Rupert the therapy dog

Sunday, Nov 1
She called him Rupert, but he didn’t mind, at least for that hour every Wednesday. I can’t remember her exact room number at the local nursing home, but for several years, once a week, Buddy knew exactly where he was going. We’d wander the halls with Buddy taking the lead each time, stopping in at almost every room. Buddy decided the pace, often met by a resident enjoying an afternoon nap. But he would make a point to visit the other side of the bed, almost as if to stall and see if the person would awaken.

Mrs. Guilmet was always awake, almost as if she knew Buddy was expected. Her nurse says her stare to the wall was always broken when she heard the clicking of Buddy’s nails nearing her door. She is a widow, mother and great-grandmother; her eyes tell a long story. Each day is the present, I’m guessing sometime in the 1940s.

“Rupert looks hungry today,” she’d say, staring down at Buddy.

“Well, he’s already had his breakfast, and he doesn’t eat again until dinner,” I’d return with.

“And what time is that?” she’d ask.

“Not for a few more hours,” I’d say.

“Well,” she’d pause, “I think he deserves a snack.” Mrs. Guilmet always had a sparkle in her eye.

Sometimes, the TV was on, but when Buddy was in her room she’d never notice. It was all about him, and how much she loved him. Mrs. Guilmet was always so delighted to tell me stories of Rupert and thanked me repeatedly for taking care of him so well and visiting so often.

“Once, he left us for more than two weeks,” she told me. “We found him at a farm three towns away. They took him in as a stray and let him stay in the barn with the rest of the cattle,” she continued.

“How did you find him?” I’d ask, but she’d frown every now and again and stare off trying to remember. “He’s a good dog,” she’d say over and over again, “so loyal and well-mannered.” Of course, I had to agree.

Buddy wasn’t allowed to cuddle anyone on the bed, even though he was tick-free. Except for Mrs. Guilmet’s bed. And each time I’d lift him up, she would beam as she’d lock eyes with Buddy’s. Her weathered hands, crippled with arthritis, would gently find their way, resting on the top of his head, as her face would come alive with the biggest grin you’d ever see.

Forgetting the oxygen tubes in her nose, and maybe even the IV in her arm, Rupert was a brand new pup making his way up onto her bed for the first time. “Now, now, there’s my boy,” she’d whisper as Buddy would find a spot free of hoses to settle in. “Don’t let Harry catch you up here,” she’d say, turning her attention to me. “He doesn’t like dogs as much as I do,” she’d say as we chuckled together.

After a bit of chatter, never asking about me, she’d recall another time Rupert ate this or got into that. And almost always, her nurse would arrive without warning, startled that there was a dog in the bed.

“Hey there, Rupert,” the nurse would say with a wink while flipping around the “Do not disturb sign” and closing the door. Sometimes blood was drawn, but always medicine given and vitals checked, all while Buddy lay at her side.

Mrs. Guilmet would then proceed to tell her nurse and me, again, how Rupert ran off one winter and bedded down with the cattle in that barn to stay warm. “He was gone for nearly two weeks,” she’d remind us.

“That’s a long time,” the nurse would reply. “Especially during the winter,” I’d chime in.

“Back in those days, winters were harsh. We’d have 6 or 7 feet of snow packed up against the house,” she continued one day. “I should have known he found a barn to survive.”

“Well, it’s not like today when you just hopped in your car and went gallivanting all over town looking for your dog,” I said.

Eyes glazed over, she stopped for a long pause, staring at the wall. “I had a 1928 Model A,” she said, still lost in her memory. “I’m just glad you were allowed to sit up front on the ride home,” she said, stroking Buddy’s tail.

And it was on that very day, at that exact moment with Buddy at her side, that Mrs. Guilmet was home.