Barbara Carson’s world is dark and silent, but she is anything but sad. The 86-year-old resident of the Timbers of Shorewood has been virtually deaf since birth and nearly blind since age 30, but she has some very special friends and relatives who help keep her world vibrant. One friend is furry and four-legged.
Clancy the therapy dog visits Mrs. Carson one day a month accompanied by Clancy’s owner Gary Fitzgerald of Shorewood. As the little Sheltie cuddles up for some delicious petting, Mrs. Carson receives emotional connection, warm memories of her former service dogs and a whole lot of comfort.
“I think contact with Clancy takes Mrs. Carson back,” Fitzgerald said. “She was very attached to her three service dogs who helped her navigate her surprisingly independent life.
In the 1940s, Carson was a hearing impaired college student who graduated from Milliken University. She was an artist before retinitis pigmentosa (RP) robbed her of her vision by age 30. From that point on, communication was through Braille and finger spelling and/or sign language in her hand.
“We all visit with and help my aunt, and we all have learned sign language into her hand,” said Dawn Martin of Joliet, Carson’s niece. “Her best friend Elizabeth spends two or three days a week with her. My aunt’s younger sister takes a day, and my brother and I visit three or four days a week. She knows our hands by touch.”
Clancy is certified through Therapy Dogs International (TDI).
From the TDI website: Often, the elderly are reminded of dogs that they’ve had in their past and the joyful memories are quite evident to everyone involved. As years go by, the elderly often experience feelings of loneliness and insecurity especially because they are not involved in as many activities as they were in the past.
Therapy Dogs help to involve the elderly to live a happy, productive life by filling a need that is not being addressed in any other way. Residents often look forward to the dogs visit and they cherish the moments they spend together.
To belong to TDI, all dogs must be tested and evaluated by a Certified TDI Evaluator. A dog must be a minimum of one year of age and have a sound temperament. Each dog must pass a TDI temperament evaluation for suitability, and the test will also include the evaluation of the dog’s behavior around people with the use of some type of service equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.).
Clancy has passed all tests, and by all accounts is a wonderful therapy dog. Just ask Mrs. Carson.
For more information about the Timbers of Shorewood, call 815-609-0669.