She was wearing a cast clear up to her shoulder when she had her first interview for the job that meant her life. Even with a clumsy cast, her charm and poise convinced Maureen Beith that she was the one for the job.
Maureen Beith is the supervisor of recreational therapy at the Huntington Memorial Hospital's Rehabilitation Center. The center takes care of patients with forbidding problems--head trauma and spinal cord injuries, strokes, arthritis, amputations, neuromuscular problems and orthopedic conditions. It's the unit in the hospital with heart-breaking problems and daily miracles.
The employee Maureen hired was a young dog they named Chelsea. She is short-haired, black and fawn-colored with melting brown eyes and long aristocratic legs.
Maureen had taken a thoughtful look at the dramatic improvements patients made in nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals when they had the company of a happy dog full of love with a kiss at one end and a wagging tail at the other.
Maureen chose Chelsea after several visits to the Pasadena Humane Society when she saw that, even with the clumsy cast, the dog would clump over with a gentle greeting and a hospitable tail wag.
Chelsea in her new job as recreational therapist encourages patients to walk by suggesting a stroll in the garden. She benefits people by fetching a ball tirelessly. Throwing a ball is exactly the upper body and arm motion lots of people need. People who have been locked in the dark silence of their deep injuries will reach out to touch her doggie coat when they have not tried to reach for anything for weeks.
She will stand while the patients brush her, again just the right body movement they need most. Probably, more than anything, her boundless supply of unquestioning affection seems to entice patients back to taking part in the life around them. Chelsea is an inspiring therapist, ready to play or sit quietly with someone who just wants to rest a hand on her back. The Rehab Unit is a place of miracles and lots of them are worked by a dog.
Next Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., Chelsea and her co-workers are going to have a party in their honor. It's the third wine and food festival presented by the Parkway Grill and its host, Gregg Smith.
Gregg has sweet-talked 14 leading restaurants from Pasadena to Redondo Beach into participating. They are all top-of-the-line restaurants that will present samples of their specialties to the festival-goers.
The toothsome delights will share the ohs and ahs with the best from almost 50 wineries, each a name that makes wine fanciers sigh reverently. It is a grazers' paradise and a food and wine lover's bargain. If you buy your ticket before next Sunday, it's only $45 to wander around and be grand all afternoon. Or it's $50 if you buy the tickets at the door. Some of the most dollar-conscious gourmets I know think it's the party bargain of the year.
Gregg Smith holds the food and wine festival in the Parkway Grill parking lot on Arroyo Parkway. He tents it and then sets up the booths the restaurants will use. He supplies grills, open burners, rotisseries and gas-lines for the chefs taking part.
"Last year we raised more than $30,000 for the Rehab Unit and they bought a piece of audiology equipment for treating and testing hearing problems which a lot of these patients have. They told me that item had been put in the budget for 10 years and had always been passed over. That made all of us feel good. We expect to do better this year," Smith said.
To find out how to get tickets in advance or anything else about the third Parkway Grill Wine and Food Festival, call (818) 440-5464.
And while you're toasting Gregg for his generosity, toss off some of that elegant wine to Maureen Beith. She says that several former patients who are alums of the Rehab Unit attend the wine and food festival in their wheelchairs and lift a glass to their therapists and to each other.
Chelsea won't be there. Well, someone has to watch the store, and she's nothing if not reliable. But a pinch of your ticket price might go to get Chelsea a treat. But I'm willing to bet you a glass of the most high-nosed bubbly in a tulip glass that Chelsea will receive more tidbits from the party than she can possibly eat.