After staying home with Samuel for over a year, I was climbing the walls; or if you’d rather, painting them. My world, after being so full of humans at the chamber of commerce had become rather small, chiefly comprised of Samuel and Nic. At first a world this size was enough for us. I was working at getting the rhythm of motherhood – simultaneously to an infant and a puppy -- under my belt. Samuel and Nic both were just getting familiar with the world, itself, and we had each other for company.
Gradually, Samuel began to notice other babies and wanted to play with them. I tried joining a couple of mom-groups, but quite frankly I felt they devolved into what, among some are not-so-politely referred to as a “stitch and bitch.” I had better things to do with my time than lament about the cost of pork chops and complain about how often my husband went out of town. Things needed to get done around my house and because I wasn’t working outside our home, I felt the person just right for those jobs was me. So, I appraised the ‘to-do’ list and started painting the place. Samuel was underfoot and bored, so at first we tried the YMCA baby & mom gym. That was fun but too short and kept me away from the paint cans.
It was time for more drastic measures.
That’s when I thought of Cottesmore. When I was working for the chamber of commerce, we held our weekly public affairs forum meetings at Cottesmore of Life Care. It is a nursing home that encourages the community to engage with them by offering up its cafeteria as fee public meeting space. They also run a day care, started at first to care for the children of the nursing staff and then expanded to local residents. Would they take Samuel one day a week so I could get back to schalacking those walls of mine? Of course and he settled in nicely to the routine, which soon grew to two days a week – quite a luxury for a one-income family – so I painted up a storm and gardened like a fiend on those days.
But I was lonely. Flat out, I missed being around grown ups. As if in answer to an unspoken prayer, while painting the kitchen walls one day the local telephone company called and offered me a job as their public relations and marketing manager. Then, Samuel’s forays into day care became a five-day-a-week adventure. Every morning, I’d trot into Cottesmore with him as I’d seen the other moms do two years before.
And, there was this black and white cat. It came in when I brought in Samuel one of the first times.
“Oh my goodness,” I said to Maria, the receptionist at Cottesmore. “I just let a cat in here by mistake.”
“Oh, that’s no mistake,” she assured my astonished self. “That’s probably just Winston. It’s okay. He lives here.”
What? I wondered. A cat in a nursing home? I’d heard of shop cats but that was a new one. Later, when I mused on it some more, this actually made sense. Most of the residents at Cottesmore enjoyed pets throughout their lives. Why not bring a sense of normalcy and ‘home’ to what can be otherwise a very clinical, hospital-like environment.
So, on most mornings when I came in, the cat went out. And, when I went out the cat came back in. Cats do these things.
Then, one morning the cat went out when I came in and then was waiting to go out again as I left just a few minutes later. What?
“Oh that’s just Bogey, Winston’s brother,” Maria explained in answer to my unspoken question.
Pamm Shelton, their activities director, told me later that Cottesmore had tried bringing in a dog for the residents, but it was just too jumpy and excitable. Then, just when the dog found a more suitable home, “Winston Churchill” and “Humphrey Bogart” came to the nursing home in an unexpected turn of events.
But when a match that’s “too perfect” between humans and animals comes together, I don’t think there are any coincidences.
Winston or Bogey could be found curled up on a resident’s bed, enjoying a ride on a cart full of linens, or “getting a tan” under desk lamps at any given time throughout the nursing home. “It is funny, but also amazing,” Pamm explained, “Those cats just seem to know who needs an extra bit of comfort and just when to do show up.” They keep us either laughing or shaking our heads every day.”
A few months later, we lost our beloved day care center director and with that change, it signaled to me that it was time to move Samuel to a new daycare. The next time I stopped into Cottesmore it was several months later. I visited as a guest at the Rotary Club meeting, which happens each Friday morning in the cafeteria.
At the end of the meeting one of the cats was stationed by Maria’s desk watching this large group of people leave, obviously interested in the goings-on. Since both cats had black and white markings that were nearly identical, I couldn’t tell who-was who. I bent over and gave him a pet and asked Maria how Winston and Bogey had been running the place lately.
“Oh, Bogey isn’t here anymore,” she said, matter-of-factly. “He moved over to Olympic Alzheimer’s residence down the street.”
I nearly burst out laughing. “You’re kidding,” I said.
“No,” she said, straightening the papers on her desk. “He and Winston weren’t getting along and we staff watched as it became clear that one retirement home full of a hundred and twenty residents wasn’t big enough for the both of them.”
Seemed the cats figured that out first.
Later it was pieced together that they had been making forays together into the two acres of forest and houses that separated Cottesmore from the neighboring nursing home. Soon enough, one day both cats went over and only one came back. Bogey moved himself into Olympic Alzheimers Residence by slinking in the front door when visitors came in, just like he did at Cottesmore. The staff at Olympic, some of whom worked at both facilities had a feeling of ‘what-was-what’ and called over to Cottesmore to let them know what had become of Bogey.
And, just as he’d done at Cottesmore, right away he began curling up with residents, riding linen carts and warming himself under desk lamps.
The founder of the Delta Society, and head of the Washington State University school of veterinary medicine, Leo K. Bustad, DVM, Ph.D, advocated often on the importance of bringing animals into facilities, such as nursing homes. In his book “Compassion: Our Greatest Hope,” he cited many studies that showed that the presence of animals calm and soothe the residents of skilled nursing facilities. And why shouldn’t it, he argues? Many of these people lived their entire lives with pets or farm animals to care for. Why should that change because their residence has changed to an institutional setting? It’s still their home.
When the nursing staff of Cottesmore or Olympic finds either a cat curled up at the foot of a resident’s bed and they are both sleeping peacefully, now that is inspiring. It reinforces the basic tenets of our human-animal bond. Our animals exist to love us and we are the stewards of their care. It’s simply too perfect.