Dosher Peter, the health center activities supervisor at Abbey Delray South,
sits at her desk as Abner, a Maltese-Yorkie, peers out from his ‘spot,’ where
he shares her chair with her. Photos provided
By Arden Moore
Abner weighs less than 10 pounds and has yet to celebrate his second birthday. Yet this Maltese-Yorkshire terrier mix is a BDOC — that’s big dog on campus — at the Abbey Delray South center in Delray Beach.
Each and every day, he is winning hearts, unleashing smiles and evoking laughter among residents and health personnel. Not bad for a mini-mutt who spent his puppyhood looking scruffy and skinny at an animal shelter in Boca Raton.
Abner illustrates the value of living each day in the present and looking to the future with a bright outlook. I share his tale because, while there are registered therapy dogs, cats and other pets who make visits to nursing homes, hospitals, schools and other places, Abner is a full-time resident at Abbey Delray South and ready to lend a paw of compassion to any and all at any time.
While at the shelter, he expertly worked his charm on Abbey Delray South’s “scouts” in search of a center dog: executive director David Randazzo and dog-savvy Carol Siddons, who resides in the independent living section of this Lifespace community facility. The pair toured shelters to find a well-mannered therapy dog for their residents and staff.
“I saw that special twinkle in his eye and I knew he was the one,” says Siddons, who has taught dog obedience and trained Doberman pinschers to win ribbons in the show ring. “Yes, I knew he was full of terrier, but he was easy to train and he loves being on people’s laps.”
Next challenge: graduating from basic dog obedience school. Siddons brought Abner to every class and then maintained “homework” lessons at her home to ensure Abner would master the key commands like “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “come” and “leave it.” He also loves performing figure-8s around other dogs, being touched from head to tail and keeping the mute button on his bark during introductions.
So, how did Abner do in obedience school? “There were 20-some dogs in class and he graduated first in his class!” proudly proclaims Siddons.
Abner sits with Richard Smith, 93, at Abbey Delray South.
Third challenge: charming veteran activities director Dosher Peter, who is dedicated to bringing out the healthy best in her residents, but had zilch knowledge of canines. Abbey Delray South serves people in need of short-term rehabilitation, full-time health care or who desire to reside in assisted-living housing. While she has 20-plus years experience as an activities director in health centers, Peter admitted being more than nervous about the notion of being in charge of a full-time canine therapy assistant.
“At a staff meeting, the administrator said we need a dog for the facility,” recalls Peter. “I looked at him in astonishment. I had never had a dog before and wasn’t sure if I could acclimate taking care of a dog. But Abner passed a thorough veterinary exam and excelled in obedience class and now shares my office. Well, more than my office. He shares my office chair.”
That’s right. Abner shredded the dog bed placed in Peter’s office and wiggled his body onto her high-back chair so that he could be her cuddle companion when she does desk work.
“I’ve learned to scoot up in my chair to make room for Abner,” she laughs. “I’ve also learned how to give him a bath, express his anal glands and brush him properly.”
Abner spends the week as the center’s four-legged ambassador of hope and joy. He sports a jingle on his collar to alert his presence and joins Peter when she visits bedridden residents and those participating in group activities.
“What sold me on Abner is that he improves the moods in many here,” says Peter. “He has a calming effect on those who are agitated. We always make sure he is welcomed before introducing him to a resident. For those who are cognitively impaired, their relatives may say that the individual had a dog or cat. They smile broadly when they see Abner enter their room. Some residents won’t speak to others, but will have lively conversations with Abner.”
She adds, “He makes people laugh when he runs after a toy or ball and he loves socializing with the other dogs who come here for visits. At 8 p.m., he goes into his crate in the leisure center to sleep.”
Any downsides — besides hogging her office chair? “If there is a dog on TV, he barks at it,” she says.
Weekends, Abner shares his time with various staff members and returns promptly on Monday mornings.
“Abner is invaluable — he is making a positive difference in the lives of many people each and every day,” says Peter.
Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid master instructor. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.