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Tag: bill woestendiek

Mister September and Henry Higgins

dadandhenry

That’s my dad, featured for the month of September, in the 2014 Caring Canines Calendar.

Produced by the AMDA Foundation, the calendar features 12 outstanding therapy pets from across the country, pictured with those with whom they work and for whom they provide companionship.

The therapy pictured dog with my 89-year-old dad is Henry Higgins, who works where my father now resides, at Mission Palms Health and Rehabilitation in Mesa, Arizona.

I wrote last year about the bond they’ve developed there.

The 2014 Caring Canines Calendar  (you can click the link to order) is the fifth one put out by the foundation, a nonprofit arm of the American Medical Directors Association. Proceeds from the calendar support foundation programs.

Each month features a pet (mostly dogs, but one bird makes an appearance) who is providing therapy or companionship at a long-term care facility.

As the calendar notes, “The presence of animals is becoming increasingly popular in long term care residential facilities, and for good reason — studies have documented that pets help reduce depression, loneliness, and anxiety; improve mental function; and lower blood pressure and heart rate.”

The calendar contains photographs and stories selected from the submissions contributed by residents and staff members of long term care facilities.

Henry belongs to Christina Higgins, a physical therapist at Mission Palms.

I first wrote a piece for ohmidog! after meeting them during a visit last year.

That old post is one of many that got gobbled up or lost in space when we recently changed servers for this website. (Data migration is as dangerous as it sounds, and can lead to broken links, also painful.)

But here’s a piece of it I found:

As my soon-to-be 89-year-old father continues on a long uphill road to recovery, there’s a dog helping him get there.

Somehow, that makes me – being, until last week, on the other side of the country – feel more comfortable. More important, I’m guessing it makes him — being a hard core dog lover — feel more that way, too, as well as more motivated, and more at home in a strange place.

My dad became ill last year, entering a hospital with stomach problems and suffering a heart attack while there that would lead to an induced coma of several weeks. Once he came out of it, he had to relearn things like eating and walking, and — having a lot more fight in him than most people — he made great progress during his stay in a skilled nursing facility in Mesa called Mission Palms.

He was fortunate enough to be assigned to a therapist named Christina, and her dog, Henry Higgins. Henry, now about a year and half, has been working at Mission Palms since he was three months old, and the first thing I noticed about him was how he made everyone’s face light up upon seeing him, both patients and staff, and definitely my father’s.

For starters, they played some fetch, which required my father hoisting himself out of his wheelchair and throwing a tennis ball. My father did the work, but I think the anticipation on Henry’s face — as he sat there looking at him, patiently waiting — provided the encouragement. After that, a putting green was hauled out and my father tried to sink some putts, as Henry looked on.

Henry is a pointer-setter mix, with long brown hair from his tail to the top of his head, but short hair on his muzzle. Christina, who chose him from a friend’s litter, said “he was the biggest, ugliest one, just a big huge fur ball.”

Out of all the pups, she said, he seemed the most sociable and interested in humans.

I know surgeons and doctors probably deserve most of the thanks, and are the main reason my father is still around. But as for right now, amid all other uncertainties … I’m probably most grateful that he’s in the capable hands of a caring therapist and an encouraging dog. Thanks, Henry.

The dog that stole my father’s heart

If you think love triangles don’t play out in nursing homes, you might need a lesson in geometry, or in aging, or in how the human heart works.

For as long as it keeps ticking, and however strong the attachments it already has are, it’s capable of finding new things to adore.

Which brings us to this sordid tale — one that is also partly uplifting, and, if you want to be all technical about it, also partly shoplifting.

My dog Ace has always been No. 1 in the eyes of my father, a lifelong dog-lover.

My dad was able to quickly detect what a special beast Ace truly is. Watching them snuggle on his couch when we visited always made my insides glow.

For years now, the first thing my father asks when he calls has always been, “How’s Ace?” The first thing he asked me when he came out of a coma, that followed a heart attack, that followed some stomach surgery, was “How’s Ace?” When I visited him in Arizona a few months ago, without Ace, the first thing he asked was, “Where’s Ace?”

Since his lengthy hospitalization, my dad has mostly resided in a skilled nursing facility in Mesa, where, at one point, he was having physical therapy sessions with a dog named Henry, who belongs to one of the therapists. While those sessions are no longer part of his daily regimen, he still sees Henry — full name Henry Higgins — regularly, and apparently they’ve grown quite attached.

