A comforting presence
I spent 30 years as a first responder. That’s where my compassion for the elderly started. I was a wheelchair van driver and I would take people to nursing homes and assisted living facilities all the time — that’s how I knew there was a need in a facility like that.
Cooper is my dog. I got him 10 days before a co-worker of mine committed suicide. She was a paramedic while I was working in the Denver 911 Center, so I took him down there for a visit.
One of the employees there said that I should bring Cooper in all the time. Later on, I found out that she was the stepdaughter of the paramedic who killed herself. For me, that really planted a seed and she was always a fierce supporter of me reaching out to people when they’re having hard times.
Cooper became certified as a therapy dog by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs when he was 16 months old. May 20 will mark his five-year certification anniversary.
Shortly after getting certified, he became the first therapy dog the Denver Paramedics had on their team. We also reached out to other 911 centers and visited with Jeffcom 911 and Adams County 911. I like to visit dispatch centers because they’re generally pretty forgotten places.
I live just down the street from Arbor View Senior Living. One of the residents would walk by my house and I would always stop and say hi to her.
As soon as COVID-19 hit I was talking to her because I knew that visiting wasn’t going to be the same for the residents and their families. So, I walked Cooper around the outside of the facility so that some of the residents could see him.
One of the residents told Arbor View’s Life Enrichment Director Jamie Chapa about Cooper, and we got connected together.
I started bringing Cooper over for visits on weekends beginning March 28, 2020. Last weekend was the 60th time that I’ve brought Cooper for a visit. We go every weekend, either Saturday or Sunday — both if we can.
He makes people smile. That’s the biggest thing. At Arbor View a couple of the residents have dogs or cats, but a lot of people have expressed to me that they used to have a pet and don’t anymore, and they love seeing Cooper.
A lot of people don’t see the value in therapy dogs, or don’t understand the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog. A service dog is for one person; a therapy dog is for many.
He provides an outlet for people when they need it the most. People can put their hands on him or even cry into him. He makes everyone so happy.
When winter was coming, Jamie reached out to me and said that we should probably suspend the visits because it’s getting cold. I said no, we’ve been doing this for seven months already and I feel bad enough when residents are napping and miss our visit — I’d feel even worse if we didn’t come for two or three weeks.
It’s the best part of the week. It’s hard to pass that up.
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