Pets brighten Claremore veterans center
BY RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2012
4/29/12 at 7:43 AM
CLAREMORE - For much of the day, the Oklahoma Veterans Center droops its head, pining for a reason to perk up.
But when a certain dog prances by, the terrazzo floor becomes a red carpet, and the residents paparazzi, shouting to draw the attention of the building's star.
"Give that here, Clyde."
Clyde is the Frisbee-catching Labrador retriever who lives at the center. Using the disc as an icebreaker, he warms the hearts of residents, inviting interaction and physical activity.
In other words, he is just what the doctor ordered.
"We all had some sort of pet as a child," says Shiela Barrett, the center's laboratory director. "And we have a memory of that pet. Clyde gets called any number of names. The residents call him whatever they remember their animals being called.
"It's undying love. It requires nothing from you. If you pet his head or throw the Frisbee, he'll love you forever."
The animal magnetism extends beyond Clyde.
The center also boasts three resident cats, two rabbits, three cockatiels and a pair of parakeets. With prompting, one of the cockatiels, "Liberty," can whistle "Jesus Loves Me" and the theme from the "Andy Griffith Show," Barrett says.
"There's something here for everybody," says Barrett, adding that the animals give residents a sense of purpose. "It helps them realize 'I need to get up tomorrow because I need to pet the dog or I need to feed the dog or the cat,' or whichever animal they are attached to."
She says Clyde has proved to be "worth his weight in gold" on several occasions at the center, whose roughly 300 residents include about a third with some form of Alz-heimer's disease.
His sheer presence convinced a once-hysterical patient to allow staffers to perform basic care. Another time, he kept an Alzheimer's patient who had wandered off from a group during an outdoor gathering from wandering farther.
The dog's biggest value, however, may be his daily give-and-take.
Making the rounds with Barrett, Clyde is a jolt of caffeine, itching to transfer his energy to those around him. He places his Frisbee into the lap of a resident, and it's game on.
Ron Bark, 66, was rendered a quadriplegic by a construction accident 3 1/2 years ago. Helped by Clyde's constant prodding to play pitch-and-catch, Bark has regained some feeling in his limbs.
He now can hold a glass and eat finger food.
"Clyde is great," Bark says. "He's great for the patients. Everybody loves to see Clyde."
Gus, a gray-and-white cat, has had the run of the place for about 10 years, about twice Clyde's tenure. The feline patrols the third floor, providing comfort.
"Gus, I've noticed here lately, he'll take up to people just before they go," says resident Jesse Spriggs, 63, toting a towel and fresh clothes on his way to the shower.
He rattled off the names of a couple of people who recently died.
"The last few weeks they were alive, he stuck by them constantly," Spriggs says. "And once they were gone, he was lost."
Spriggs and the kitty were practically inseparable during a period a few years ago.
"He spent eight days and nights and wouldn't leave my bed," he says. "He would go to eat and come back to the bed, go to the box and come back to the bed. The middle of the night, he'd get up and want out and come back to the bed. I had to sleep at an angle. I didn't want to disturb the cat.
"... It gives you more a feeling of home to have the animals around."
It also brightens the venue for others.
"The number of kids that want to visit Grandpa has exponentially exploded," Barrett says. "It used to be that you had to leave them at home. They didn't want to go. They would cry.
"Now, they play Frisbee with the dog. They pet the cats and hold onto the bunnies for a while."
Over in the workshop area, resident Lloyd Dyer, 83, is telling stories, one involving rabbits running loose in the library, pushing around their droppings.
Dyer recalled warning a first-time visitor.
"Those things you see on the floor are not raisins," Dyer remembers telling him. "He said, 'I wish you had told me a little bit earlier.' "
Original Print Headline: A feeling of home
Rhett Morgan 918-581-8395
Ron Bark, a resident at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Claremore, plays with Clyde, who lives at the center. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Jesse Spriggs, a resident at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Claremore, visits with Gus, one of three resident cats at the center. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Gus has lived at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Claremore for about 10 years. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Clyde comes out of a resident's room at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Claremore. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World