By Wendi Dressen
Director of Volunteer Engagement
When I say “Chihuahua”, you say “Wagon”.
Chihuahua. Wagon. Chihuahua! Wagon!
What is a Chihuahua Wagon and what does it have to do with volunteering at Cassia? So glad you asked! At Open Circle Hopkins, Sue Clark is a long-term volunteer who comes once a month and brings a literal wagon filled with a family of Chihuahua dogs (she calls them ANGELS 4). Yep, a mom Chihuahua, a dad Chihuahua and Chihuahua children. A Chihuahua Wagon. Sometimes other pets, including a black cat and an English Lab catch rides on the Chihuahua Wagon on their way to volunteering. And occasionally they come in costume, depending on the season!
Sue has been volunteering by sharing her pets at Open Circle Hopkins for three years. She occasionally brings her daughter and/or her granddaughter with her to volunteer. She started sharing her Chihuahuas in 1998. At the time, she worked as a traveling sales person that allowed her to stop at the nursing facilities in every town she stayed during the evenings. She would walk the halls and peek in doorways and ask the residents, “Do you like puppies?”
Nowadays, Sue and the Chihuahua Wagon will chat with residents, perform tricks to entertain, and lead sing-a-longs with the folks they are visiting. Sue says the pure joy that she and her puppies bring to the faces of the people they see is priceless. She says her pups get just as excited as she does each time they go to volunteer and visit, although they do sleep the whole next day! Which is very understandable. After all, making so many folks smile can be hard work.
There are so many benefits from interacting with and owning pets. The list includes improved heart health, decreased blood pressure, decreased feelings of loneliness, increased opportunity for socialization, management of depression, easing of pain, keeping your brain sharp and these furry friends bring general happiness to the humans’ lives.
At Open Circle Hopkins, Sue makes the rounds with her wagon of dogs (and occasional cat) visiting the entirety of the day center, connecting with all interested members. However, she spends the majority of her visitation with the folks in the VIP room. These are clients with progressed dementia. A little one on one time with Sue and her dogs will elicit smiles and laughter from the VIP clients, even those who have lost the ability to communicate due to progressed aphasia. Staff will capture these magical moments of connection between pet and member on film and share them with loved ones.
Sue shared a story about a gentleman she and her ANGELS 4 visited years ago. This resident named John had been at the health care facility for over a year before the Chihuaua Wagon visited him. Staff shared with Sue that resident John had not spoken a word since he arrived. Sue and her pup, Petita, began visiting John. After a few months, John patted the arm of his chair as if to tell Sue and Petita to come to him. Sue placed Petita on the arm of his chair where John proceeded to pet her and smile. A few months later John told Sue “I had Jake. He’s dead.” These were the first words they heard John speak in almost two years! Can you believe that? Pets have amazing power!
Thank you to Sue and her Chihuahua Wagon. Open Circle Hopkins is so thankful for your visits and the impact they have on our clients. You go Chihuahua Wagon!!