When I asked Lucy Lou Leader to talk to me about her volunteer work visiting nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation communities, she said the best way for me to learn was to come with her. So, on Tuesday, I headed to Cameron Glen, a 173-bed nursing and rehabilitation center, a temporary home for patients well enough to be released from the hospital, but still needing assistance before they are ready to go home.
It’s not surprising to me that Lucy chooses to give her time in this way. She’s the sweetest, calmest being I know, content to sit by someone’s side and be present. Sharing a treat or two is even better. It’s like her personal mission to make people happy, to lick loneliness as it were. Literally. Lucy, is a Fairfax Pets on Wheels Top Dog.
Fairfax Pets on Wheels provides pet visitation to 14 different Fairfax county facilities with a network of more than 300 volunteer dogs. Not just any dog can be a Pets on Wheels Dog. They go through extensive training and temperament testing to make sure they can handle the environment.
“They dropped things, pushed walkers at me, tugged on my ears, you name it,” Lucy explained. “But none of that really bothered me. The hardest part , frankly, was getting busted for talking in class. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a social butterfly.” She was able to curb her playful nature enough to earn the American Kennel Club Good Citizen designation, and eventually become an AKC therapy dog.
Lucy visits two different facilities every week, logging in over 100 hours of therapy visits every year. She led the way through the facility, stopping periodically to check in with old friends and new patients. We met up with one of Lucy’s friends, Abby, another Pets on Wheels volunteer. They like to travel as a team. “We have different specialties that work well together. Abby is good at the bed sitting stuff. Me, I like the feet. The floor is where all the good stuff falls. I found a roll under the bed once. Best. Day. Ever.”
I asked her if it was hard, being around people when they’re ill and away from home. “Not really,” Lucy said. “People rub my ears and tell me I’m beautiful all afternoon. Who wouldn’t like that? It’s harder when they leave.”
She took me to visit several rooms and introduced me to some of her favorite patients, and we made a quick stop at the rehab room and the community room before I left so she could get on with her work. “If you could do just one thing, tell other companion humans about Pets on Wheels. It’s a great way to make someone’s day brighter. And tell the rest of the dog community that it’s a great gig. Unlimited head rubs, and a few times a year you wear costumes and get treats. It rocks.”
No Lucy, you do.
For more information about Fairfax Pets on Wheels, visit http://www.fpow.org, or search to find a Pets on Wheels in your community.