Animals and Therapy

I just finished reading Izzie and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me by Jon Katz, an author of novels, memoirs, and children’s books who lives on a farm in Washington County, New York. In this book, he describes how he acquired two dogs and added them to a menagerie of animals on his farm. Izzie, a border collie, was neglected, and Lenore, a Labrador, came from a breeder.

The author also provides anecdotes about other animals on the farm and talks about how they got along with Izzie and Lenore. He describes how he trained first Izzie and then Lenore for hospice work and how the dogs effected terminally ill patients’ behavior. Some suffered from dementia, but after a visit from Izzie, they became more manageable so family caregivers and nursing home staff could more easily bathe and change them and administer medications.

When Izzie was around, patients who were agitated became calm, and those who rarely spoke uttered a few words. As a result of Izzie’s visits, one patient recovered to the point where his doctors determined he no longer needed hospice care. I wonder how this man did once Izzie’s visits were discontinued.

Jon Katz also describes his bout with depression and reflects on the healing power of animals. I feel I can relate to his work with hospice patients. Although I never worked with hospice directly, I spent fifteen years as a registered music therapist in a nursing home and often encountered residents who were terminally ill. I used music for the same purposes that Jon Katz used Izzie and Lenore.

Reading this book, especially the author’s experiences with hospice patients, gave me a whole new perspective on my life as a family caregiver. I’m lucky because my husband Bill isn’t suffering from a terminal illness. He’s partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of two strokes. I must do almost everything for him, but he’s not bedridden, and I don’t have to bathe him or administer pain medication intravenously or handle oxygen tubes. I don’t have to see him in pain or discomfort or deal with agitated behavior. I hope that when the time comes, he’ll go peacefully, and I won’t be forced to endure the agony of watching him die.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Have a Gouda Day

Gouda cheese (pronounced gow duh) is orange in color, made from cow’s milk, and is named after the town of Gouda in the Netherlands. It has a semi-hard texture and is sweet and sometimes crunchy. It takes from a few months to over seven years before it is aged and ready to eat. This cheese is made and sold all over the world.

Several years ago, a local restaurant advertised omelets, sandwiches, and other items made with Gouda cheese. Every morning during the local newscast, a radio station bombarded us with ads for these mouth watering concoctions. At the time, I was taking a poetry class, and one assignment was to write a poem containing certain items including the name of a hotel or restaurant, a celebrity’s name, articles of clothing, and a board game, to mention a few. Inspired by the radio ads, I wrote the following poem.

A Gouda Day for Jolene

The scene opens at The Country Kitchen in Sheridan.
Dolly Parton sits in a booth.
She barely touches her Gouda cheese omelet.
She’s wearing blue jeans
and a colorful western shirt that accents her bosom.
The sunlight from a nearby window sparkles in her blonde, frizzy hair.

Jolene sits across from her,
a non-descript woman with short dark hair,
wearing navy blue sweat pants and a white t-shirt.
She wolfs down her barbecued chicken sandwich,
also with Gouda cheese.

“I don’t know what my husband sees in you, honey,” says Dolly.
“You’re so plain.”

“Maybe it’s the fact that I’m always there for him,” says Jolene.
“I don’t travel around the country,
giving concerts, signing autographs, smiling at other men.”

“But that’s my work,” says Dolly.
“He knew that when he married me.
And why on Earth would he want to live in Wyoming of all places?
None of these towns are like L.A. or New York.”

“He likes my ranch,” answers Jolene.
“In the evening, we sit on the front porch,
drink coffee, play chess,
watch the sun go down.
It’s more romantic than some pent house in New York.
Did he tell you
we met at your concert in Denver last year?
When he complained of a headache,
told you he was going back to the Brown palace,
he was going there to be with me.”

“You slut!” says Dolly.
She rises, picks up her omelet,
flings it at Jolene, hurries out the door.

The camera zooms in on Jolene,
her face swathed in egg,
smoked bacon, tomato slices, and Gouda cheese.

This was recently published in Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring stories, poems, and essays from such disabled writers as myself. Two other poems from my book were also published in this issue. As the radio ads said, have a Gouda day.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Cat’s Idiosyncrasies

When I was growing up, we had a white cat with black spots. She came from a litter born to a stray. My mother called her Wanda. I don’t know where she came up with that name, but it fit. This was a cat with an attitude.

As I got dressed in the mornings, Wanda rubbed against my bare ankles and without warning bit one of them, not hard enough to draw blood but hard enough to hurt. Mother said it was because I wasn’t giving her enough attention, but when I reached down in an attempt to pet her, she tried to bite my finger.

