HUNDREDS OF Pets on Wheels volunteers -- without their pets -- are putting on a party they are calling ''Bone Voyage.''
The evening aboard the Lady Baltimore, open to the public, is a benefit for Pets on Wheels, a program of the Baltimore City Commission on Aging and Retirement Education, in which volunteers take their pets to visit nursing home residents. It began nine years ago when four volunteers and their pets visited four nursing homes. Today there are 170 teams in the city and more than 600 statewide who visit nursing homes, some home-bound elderly and developmentally disabled.
Lethargy and depression are unwanted and often unnecessary diseases in a nursing home. They are very catching for those who never have company and have lost all hope. Estimates are that some 40 percent of residents receive visits less than once a week. Often, family and friends do not visit.
Withdrawal of a resident is painful for everyone, especially those who care for them daily and see it taking over. It creates the double task of not only caring for their bodies but struggling to find a way to brighten their hearts.
Since pets were introduced as visitors to nursing homes, the many successes against withdrawal have been proof that they do make a difference. Just let a pet in to visit and residents have opened up, some for the first time in months, and talked with and about a dog or a cat that came visiting. And, they'll laugh in between visits as they recall the pleasures of the company. Plus, the positive commitment the Pets on Wheels volunteers make give the residents something they can count on.
Maggie Dunning has been a volunteer to Pets on Wheels for more than eight years, visiting with her pets each week to the Harford Gardens nursing home.
She began with a little Lhasa Apso named Maggie Champagne Imp, which she called Cham. ''I had heard about the program which was beginning and my daughter, Judy McGrath, told me Cham would be a perfect visitor because she loved everyone and everyone loved her. She was right,'' says Dunning, who has three other pets who also visit.
Dunning says she began to want a small dog that she could pick up to show the residents. In March she saw an advertisement for Benjamin, a Bichon Frise, who is now just over 7 months old and who made his first visit to the nursing home last Sunday. ''He was a hit,'' says Dunning.
Retired as a teacher with the Baltimore school system, Dunning says she's always on the go playing golf, visiting the nursing home, taking art classes and much more. She laughs when she says she lies about her age and she laughs again as she jokes, ''I used to tell my students I was 29 on Monday and 99 on Friday.''
Because so many nursing homes want Pets on Wheels visits, the need for volunteer teams is a constant. ''Our goal is to serve every nursing home resident who needs visiting,'' says Elaine Farrant, director of the program who also points out that the volunteer teams are helpful in checking on nursing home residents and reporting any abuses seen.
Volunteers to Pets on Wheels are given training, and their pets are evaluated at pet observation classes by trainers at the Maryland SPCA who act as volunteer advisers.
Join them Friday evening from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. aboard the Lady Baltimore, which will be docked at the west wall of the Inner Harbor near the Science Center and will not sail. Party guests can get on and off the boat as they please to enjoy the harbor area.
Food and entertainment will be on all three decks. Sing along on the lower deck with pianist Patricia Hammer, on mid-deck hear jazz vocalist Brenda Alfred and pianist Jeff Wilson, and up on the third deck get ready to do some disco dancing with Ward's Rock and Roll emcee.
Guests can dress any way they please. There is a prize for the most original animal-related costume or makeup. And, door prizes for lucky ticket holders and a silent auction will round out the evening. All-inclusive tickets are $50 per person at the gangplank on Friday but reservations are preferred by calling 396-1762.
o volunteer or to obtain more information about Friday's party, call Farrant at that number.