The Paws That Refresh Us: A Series of Unfortunate Events

What happened when Lucy the bulldog and Fritz the cat met for the first time in the assisted dining room of an old nursing home....... Specialties Geriatric Article


The Paws That Refresh Us: A Series of Unfortunate Events

This afternoon, as I was saying hello to the newest resident of my assisted living facility and getting slobbered on by the ancient Bassett hound she'd brought with her, I was reminded of an incident from my way-back days as a student nursing assistant in a decrepit LTC facility which was, not to put too fine a point on things, a dump.

The lobby was decorated in Early Thrift Shop; the acrid stink of decades-old urine met you at the door and overwhelmed staff and visitors alike; the linoleum was yellowed from years of wax jobs that never quite got stripped correctly; and the building itself hadn't seen a fresh coat of paint since the earth-tones era of the 1960s and '70s. But as dilapidated as the place was, it had a "homey" feel to it that I've never seen replicated anywhere else, because the residents were permitted to have pets.

You can overlook a ton of ugly when your furry feline is purring by your side. You can ignore the constant dinging of call bells and the repetitive hooting of dementia patients when your roommate's parrot is screeching "Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!" You can even forget you're in a nursing home when Fido is curled up at your feet, dreaming his doggy dreams of chasing cars and devouring juicy T-bones. Yes, the menagerie could be quarrelsome at times, and they certainly created more work for us aides; but pets of all kinds were welcome at the "Shady Rest", and if you didn't believe it, you could always ask the administrator, whose own three dogs were daily visitors. (You had to watch out for Bobo, the Labrador retriever, though---if you were unlucky, she'd sniff out the used Depends you forgot to take out of a room and drag it out of the trash can to the DON's office, thereby exposing you for the slacker you were.)

I still wonder what the powers that be were thinking when they admitted Rosa, a brittle diabetic who weighed about 400 lbs. and her equally diabetic and obese cat, Fritz. Both required insulin injections twice a day; both required assistance to use the facilities (Fritz was lazy and liked to poop under Rosa's bed for some reason known only to him); and both had a tendency to be combative when forced to move against their will. I once got clawed twice in the same shift---one time by Rosa, who didn't want to get up for anything but the next meal, and one time by Fritz, who took exception to my attempt to shift him over to the recliner while I changed the bed linens.

The main problem with having animals in the building, quite naturally, was training them to stay out of the food-service areas. Most of them got the message after a few unceremonious evictions from the dining room, but apparently nobody had been able to convince Lucy, the bulldog that lived with her owner a few rooms down the hall, that straying into the forbidden realms was NOT in her best interests. We were always shooing that dog out of there.......not that she wasn't charming or anything, but we all knew that a surveyor would have come unhinged if he or she had seen that drooling beast lying upside down under the 'feeder' table, waiting for something to drop (and passing large amounts of odoriferous gas in the meantime).

Fritz, for his part, was too indolent to do much venturing beyond the safe confines of Rosa's bed, hissing softly at us whenever we got too close. But cats are nothing if not curious creatures, and after a couple of weeks, both he and his mistress had become a little less tightly wound.......and one afternoon just after lunch, while we were putting everyone down for their naps, he decided to take a waddle down to the other end of the hall.

What he didn't bargain for was the presence of Lucy, the bulldog, whom he had never met, and with whom I'm sure no self-respecting feline would have ever chosen to associate. She was once again parked under the U-shaped table, lapping pureed pork and green peas with abandon, and stinking up the room per her usual. What happened next is the stuff of legend:

The cat spied Lucy and, in a surprisingly nimble move, jumped on her back and began to swat at her. This not only startled her, but caused her to inhale a sizable snootful of mashed carrots, which she disliked with a purple passion (yes, we knew this from previous experience). She then attempted to hork them back up at the same time that she was barking frantically at the cat, which produced a series of sounds that would've turned an EMT's stomach. Fritz, in the meantime, was hissing and yowling so loudly he sounded like his tail was caught under a rocking chair, and the fur on his back stood so high he looked even more imposing than he actually was. He then took off at an uncharacteristically high speed and darted out of the dining room as though he'd just realized he'd caught fire, with Lucy right behind him, still yelping crazily and trying to rid herself of the carrots.

The animals rounded the corner at full speed and Lucy---not being in possession of retractable claws---skidded on the slick linoleum and thudded heavily into the treatment cart while the cat dashed into Rosa's room. This caused the dog to look utterly confused for a moment, then to everyone's surprise, UP! came the carrots in a dramatic splash of color that the Creator of vegetables surely never intended.

If a bulldog can look astonished, Lucy managed to do it. But it took only seconds for her to recover and make a wide left turn down a different hall in search of Fritz, who by now had undoubtedly crawled under Rosa's covers. The yelps continued, and so did the dog; in the meantime, several staff members were standing at the end of the hall hunched over like defensive linemen, trying to intercept the critter before she ran out the back door while the rest of us stood transfixed, watching the proceedings and laughing so hysterically that the tears were literally squirting out of our eyes.