As Wanda grew older, she developed a nasty habit of urinating in places other than the cat box. Once, Dad sat on the love seat in the music room not realizing it was wet from Wanda’s business. Needless to say, there was a suspicious dark stain on the back of his pants. After doing music therapy practicum sessions and an internship with nursing home residents, I told Mother that maybe old cats, like old people, have problems with incontinence, but she scoffed at this.

Another one of Wanda’s favorite pastimes was removing dirty socks from the washing machine and dropping them on the floor in the laundry room. She usually did this in the middle of the night. The laundry room was on the second floor down the hall from our bedrooms. We often woke to hear her meow a few times. We went back to sleep and didn’t think anything of it. The next morning, someone found the dirty socks on the laundry room floor. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates this phenomenon.

Sock Ceremony

Balancing on the edge of the washing machine,

Wanda reaches into its depth,

retrieves a dirty sock,

jumps down, places it on the floor.

“Meow, meow,” she says,

as she circles it once or twice.

She walks away,

leaves it for someone else to find.

Did your pets have any strange behaviors when you were growing up? Please share your memories below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

This Time Together

I just finished reading a book with this title by Carol Burnett. In the 1970’s, I watched her show with my mother on Saturday nights. Although a lot of her antics with Vicky Lawrence, Harvey Corman, and Tim Conway had to be described to me, I still thought they were funny. When I was in college studying music therapy, I did a required semester of practicum with a group of adults with psychiatric disorders at an outpatient facility. After singing songs and having a few laughs of our own, we ended our sessions by singing “I’m So Glad We Have This Time Together” and pulling our ears just like Carol. I also saw her as the less than kindly orphanage matron in the movie adaptation of the Broadway musicalAnnie and in the comical role of Jamie’s mother in the television comedy Mad about You.

Carol Burnett was born on April 26th, 1933 in San Antonio, Texas. Her parents were both alcoholics, and she and her younger sister were raised primarily by her grandmother. When her parents divorced, they moved to an apartment near her mother in an impoverished Hollywood neighborhood. After graduating from Hollywood High School in 1951, Carol won a scholarship to UCLA where she studied journalism but changed her major to theater arts. She performed in numerous university productions. In 1954, she and her boyfriend, Don Seroyan, were each offered a $1,000.00 interest free loan so they could try their luck in New York. This came with the stipulations that the loan would be paid back in five years, her benefactor’s name would never be mentioned, and if she became a success, she would help others achieve their dreams.

She married Don Seroyan in 1955. They were divorced in 1962. In 1963, she married television producer Joe Hamilton, a divorced father of eight, and they had three daughters. They were divorced in 1984. In 2001, she married drummer and music contractor Brian Miller.

After becoming well-known on Broadway, she appeared on television in The Garry Moore Show. She then moved to Los Angeles where she did her own show on CBS for eleven years. The Carol Burnett Show combined music, comedy, and dance. Some of the sketches were film parodies while others were character pieces. She also did a variety of television specials with Julie Andrews, Beverly Sills, and others. Besides Annie, her films included Pete ‘n’ Tillie, Friendly Fire, Life of the Party, The Four Seasons, and Noises Off. She also appeared in other television and stage productions. In 1986, she published her first memoir, One More Time.

This Time Together is a collection of anecdotes about Carol Burnett’s life growing up and her career as an actress, comedian, and singer. She talks about how as a teenager, she was fired from her job as an usher at a Hollywood movie theater because she encouraged a couple to wait until the beginning of the next run of a film before seating them. She describes how in New York, she and other boarders at The Rehearsal Club staged a review in order to gain exposure, inviting agents and celebrities. She tells the story of how she avoided being thrown out of a posh New York ice cream parlor for violating the dress code by telling the hostess she had a wooden leg and was too embarrassed to wear a skirt. There are poignant stories like the time she and Vicky Lawrence made a recording of themselves singing lullabyes for a little girl dying of cancer and how she was with the child and her family at her death. She mentions her marriages and break-ups with Don Seroyan and Joe Hamilton and her marriage to Brian Miller. She talks about how in 2002, she and her daughter Carrie collaborated to make her memoir One More Time into the Broadway play Hollywood Arms. Carrie died of cancer before the play opened.

I was lucky to find a recording of Carol reading her book on When I listened, it was as if she were telling me her stories, not just reading them. She did great impersonations of other actors with whom she came in contact such as Julie Andrews and Joan Crawford. I even got to hear her do her famous Tarzan yell. I wasn’t too impressed the few times she sang on this recording, but that may have been because she didn’t have any accompaniment. She did a better job on stage with an orchestra behind her. I recommend this book to anyone who likes funny, heartwarming stories about celebrities, and if you want a real treat, get a recording of Carol reading it.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver