A Dog Walks Into A Nursing Home by Sue Halpern
Pros: Pransky, Nursing home residents, Halpern’s writing, Humor
Cons: Wish all nursing homes were as progressive as the one in this book
Sue Halpern needed to reinvent herself. It was time. Pransky, her intelligent and active labradoodle was bored and also needed a job and reinvention. Pransky was a service dog failure, not because she couldn’t learn but because she couldn’t quit shedding, but Halpern thought she might be halfway to being a therapy dog. They reinvented themselves as a nursing home therapy dog pair. She was good; Pransky turns out to be phenomenal with the empathy and knowledge that let her know what people needed from her.
A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home follows Jane Pauley’s book,Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life, where one small section briefly described Sue Halpern’s story. I was, nonetheless intrigued and really wanted to know more. My dog is smart and bored and she also sheds. I’m looking for a way to reinvent myself in a meaningful way that contributes to society. I was, however, quite impressed by Pransky’s responses to the various residents she met. I was also quite impressed by the insight provided by Halpern, not as much with her story about her dog but with her profound insight into nursing homes and the residents.
Pransky jumping up into the bed of a dying resident and just lying there offering all the comfort she could with her stillness and her presence said so much about the value of an extraordinary therapy dog. Jon Katz’s dog, Izzy, in his book not only introduced me to the value of therapy dogs in nursing homes but sold me completely on the benefits. Again, the dog knowing when to move close in created an unforgettable moment.
We should all be so fortunate.
If looking for a story about an amazing dog you’ll find it in A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home but this offers much more – her story is also about the people she meets, their struggles and their responses to Pransky. She introduces us to them with humanity and an unusually high level of warmth. It’s also a witty and compassionate look into a nursing home’s daily activities with staff and residents. This is a remarkable home and does not present itself as dark and dreary but instead a place where the staff is very involved with the residents and helping them enjoy their lives.
Halpern shares philosophical thoughts and skillfully organizes this around seven familiar virtues common to most religious beliefs: love, hope, faith, prudence, justice, fortitude and restraint. She seasons the virtues and stories with ethics and thoughts from a variety of philosophers including Plato, Aristotle, and Saint Augustine as well as a few more recent thinkers.
Beginning with the concept, proceeding through some training (and cheating), and continuing through several years of regular Tuesday visits (if it’s Tuesday it must be Pransky’s day), we learn how valuable the nursing home residents are for Sue and Pransky – we also learn how very valuable they are to the residents. Halpern proves a talented author, with an enjoyable sense of humor, while Pransky demonstrates amazing compassion. Their book and collection of stories provides a lot of endearing thoughts on aging, companionship, and the value of our lives. I finished this admiring the two but also considering what awaits my generation as we reach the age of the nursing home’s residents.