It wasn't long after this that I quit my job and went to school to become a nurse. But I've never stopped dreaming of someday owning an LTC facility and turning it into a real home for the elderly, complete with garden spaces, homestyle meals, clean smells, and pets. Lots and lots of them.....even if they do sometimes mess up the joint.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

I'm a Registered Nurse and writer who, in better times, has enjoyed a busy and varied career which includes stints as a Med/Surg floor nurse, a director of nursing, a nurse consultant, and an assistant administrator. And when I'm not working as a nurse, I'm writing about nursing right here at and putting together the chapters for a future book about---what else?---nursing.

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gonzo1, ASN, RN

1,739 Posts

Specializes in ED, ICU, PSYCH, PP, CEN.

So much fun to read, love reading your posts. My mom was in a "nursing home" a house with 5 bedrooms that a nurse owned. The house had 10 residents and pets were allowed to visit on a regular basis. It had to meet all the requirements that a "regular" nursing home would and was licensed by the state. Hopefully this trend will grow. And yes, they did hospice too.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

108 Articles; 9,984 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.
So much fun to read, love reading your posts. My mom was in a "nursing home" a house with 5 bedrooms that a nurse owned. The house had 10 residents and pets were allowed to visit on a regular basis. It had to meet all the requirements that a "regular" nursing home would and was licensed by the state. Hopefully this trend will grow. And yes, they did hospice too.

Where I live, those are called adult foster care homes, and they can be wonderful. I've also seen some that weren't so hot, but if I had to place a loved one in ANY care facility, I think I'd take my chances on an AFC home or an ALF like the one I work in now. It just breaks my heart to see people who were once vital and productive citizens have to live their last years in a crowded room with one or two other people they may or may not get along with, a shared bathroom, and only a curtain for privacy. Like you, I hope the trend toward more homelike environments for the elderly will continue to grow, because frankly, my generation is beginning to populate care facilities and I don't think we'll tolerate the old ways of doing things.

As for me, if I ever need a "home" and can't take my dog or at least one of my cats, I ain't going!!

newtress, LPN

1 Article; 431 Posts

Specializes in med surg ltc psych.

Awsome the way you shared that experience. I did clinicals at a facility that had resident kitties for the residents, and twice a week there was a trainer who brought in two large dogs to visit in rooms and the day room. Those folks just melted when they saw the dogs come in and their faces lit up clamering to touch and hug on them. Pets are so instrumental in bringing cheer and good feelings to elders. I hope and wish this can be more incorporated into their daily activities. I'm with you Miss Viva, hurry up and get your own facility and I'd love to work there!

Specializes in Correctional, QA, Geriatrics.

This post made my day! I love my furry guys so much and miss the dickens out of them when I am on the road. Some of the facilities I visit do have either a residential animal(s) or allow the residents to have their own pets. Those places provide me with a much needed mini dose of critter cuddles when I am away from home for work. They are also the buildings where I see more smiles and positive interaction between staff and residents than the brand new sparkly shining buildings that are missing the vitality of sharing space with other creatures.

Specializes in Critical Care.

Thank you for an entertaining and refreshing story. Having worked as an STNA in LTC facilities prior to becoming an RN, I have had the fortune of witnessing the joy that animals and children bring to the residents.

nurse grace RN, BSN

4 Articles; 118 Posts

Specializes in med/surg, TELE,CM, clinica[ documentation.

What a great story! Animals do make such a difference in our daily lives, I know first hand because I have a trio of my own. I have seen the way faces brighten at the sight of therapy animals and always look forward to their visit to the floor.:cool:

highlandlass1592, BSN, RN

1 Article; 647 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care.

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. My dogs are my children, I hate being apart from them for just one shift. I can't imagine not having them in my life.

This article was truly heartwarming and hysterical. ROFLMBO!!


1,062 Posts

Thank you for your wonderful blog. It is amazing the power of pet to heal

individuals of all ages. Therapy dogs (and cats) as well as therapeutic horse riding programs

provide unique opportunities for patients and their family to interact in a healing and

caring way. It is great to see a clients reaction to a therapy pet and often the

therapy pet has an entertaining personality which reaches out to those in need.

We need more programs like these!


116 Posts

Specializes in Renal; NICU.

This is why I love the Eden Nursing Homes with gardens and pets and usually associated with a nursery or kindergarten which brings children to visit. It's a no-brainer that guests of these facilities are healthier and enjoy their lives more.

TopazLover, BSN, RN

8 Articles; 728 Posts

My DS once hospitalized in one of those pristine hospitals that did not allow even therapy dogs in to visit. Her dog was a certified therapy dog and was not allowed in. Very quickly the doc discharged her. He had the wisdom to know she would heal better with her beloved dog than all the starched sheets and poker backs that high prestige place had to offer.

Animals are on my must have list. They might be challenging at times but I can guarantee I would be more challenging without them.

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