until Casey retired from this form of service.
Casey and I would like to challenge you to step outside your boundaries. We think that you’ll find the experience to be awesome!
From the book ‘Angel Dogs.’ Copyright c 2005 by Allen and Linda Anderson.