Right up front…I bought A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home (20013) by Sue Halpern because of the title and the cover photo. It was darn difficult to resist the look on that dog’s face. I must say I am glad I was manipulated into purchasing it.
This nonfiction book is NOT a series of cute stories about dogs, although you will surely enjoy some of Pransky’s antics. Pransky is a 10-year-old labradoodle mentioned in the “be sure to read” introduction. It is through these opening pages you learn a little something about the author and her dog, plus their journey to becoming therapy companions.
I must add here when the topic of philosophy was mentioned I almost stopped reading. Philosophy is not my strong point. Do not panic as I did. Keep reading.
When the author’s daughter headed to college, Sue Halpern found she had some time on her hands. She toyed with the idea of training Pransky, who was seven at the time to be a therapy dog. How hard could it be? Pransky is a happy, people-loving kind of dog.
In order to become certified as a therapy dog team with Therapy Dog International, Pransky and Sue had to pass 15 requirements. After learning the requirements, Sue thought Pransky could handle most of them. Well, there was one that maybe might be an issue.
The first chapter is titled “Restraint” and for good reason. One of the more difficult things Pransky needed to learn was walking on a loose leash. Pransky had never been on a leash. She had been raised in the Vermont countryside, free to roam without restraint. Sit back and get ready to enjoy their experience.
Six weeks into their training, Sue did her best to get her well-behaved dog, though yet to be certified, into the local nursing home, the locals called County. She was told they would love to have them…AFTER they were certified. So, it was back to training.
With the certification test just days away. The two kept busy training, especially with real world experiences. The two of them would go into a busy store or neighborhood anywhere Prensky might be distracted by people, cars, bicycles, other dogs.
The testing site was a two-hour drive away. A large area with kids playing ball, soccer games taking place, and “five hundred seagulls” patrolling the area. One more thing…the temps were in the nineties. The hopeful team signed in and still had about an hour wait. You will find yourself cheering on Pransky just as I did as you follow her through her different tests.
One welcoming day at the County, Sue was a bit self-conscious and was glad most eyes were on Pransky. “Nothing in my life had prepared me for the simple act of visiting strangers in a place like this—not the nursing home orientation video, not dog therapy training, and not, certainly, all my years of school.” Thus, begins Sue’s first lesson on what to do. Pransky is now in the lead, Sue takes her cues from the dog.
Pransky seemed to have a natural sense about what a resident needed. It could be a touch of her paw, maybe just sitting quietly nearby, or the always-recognizable tail wagging. Sue may have trained Pransky to be a therapy dog, but she is the one who grew through their experience.
A Dog Walked into a Nursing Home is not a depressing book. It is heartwarming and not just for dog lovers. Like Sue I think you will gain insight about what life in like in assisted living or a nursing home. You will definitely learn how to be a visitor. Maybe the best thing you will learn is to value the elderly.
This next book, a novel, will also take you into a similar setting and it was totally unplanned on my part. It All Comes Back to You (2018) by Beth Duke may seem rather simple as it begins. But, if you keep turning the pages, and you will, all sorts of issues are raised. Some, not so pretty.
Actually, you will be getting two stories in one between the covers of this book. Set in Anniston, Alabama, it opens in 2012. Ronni is an LPN for the upscale Fairfield Springs Assisted Living Facility.
You will learn that Ronni did not have a wonderful childhood. Her mother was addicted to everything and anything that would give her a high. As a child Ronni was passed around from foster home to foster home until an elderly couple, the Johnsons, adopted her. Now, in her position as an LPN, Ronni loves her job and her patients over her.
One patient who Ronni connects with is Violet. Violet experienced a completely different childhood than Ronni’s. Born in the 30s she grew up in a wealthy family with all the privileges that one would expect. Everybody loved Violet, and it still seems to hold true at the nursing home. Violet’s part of the story begins in 1947.
Ronni and Violet could not be more opposite. Where Ronni sees herself as plain, has some issues with weight, and feels insecure about herself. Violet is often the center of attention, outgoing, and confident. Even in 2012 and the age 77, Violet does not really care what others think.
Little by little the two of them begin to learn about each other’s lives. Ronni shared her dream of always wanting to be a writer and to be loved. Violet shared stories of her life and loves growing up after WWII.
The chapters flip between 2012 and 1947. As you move through their stories, the different chapters hold surprises. The lives of these two ladies come into focus. It should not come as a shock that Violet passes away, but it still did because she seemed so full of life. But she was not done with Ronni by any means. Violet includes Ronni in her will.
What she leaves Ronni comes with one stipulation. Ronni must write Violet’s biography within one year’s time. Violet has made certain funds were provided that enabled Ronni to take time off from work for a year. If Ronni completes the biography on time, she will receive even more money. If not, no more funds will come her way.
I found It All Comes Back to You funny, sad, touching, and worth the read. At first it seemed slow, but once you get to know the characters, their loves, their lives, it sails right along. Oh, I guess I should mention a bit of mystery that involves Violet and the end of her life is woven into the tale of these two likeable characters.