It is with great sadness that we let all those who knew and loved our dog Maggie that she has passed away!

For us, she was the most wonderful addition to our home and for 100’s of our seniors, a solace, a joy and a welcome addition to their day.  Maggie impacted so many lives in her 14 ½ years with us all!  (July 2006 to February 2021)

From the time Maggie was 6 months old, she accompanied me on senior visits.   Sometimes she was permitted in the home and other times she stayed in the car, so we could visit with the seniors while on a drive or a walk.  She was exceptional with people of all ages, babies, children and our older adults!  Her passing has created a huge void!

Therapy dogs like Maggie, love to do their ‘job’ providing companionship to shut-in and lonely seniors. Therefore, we’d like to focus on some of those visits.

Our times with Jean were special as she was so appreciative and excited to see us each visit. Jean loved to snuggle with Maggie throughout our time together, constantly asking how old she was, and other questions about her.  They were inseparable.  Once it was time to leave however, Jean would always ask if I could leave Maggie behind.  She was reluctant to let us go.  As luck had it, I spotted a stuffed toy, a black poodle (yes it wasn’t quite a cockapoo) so I bought it for Jean.  Maggie 2 is what Jean named her and the stuffed toy lived on her bed.

George lived on his own for many years and missed the companionship of his cat (which he had kept hidden and secret from his building manager for years!)

Maggie would start to whine when we rounded the corner of his building to visit.  Once I unlocked the door of his suite, she would race into his bedroom, jump on his bed and lick him till he woke up.  Soon I’d hear a chuckle and George groaning saying ‘nice little dog – oooohhhh – nice little dog’, as she licked his face all over.  When it was time for George to get up, I’d peer into his room to see Maggie lying contentedly on his chest with her chin just under his, and George rubbing her back up and down where she lay. Needless to say, treats factored vastly into the visit!

George took her down the hall and to his mail-box, on his walker.  She was so complacent and would do whatever figured into the senior’s visit best.

I’ve always had therapy dogs.  Our first was a little cocker spaniel Molly.  I volunteered taking seniors to grocery shop, and afterwards would carry in their groceries, put them away and share a cup of tea and a biscuit.  Of course, there were biscuits for Molly too!  Irene always took such joy when Molly arrived back to her apartment, watching her sniff out her treats, going from drawer to drawer to find them, because she always hid them in a different place.

Years later, we had a golden retriever and a lab which I alternated in taking to a care home for complex care residents.  Some were still very capable of making it to the activity/dining room and on a particular birthday celebration, one could see Tess the golden, paws on each shoulder helping each senior eat their birthday cake.

Ginger our lab, on such a visit, heard a gentleman dreaming at the other end of the room.  He was calling out for his daughter.  She whined, ran to his side, and worked his hand to the top of her head, staying close to him, making tiny whimpering sounds.

Ginger was also a regular visitor to Ruth.  She had no living relatives and had always had a dog.  On every visit she would exclaim “I’m so mad – they took my dog”.  I still don’t know who took the dog, but Ginger filled the gap.

This particular home had a resident cat.  Needless to say, we did have an incident when the lab spotted the cat and took chase!  Mayhem in the halls!

Fit for Life operated for 5 years, with Maggie as it’s mascot.  She’s been pictured on every piece of fitness machine, in commercials, and with clients on their testimonials such as ‘I’ve benefited so much from my exercise experience, and Maggie the dog is such a great addition!’  She greeted everyone at the door.  Always with a wagging tail and on the look out for treats!

During Covid we have had difficulty providing live-in caregivers.  We asked a caregiver to work a couple of extra shifts, however she could not do so as she could not find a dog sitter for that length of time.  We reached out to our senior’s family and they were so pleased to have a dog in their dad’s life.  So now Scruffy is in the home, and his visit is very much looked forward to.

You may say, Maggie was just a dog – and she was, but what a special little girl!  The grief we feel is very real and very deep.  Dealing with this kind of grief is harder than one thinks.  In some ways when an animal goes, especially unexpectedly, it is a harder blow.  The death of a pet can sometimes be more traumatic than that of someone in your family.  The bonds we forge with our pets are powerful and their love for us is unfaltering.

When a beloved pet dies, here are some strategies to follow through your grieving process:

  1. Take the time to grieve! Ignoring grief isn’t healthy.  Negative emotions are not healthy.  Grieving is part of the process.
  2. Make room for expressing your emotions.
  3. Have a memorial or small ceremony in your pet’s honor.
  4. Make a memory place with their collar, a snippet of their hair, or a picture.
  5. Maintain the same schedule you had with your pet. If walks were scheduled numerous times per day, continue to go for a walk.
  6. Share stories and memories and joy in those memories.
  7. Be grateful.
  8. Reach out for support. This is important, as we can’t do everything on our own.  Sometimes it is extremely helpful to talk to someone outside of your family.
  9. Create a memory book of your pet – with pictures and stories.
  • Look for a pet to house sit or part-time shelter and spend time with pets of family and friends.

Often pets are brought into our homes to help in relationships, to provide significant emotional support, or to provide mental health benefits.  Having an animal to touch and to feel on your lap can provide so much comfort.

When seniors age, there is so much loss.  They lose their spouse, friends, loved ones and their pet eventually.  They may live at home or move on to care.  A companion pet is so needed at this time, and especially during Covid as many cannot get out or come in!  A visit from a therapy/companion pet is a wonderful way to fill their needs and the gaps in their life.

I for one hope that the concept of resident pets, pet therapy and companionship becomes the norm for seniors living at home, care home or complex care.

Johanna Booy – Maggie’s mom – Care & Company Ltd.