Many of you have followed my wife, Brenda’s, stories of her injury and healing. Story One. Story Two.
On her very first day in the Rehabilitation Wing of Memorial Hospital at Gulfport she got a visit from Redmen, a wonderful Pomeranian who is a certified therapy dog. Joan Webb is his owner, handler and trainer. One look into his eyes and you can tell that she is also the love of his life.
On day two in Rehab she was visited by Buddy, who lit up the room when he entered.
Day three brought Peaches to visit. Peaches is a mid-sized, mixed breed dog who loves people and lives to serve.
Missing our little Pearl, Brenda was tremendously uplifted by all three of her canine visitors.
I was immediately reminded of a deceased patient, Dixie White House. Dixie was a stray discovered at the nursing home of the same name in Pass Christian,. MS. My client, Aline Gerard took her in one day while visiting her mother, who was a resident there. She already had a cat named Serafina and while Dixie always wanted to be friends, Serafina could only bring herself to tolerate the intruder.
Dixie became a certified therapy dog and visited nursing homes all over the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She was always so proud when she wore her “working jacket.”
I sat down today with Joan Webb and we discussed her and Redmen’s story and how they got into therapy work.
About five years ago Mrs. Webb had back surgery, then was sent to a rehabilitation service similar to Memorial’s. A therapy dog came to visit her there and had an immediate and lasting impact. The seed was planted for her later interest in giving back.
Joan had lost a Pomeranian previously and longed for another. Her loving and helpful daughter went online and found a breeder who claimed to have an excellent line of Pomeranians. Joan’s daughter made personal contact and the breeder said he had a two-year-old male that was ready for sale. A deal was struck and “Red” was delivered to Joan, who was still in a wheelchair following her hospitalization.
“Red” didn’t know his name was Red, and Joan didn’t like the name much anyway, so she added “men” and Redmen was christened.
Joan’s first shock came when she went to see her veterinarian. Redmen wasn’t two, but more like five years of age. Furthermore, he was sick with a terrible bacterial infection. During his first dental prophylaxis he had eleven teeth extracted.
Joan was furious and felt as if she had been misled. She contacted the “breeder,” who turned out to be a puppy mill operator. Joan insisted that her daughter’s purchase money be refunded and the breeder paid all of Redmen’s doctor bills.
Finally the time was right to begin training Redmen for therapy dog duty. Joan joined a local organization, Visiting Pet Partners. She learned, as I did today, that VPP participates in programs at Woodland Village Nursing Center (where I teach my Sunday School class), Driftwood and Lakeview Nursing Centers, Ocean Springs Nursing Center and Dixie White House Nursing Home.
Hospitals they attend are Memorial Hospital at Gulfport and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Biloxi. Currently plans are being made to begin a program at Garden Park Hospital.
Reading programs are enhanced in local libraries as children select a book of their own choice to read to a pair of Pet Partners. As the dogs are non-judgmental of a child’s reading speed, pronunciation and genre, they make a perfect support system for the young reader. Kiln Public Library and Long Beach Public Library currently participate, with more libraries coming in the future.
Joan’s next step toward working-dog status was to study and train for the Delta Society (now Pet Partners) test . This can be a self-study program or professional trainers may aid in the process. Training begins with basic obedience, but a therapy dog must also become used to noises. Extreme noises. One of the training aids is dropping pots and pans behind the trainee and he must not react in an unfriendly, violent or aggressive manner when startled. Dogs must become used to working around wheelchairs and walkers.
They must be tolerant of rough handling. Just as very young children sometimes handle pets less-than-gently, sometimes impaired adults lose their gentle touch, as well. This is especially true of stroke and nerve-damage patients.
It is essential that Pet Therapy dogs tolerate other pets. When at a public facility other therapy dogs may be present, or a patient’s own pet may be visiting simultaneously. Imagine the horror of a dog fight in a hospital!
Testing doesn’t end with dogs, either. Handlers have a written test and must pass before being certified.
Joan Webb is one of 18 members of Visiting Pet Partners. Some members have more than one therapy dog.
VPP member dogs wear their colors proudly. Royal Blue represents excellence of service and yellow depicts the sunshine brought into people’s lives by their visits.
Redmen is now between ten and eleven years of age. He and Joan were honored as Visiting Pet Partners of the year for 2009 and his certificate and the blue bone on his collar announce their selection proudly. He works four days each week in the locations described above.
Delta Society certifies dogs for assisted living as well as therapy dogs. Delta provides insurance for the dogs they certify. In return, immaculate records of visits must be maintained.
Seeing the joy our Pearl and Joan’s Redmen brought to Brenda certainly made our burden lighter.
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We are so proud of Joan and Redmen! Joan has been an excellent example of sharing the love of her pet with people in our community who really need it the most. For that reason, we have chosen Joan and Redmen along with Peggy and Buddy to be our “Volunteers of the Year” for our Visiting Pet Partners- Pet Therapy group.
Thanks to you Dr. Randolph for doing an excellent story.
Patsy Thomas, Coordinator
VPP- Pet Therapy Group
Serving Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties
Thank you, Dr. Randolph, for such a wonderful writeup. I truly appreciate your interest in me and Redmen. Glad your wife is doing better and if I can help in any way please contact me.
Again many thanks, Joan.
You are welcome, Joan. You and Redmen just keep doing what you’re doing, visiting and helping. It’s a wonderful thing that the two of you do.
Kate, your pet’s doctor is doing exactly what I would do in that circumstance. The fever may very well respond to antibiotic therapy via Convenia and a small dose of Dexamethasone may stimulate the appetite. While we don’t like to anesthetize patients without labwork first, in this case a short duration of quick-acting anesthesia is the only means to obtain the specimens needed. EVEN IF she recovers from this event it is CRUCIAL that laboratory tests be performed soon. 1, there may be underlying problems that need to be addressed before they get even worse. 2, she will need them when it’s time to clean her teeth. We are concerned about your kitty and would like to have updates. Please keep us posted, Dr. Randolph.
Redman is such a wonderful dog and Mrs. Webb is a very sweet and dedicated woman! There should be more Reds and Joans in this world.