According to my sources, after dinner one night last week, my father rolled into the therapy gym unnoticed and snuck off with a photo of Henry that hangs there, planning on taking it back to his sparsely furnished room. It was reportedly his second attempt to steal the framed photo. After getting caught the first time, rolling along the hallway with the picture in his lap, he stuffed it under his shirt the second time.

I found this news upsetting — not because my father was engaging in larcenous behavior, but because I’ve done my best to keep Ace first and foremost in his mind. I’ve made sure his room had a “Travels with Ace” calendar. For his birthday, I sent him a sweatshirt with a giant photo of Ace emblazoned on the front. I’ve supplied him — even though my father’s not doing any traveling — with an Ace travel mug.

For some reason, whatever else he forgets, even temporarily, I want him to remember Ace eternally.

I realize it is petty jealousy, and that it’s likely limited to me. Ace, in all probability, wouldn’t mind a bit that my father has another dog to entertain, comfort, calm, console and warm him.

And in truth, I am far more grateful than I am jealous when it comes to Henry, who I got to meet when I visited, and who is pretty special and wonderful himself.

On my dad’s 89th birthday, Henry was there; Ace and I weren’t.

I can understand my dad being smitten with Henry, and I’m glad he is. Dogs and love, if you ask me, are among the top five reasons to go on living. (The other three are books, music and pizza.)

But I’ll admit to a little “that should be Ace” twinge every time I get a report of Dad and Henry bonding, or get sent a photo of the two of them cuddling in bed.

It makes me want to get Ace — not to mention myself — out there for another visit.

Once he was confronted — when he was noticed, after the second attempted theft, with a bulge under his Maui t-shirt — my father confessed and revealed his ill-gotten bootie.

No charges were filed.

And the framed photo of Henry, according to Henry’s owner, will be placed in a new location:

My father’s room.

Speaking of curious routes …

A good year before I was born, my father wrote a letter while sitting in Korea, and sent it back home to friends in North Carolina.

A week ago, it came back to him — in Arizona.

“It’s so damn cold in here that I just about can make my fingers work,” the letter begins. “… Even so , it’s indoors, so I can imagine how really miserable the boys living in holes are tonight…”

Typewritten on flimsy stationary, the letter goes on to recount a weekend in Tokyo during which he enjoyed burgers and “Jap beer, which is very good.” He asks about what’s going on back home and wonders when he might return. “I’m supposed to come home in February. And now there is a rumor making the rounds that we’re supposed to be rotated to Japan after 10 months in Korea. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

It was mailed to Lil and Roy Thompson, friends and co-workers at the Winston-Salem Journal, both now deceased.

Apparently Lil filed it away in a book, to be specific, an autobiography of William “Billy” Rose, the showman and lyricist who wrote, among other songs, “Me and My Shadow” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

I don’t know whether Lil parted with the book long ago, or whether it was part of her estate when she died a few years ago, but somehow it ended up among the stock of a second-hand book dealer in Carrboro, N.C.

Robert Garni, once he opened the book, found the letter and read it, took to the Internet to locate my father, Bill Woestendiek, then mailed him the original, along with this note:

” … Quite coincidentally, the other day while sorting out some used books for sale, I came across an old letter that had apparently been tucked away in a hardcover copy of Billy Rose’s autobiography …

“Upon examination of the letter, I realized it may be of some sentimental value to someone and therefore I did a quick search of the Internet where I was able to locate your full name and current address. I am enclosing the letter herewith. I am hoping my information is correct and current so that this letter may finally return to its rightful owner.”

In my father’s letter, he mentions what turned out to be his most cherished memory of the war. He was a lieutenant in the Army, but he was also writing a weekly column for his newspaper back home called “Battle Lines.” The columns weren’t so much about the war as they were Korea and its people. Most of the stories he wrote focused on the children, often orphans of war, and the poverty in which they lived.

His stories led to an outpouring of support from back home in North Carolina — hundreds of pounds of clothing and toys were donated by readers, shipped overseas and distributed at a Christmas party.

“I am overwhelmed, no kidding,” he writes in the letter of the readers’ response. “We’ll have clothes for our party and still some extra to give to the orphanages around here which are also hurting for clothing.”

Reading over those articles, which I found amid my stuff, in a green scrapbook whose binding was falling apart, I understand a little better why he got so misty when, 19 years ago at Los Angeles International Airport, my father watched as my son arrived, a six-month-old, adopted from Korea.

In the faded old letter he thanks Lil for her support, and for keeping him up on the goings on at the newspaper.  “You are one of the best morale builders I have,” he writes.

It took a little help from a thoughtful second-hand book dealer, but, judging from the joyful response my father, now 87, had to getting the letter back, it seems Lil — even though she’s no longer with us — did it again.