Thursday Book Feature- A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home:

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher

by Sue Halpern

Copyright 2012

This title sounds like the start of a joke, but it really isn’t. The author describes how she trained her Labradoodle, Pransky, to be a therapy dog, and how for years, they visited a county nursing home in Vermont once a week. She starts by talking about how she acquired Pransky and came up with her name. Years later after her daughter left home to go away to school, Halpern decided she and Pransky needed something to do, since her job as a stay-at-home mom no longer existed. Hence, she decided to train Pransky to be a therapy dog.

She describes the arduous process, which wasn’t easy for her or Pransky. Nevertheless, Pransky managed to pass the test.

Halpern then relates many experiences with residents at the nursing home who’s lives Pransky touched, like Dottie, hard of hearing, who enjoyed taking Pransky for walks with her wheelchair, Lizzie, who had difficulty speaking due to a rare genetic disorder but greeted Pransky whenever she saw her, and the Carters, a couple who always had plenty of dog biscuits to spare. Then there was Janis, who loved telling jokes but not about a dog walking into a nursing home. The author also touches on the history of therapy dogs and reflects on nursing homes and other topics related to aging.

The book is divided into seven chapters centered around each of the seven Catholic virtues. This is one thing I didn’t like about it, maybe because I’m not Catholic. I found her reflections on this and other religious and philosophical subjects irrelevant to her story. In fact, they either distracted me or put me to sleep.

Also, the ending was a bit up in the air. She talks about her daughter going off to study in Norway and then returning home briefly to accept a scholarship and give a speech. This had nothing to do with Pransky’s visit to the county nursing home. It might have been better to end by explaining how long she and Pransky volunteered there or if she and the dog were still visiting the facility on a regular basis when she finished writing the book.

On the other hand, having worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home for fifteen years, I could relate to some of Halpern’s stories, since I had similar experiences. I could also understand her feelings of rejection when residents refused a visit from Pransky, since not all residents I encountered enjoyed music activities or wanted me to visit them in their rooms.

Since October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, I thought this would be a fun book to read, and it was, although Pransky didn’t come from a shelter. There’s no reason why a shelter dog couldn’t be a therapy dog if the pooch has the right disposition and receives proper training.


Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Author: abbiejohnsontaylor

I'm the author of two novels,, two poetry collections, and a memoir. My work has appeared in various journals and anthologies. I'm visually impaired and live in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, I cared for my totally blind late husband who was paralyzed by two strokes. Please visit my website at

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