This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.
It can be easy to take the presence of animals for granted.
Expecting to be greeted at the door by a wagging tail and wet nose. Feeling annoyed at having to walk them when it’s cold outside. Carelessly weaving fingers through fur and not consciously acknowledging every fiber of the soft texture.
Indulging in the seemingly unconditional love in our pet’s eyes. Ignoring the tennis ball or rope in their mouth as we crank through another item on our to-do list.
But imagine now that our bodies are failing us while our minds remain sharp. We sit for hours on end in the same room with little to no company. We ache for connection and wistfully remember our own home filled with family, pets included.
We feel anxious. We feel lonely.
Then one day, we look up and a dog is trotting toward us with an inquisitive look and a swishing tail. We reach out our shaking hand and he nudges his head into our palm and sighs. A tear streams down our face.
We look forward to that dog returning each month. We store dog treats for him in our room. He quickly becomes more and more familiar and affectionately licks our hand. He could care less that we are in a wheel chair or that sometimes our words are jumbled.
Any time I replay this scene in my mind, it makes me wish I had started pet visits a long time ago.
It seems selfish that I’ve had these three dogs all to myself for so long. Especially since all it took was a phone call to a local nursing home to inquire about their pet policy. Most homes only require a copy of an animal’s vet records showing up-to-date vaccines and a heads up that you will be coming.
I partnered with a volunteer organization, knowing that they could help raise awareness of this opportunity to others. More volunteers also meant more time with dogs for the residents. I learned that not everyone likes big or small dogs, so a mix of both is ideal.
I do these pet visits because I would want someone to do them for me.
The visits are a gentle reminder to value my time with my dogs and with others. My grandmother is in hospice several states away and while I cannot do much to bring her comfort, it brings me peace to make a small impact on those close by.
The pet visits are one hour out of the month. I guard that commitment like a watch dog. It amazes me that such a small amount of effort can bring much-needed joy to these residents.
When we volunteer, we don’t expect anything back in return, but I’ve found that helping others is a good way to gain fulfillment for ourselves. It gives me a sense of purpose each month and a little joy as well. I get outside of my head and away from the seemingly important drama to focus on others. The connections I’ve made help give me a better sense of community.
The best parts of my week, and maybe yours, are when someone performs a random act of kindness. When my friend emails me a link to a video she thought would help me. When the neighborhood kids knock on my door and ask if they can walk our dogs. When my boyfriend leaves a cheerful note next to my tea each morning. These thoughtful gestures bring a smile to my face and a rush of gratitude. My mood and spirit elevate instantly.
Pet visits are my way to make a difference. I can feel the energy in the room shift when the dogs enter, as if each resident is recalling images and memories of their former pets. Often times they share stories as they reminisce about dog companions from the past, and this is when I pick up valuable nuggets of wisdom.
Imagine if we all found a simple way to give back, to do something different with a small portion of our time or resources that would instill that feeling of joyfulness in others. Imagine that.