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Zan Thompson

Sharing a Dog's Life at the Hospital

October 09, 1988|Zan Thompson

Barney Savoni is the only living creature I know whose favorite day is Monday. On Monday mornings, Barney grabs a bite of breakfast and runs out and sits by the car, waiting for his patron and co-worker, Karen Savoni, to open the car door so he can jump in and ride to the Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

Barney is a fully accredited member of the two-dog pet therapy program that was inaugurated by Maureen Beith four years ago. The first dog in the program was named Mandy; Maureen selected her at the Pasadena Humane Society. Mandy is now retired and living the good life in a roomy back yard in Sacramento.

The second dog selected was Chelsea, who also came came from the Pasadena Humane Society. Chelsea, a sweet and gentle dog, attended obedience school to prepare for her work with the Rehabilitation Center. She is good at her job, which is visiting the patients in wheelchairs and in the exercise and therapy rooms, as well as in the sunstruck room where the patients can look out on a luxuriant lawn and some flowers.

Barney joined the crew a few months ago from the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society. Maureen thought that Chelsea needed some help. She seemed to be suffering from job burnout and languished her days away on her couch, sometimes ignoring the calls of her patients. She was turning into an Elizabeth Barrett Browning kind of a dog. But that was before Barney.

"Barney," Karen says, "gets up on the right side of the bed every morning."

Don't think that Barney has eclipsed Chelsea. It's just that her forms of therapy are more subtle. Barney throws himself at his work like a head yell leader at homecoming.

He is about 10 months old now, and as excited about his job as he was the first day. He has thrown himself into his work with rampant enthusiasm. When Karen brings him, he gambols down the hall, smiling and panting at everyone he meets. His pure good will is infectious and even known grumps stop and say, "Well, good morning, Barney, you're looking well."

Barney continues through the day like a dog who knows he has the winning lottery ticket under his bowl. He is a beagle-harrier hound mix, with black on his back, fawn on his sides, white feet and a white blaze on his smiling face.

The first things he had to learn were the boundaries of his work area so he wouldn't bound down the halls like a circus pony.

The patients love him and the worst thing that can happen to him is to have someone ignore him when he races in with the tidings that another joyous day has begun.

Barney particularly enjoys the exercise classes to music. He runs around the class, lending encouragement here and a friendly paw there.

A young woman with a debilitating disease was in his unit recently and nothing seemed to help her from her deep desolation. Finally, Karen turned the problem over to Barney. First, she made a rag doll out of a sock, put it in Barney's mouth and directed him toward the silent young woman. Barney frolicked up to her with his customary joyousness. She took the doll from his mouth and tossed it. Barney brought it back and placed it in her lap and she giggled.

Then she began to take short walks with Barney. After a few days, she was walking twice as far following Barney, who walks as if he were leading a big brass band. Maureen said, "That is one absolute triumph, which belongs to Barney. No one can refuse him. And the young woman's improvement was there for everyone to see."

To "enhance the lives of the patients in rehab" at Huntington, the Parkway Grill will again raise its big white tents on its parking lot for the fourth Fall Food and Wine Festival, on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 30, from 1 to 5 p.m., at 510 S. Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. Gregg Smith, who presides over the Parkway Grill, has brought the art of grazing to a virtuoso pitch with the festival. Sixteen fine restaurants will offer their tasty treats and the royalty of Napa and Sonoma vintners will offer their vintages to festival-goers.

Tickets are tax-deductible and will be $45 before the event and $50 at the door. If you need more information, you can call (818) 397-5464. Elmer Dills, the amiable restaurant commentator, will be honorary chairman.

The first three festivals cleared almost $60,000 for the rehab unit and its 20 to 30 patients. The unit now has a giant screen television and some much-needed audiology equipment.

Barney and Chelsea particularly enjoy the television but about 10 minutes is enough for Barney. It's too sedentary a pastime for a dog with so many things to do.

I am sorry to tell you that neither Barney nor gentle Chelsea will be at the Wine and Food Festival. It's against several regulations for animals to be where food is served.

More important, that's their weekend to work. They work five days a week and one extra weekend. And the patients wait for them.

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