There’s plenty of happiness when dogs come to visit

Jayette Bolinski

When 77-year-old Suzie Tucker moved into the Regency health-care facility a year ago, she had to give up her dog, ASDO, who had been her constant companion for years.

ASDO, a Chihuahua-terrier mix named after a Red Cross class called Administrative Small Disaster Operation that Tucker used to teach, was a loved and “very spoiled dog,” said Tucker, a retired nurse and American Red Cross volunteer.

“I had to get rid of my dog to come out here. I do miss my dog,” she said.

Her fondness for canines is why she rarely misses a chance to visit with any of a dozen or so dogs and handlers from Illinois Humane who gather every few weeks in the commons area at Regency in an effort to bring a little joy and fun to the residents.

All the dogs have been rescued, either through Illinois Humane or other sources. The group each week visits a nursing home or other facility, and only dogs that have an apparent desire to be around people are invited to go.

“These aren’t certified therapy dogs. These are dogs that have very good temperaments,” said Rose Hutches, a volunteer with Illinois Humane. “They have … a desire to meet people and really interact with people. They’ve got to be social, that’s the main thing.”

One of the stars of the group is “Pension,” a 4-year-old border collie with lots of tricks up her sleeve. She leaps, bows, rolls, waves, high-fives, does figure eights, prays and “dances high.” She also can nose a ball back and forth with willing participants.

Pension and her tricks are a big hit with the senior citizens.

“She has her canine citizenship papers where she gets along great with other people. When she meets dogs, the two dogs say hi and she’s done. She’d rather meet people than play with other dogs,” said Pension’s owner, Robert Williamson, who retired from the Springfield Police Department after 32 years.

“In human terms, she would be the top valedictorian in a class of valedictorians. Any trick I try to teach her she can learn in three or four hours and perfect within a week. She’s smart. She’s very, very fast.”

Williamson said visiting nursing homes with Pension and the other dogs is a winning situation for everyone involved — the residents, the dogs and the handlers.

“The excitement of seeing a dog do what (Pension) does and yet being able to touch her, the one- on-one during the visits; they can touch her, they can do the ball thing with her, and she’ll roll it back to them,” he said, not ing that Pension seems to love the visits as much as the residents do.

“Knowing that she’s doing what she wants, she’s happy. They have to work, they have to be busy these border collies do. And with the people that are in here, they can’t go out and they have very little contact with people and especially animals. It’s a proven fact that the intermingling of animals and humans is highly beneficial to homebound individuals.”

Nancy Eck, activities director at Regency, said that on average about a third of the home’s 90 residents turn out for the pet visits — significantly more than the crowds that turn out for other activities. Volunteers from the Animal Protective League also do visits at the home.

“The residents love the dogs. They may not have had dogs at home the whole time they grew up, or maybe they’re used to being around dogs and cats. They can see them here, but they don’t have to worry about the care,” she said.

“They smile, sometimes they’ll hold a dog or cat the whole time they’re here. They don’t want to leave the animal. Some of them are afraid. Some of them we’ll notice they are afraid, so we’ll take them out. They smile. The animals hold their attention for an hour, whereas other programs only hold their attention for 10 or 15 minutes,” Eck said.

“The residents seem to perk up. They’re more alert, happier. Another part of their life they had in the past, they reminisce and talk about their dogs and good times when they were younger.”

Jayette Bolinski can be reached at (217) 788-1530 or