Miss Tillie Brings Some Furry Love To The Homebound

April 15, 1992|By Muphen Whitney | Muphen Whitney,Contributing writer

The "Complete Book of the Dog" describes the bichon frise as "a small, pure-white, curly-coated dog with an appealing and lively character."

The half-dozen residents of an assisted living home for seniorcitizens in Howard County might describe the bichon frise they know,Miss Tillie, as pure love.

"We have wanted for quite some time to be able to visit one-on-one with people isolated at home," says Lucille Barnum, Howard coordinator for the Pets on Wheels program. Pets on Wheels generally takes pets for visits to larger institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. Home visits are a recent addition to the program.

The home visits were organized rather quickly, said Elaine Farrant, state executive director of the Pets on Wheels organization, during the organization's recent statewide meeting in Columbia.

"All of a sudden we were getting referrals for those being deinstitutionalized and placed in home settings," Farrant said. "This has really taken off over the last six months. We are seeing mostly the elderly or homebound, peoplewho are now home alone.

"Health-care workers and care-givers are looking for things for the homebound to do. In many cases, people have had dogs or other pets in their lives, so it was natural to have visits from Pets on Wheels."

Although the home-visit concept is new to Pets on Wheels, volunteer Patricia Smidt of Baltimore is getting to be an old hand at the game with her "8-year-old, overweight beagle,Skippy."

Smidt and Skippy regularly visit John, William and Chuckie, three developmentally disabled men who have lived together in a group home for the past seven years.

"They spend the day in a workshop and have a pretty set routine," said Smidt. "And they have a great counselor who likes to keep them occupied. Chuckie wanted a dog, sothe counselor called Elaine (Farrant)."

The first dog to visit was big and frightened the three men. But Chuckie still wanted a dog, and Smidt, who works in a nursing home, had been wanting to make home visits. So the connection was made.

"Home visits are much more quiet and much more focused," explains Smidt. "The men all watch for us out the window now. When we get there, Skippy sits by the chairs, andthey pet him until he rolls over and falls asleep.

"Skippy loves it there. He has his own towel to lie on and his own bowls. The men really love having him there. Skippy is really there for those three guys. He has really made a difference in their lives."

Although sheis much newer at the game than Skippy, Miss Tillie is forging the same kind of relationship with the people she visits.

"When Ellie Jordan took Miss Tillie on her first visit last week, one lady asked totake Miss Tillie up to her bedroom," says Lucille Barnum. "This woman had had dogs all her life and really missed having one. She was just thrilled with Miss Tillie's visit and with being able to play with her.

"The first visit went very well, the residents were thrilled," said Barnum. "We will continue visiting there. I hope to expand that aspect of our program and put more emphasis on it."

Barnum hopesto recruit more people and their pets for home visits. She says thatthe screening and training processes will be the same, whether the pets make home visits or visit larger institutions.

"We always wanta personal aspect, whether the pets and their people visit homes or institutions," said Barnum, who oversees a total of 60 volunteers in Howard.

The program has attracted about three dozen volunteers andtheir animals.

"Right now we have mainly dogs in our volunteer teams; we are out of birds and rabbits," Barnum said with a smile.

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