Whether he is comforting a terminally ill hospice patient or cavorting around an upbeat show ring, The Dude is right at home.
Dewey (his nickname is “The Dude”) is an almost two-year-old Norwich Terrier, owned by Becca Parkins, a Tacoma, Wash., hospice chaplain who also handles him in Western Washington dog shows on weekends. A grizzle-colored, 13-pound character that resembles a hedgehog, The Dude boasts a special knack for knowing when to turn it on, whatever the environment.
“He can read patients’ body language and grasp their needs (at Wesley Homes Hospice in Des Moines, a South Seattle suburb),” says Parkins. “He thrives on crowds around the show ring and seems to have a sense of when to bring his A game.”
He is Parkins’ first registered (Therapy Dogs International) therapy dog, although she had a previous rescue purebred Norwich that was also “a charmer.” That dog prompted her to get a puppy and train him to be a therapy dog. She interviewed breeders, chose co-owners Ron and Estelle Crawford of Brush Prairie, Wash., purchased a puppy, and began obedience classes immediately. It wasn’t long before The Dude passed his Canine Good Citizen test and became Mr. Popularity at the hospice facility.
“He has a gregarious personality and has never met someone who he considers a stranger. Like the breed standard says: he is gay, fearless, loyal, and affectionate. He is an ideal companion,” Parkins says.
“How could you not love me,” The Dude asks passers-by in the busy
grooming area at the Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show in early March.
Photo courtesy Jerry and Lois Photography.
Add to that his portability and sturdiness, which are important for working with people who have difficulty using their hands. He doesn’t shed, is not barky, and is clean and waterproof. In other words, he’s the perfect package.
The Dude has a cuteness factor that promotes hands-on therapy for the bedridden, who need some cheer in their lives. “He serves up love and countless smiles,” Parkins explains. “As a young dog, he draws on a reserve of patience and will stay as long as he is allowed, all the time being attentive to the person he is with.”
But the perky little guy has his limits. “We both can be attentive for three long visits and two short ones before we are tuckered out,” says Parkins. “He likes to sleep on the way home and is generally pretty calm after a day of work.”
A 105-year-old woman, who was featured with The Dude in a recent video by “The News Tribune” (Tacoma, Wash.), “came out of a non-responsive state to see and speak to him,” recalls Parkins. “She had known him over the course of her time in hospice and always loved seeing him. She did not speak to me again after that. It was a sacred moment between them and an honor to witness it.”
“Hey, check me out,” The Dude seems to be imploring Norwich Terrier breed judge Gale Young, of Hardwick, Mass., on the opening day of the Seattle show at CenturyLink Field Event Center. Photo courtesy Jerry and Lois Photography.
Asked to recall special conversations with patients during The Dude’s visits, Parkins replies, “It is not the words, but the looks on people’s faces. They may have dementia and not be able to speak, but they know what a dog is and want to reach out to pet him. He loves them all — toothless, wrinkled, bent over in a wheelchair — he just knows that he is being loved for a minute, and he gives it back.”
When Parkins and The Dude make their way around the hallways, elevators, and reception areas, it is hard to discern which one is most popular with residents and staff. The little, fun-loving evangelist therapy dog is outfitted with a vest reading “Dewey” and a patch that says, “Therapy Dog, Please Pet Me.”
And he doesn’t miss a beat in the process, for his training included maneuvering around walkers and wheelchairs and not stepping on oxygen tubes, all of which are plentiful in the hospice facility.
Like many dogs, The Dude breaks down psychological barriers at Wesley and serves up positive memories of dog ownership for many. “Most of the residents have owned dogs and love talking about them when he pays them a visit,” says Parkins.
Parkins gaits the perky terrier about the ring in breed competition at
the Seattle show last month. Photo courtesy Jerry and Lois Photography.
A member of the hospice administrative staff usually initiates the one-on-one sessions after talking to the family, asking if the resident member would be amenable to a visit. The frequency is determined by the census in the facility.
The length of visits, explains Parkins, depends on the person and how verbal and responsive he or she is. “Many times a get-together lasts an hour or more.”
So, what’s the origin of his name? “The Dude is the dude because he is just a little man,” replies Parkins, “and like The Big Lebowski. They have similar personalities. He also has a laid-back personality like a surfer dude!”
At home, he likes to steal and chew on iPhone cords, nap on the back of the sofa, and play with his friend, a 4-pound Yorkshire Terrier.
While Parkins and The Dude are regulars at the hospice center, they are newcomers to the show ring. “At this point, we are not super competitive or serious, so we like to have fun at the shows. The Dude would rather play with the other dogs in and around the ring than be serious.” Hence, Parkins must keep him focused on the mission at hand — showing his best for the judge en route to hopefully gaining a championship. To accomplish that, she is attending handling classes.
While he answers to both “The Dude” and “Dewey,” his given name is Bunratty’s Royal Devil. Somehow, Devil seems a bit of a misnomer, but Parkins laughs, “He’s always up for adventure, particularly in show arenas.”