‘He has such a calming effect on everyone’
Dusty sits on the lap of resident Bonnie Hersom, who calls Dusty “baby boy.” Hersom had to give up her cat when she came the live at the center, and Dusty helps fill that void for her. Photo by Ida Kesteloot
The love of a dog is unconditional, and that statement was never more profound than it is in the heart of one small dog named Dusty. For 11 years Dusty, a small, very mellow shih tzu, has been spreading tenderness and love throughout the Johnson Memorial Care Center which is located in Dawson, Minn.
“It was 11 years ago. I had contacted a lady in South Dakota who raised shih tzu puppies, said Dusty’s master, Dianne Seefeld. “My husband, Roger, and I were used to having a dog around. There had been three other dogs in our home over the years, and I had decided three was enough. However, Roger really wanted another dog so I decided a puppy would be the perfect birthday gift for him.
“So I got a hold of the lady and one day while I was at work she stopped with a van, and there were 11 puppies in her van. Roger looked all the puppies over, and there was a little black one that just kept yipping and raising a fuss, and he caught Roger’s eye. I already had intentions of having the dog becoming part of the care center and I did not want a loud, yippy dog, either at the center or at home. Then I saw this sleepy little guy, and he was just so calm in the midst of all the commotion. I knew he was the one and that is how we came to have Dusty,” said Seefeld.
After 26 years of employment at the center, Seefeld was struck with a serious illness that required months of treatment and recovery, and she eventually ended up as a recovering resident at the center. During her hospital stays Dusty became quite depressed, and Roger and the staff at the center became very concerned. Dusty had been coming with Seefeld every day she worked at the center but for Dusty, things just were not the same without Seefeld around.
Seefeld is recovering nicely and awaiting her doctor’s approval to return to work but while Seefeld waits, she and Roger bring Dusty to the center for his regular doggy duties.
“He knows everybody and understands just where he can be. He usually rides around on the lap of a resident, almost all of them love to give him a ride, or he sits on the bottom shelf of a service cart. He knows if it has his blanket on the bottom shelf he can get on; if there is no blanket he doesn’t get on. He also knows that if someone pushes the cart into an area he is usually not supposed to be in, he should just stay on the cart, and he does.
“He knows the center inside and out and likes to lie in a certain spot. He can see down all the hallways from that spot so he knows who is coming and going. When it is time to go home I just get on the P.A. and tell him to come to whatever nurse’s station I am at. It might be nurses’ station number one or two or the activity center. All I have to do is say where, and he comes right away. He is a smart little dog,” said Seefelt. Dusty also rides the mail cart and the vacuum cleaner to make the rounds.
Both Gail Ochsendorf, activity director and her 15-year-old daughter, Saige, admire Dusty and his gentle manner. “You will often see him just sitting with someone, maybe napping on their lap. Some want to give him a treat, but he only gets doggie treats. Others just want to sit and stroke his fur, and on the days he is not at work they all ask about him,” said Ochsendorf.
“I have spent time here with my mom since I was just little. Dusty and I sort of grew up together. He is a very good dog and a wonderful companion to whoever needs his attention,” said Saige.
Kristyn Wicht, marketing/community relations manager at the Center, has also seen the sensitivity that is such a big part of this little dog. “We have a resident here who is a paraplegic as the result of an accident, and Dusty is so sweet to her. She cannot do anything but talk to him, but he loves being on her lap. He seems to sense when someone really needs comforting. We also have many hospice patients and he always draws near to them. He lies on their bed and is just there for them. If he goes to someone’s room and needs to be up on their bed, he gives one little bark, and he knows soon a staff person will be there to lift him up. We had one gentleman that wanted Dusty on his bed every day while he read the paper, so Dusty would lie on his legs, and it looked just like he was reading one side of the paper while his friend read the other side. He just adjusts so quickly when someone new comes in, and he senses if they want his affection or not, and most of them do,” said Wicht.
Dusty sits with his masters, Dianne and Roger Seefeld. In back are staff members of the Johnson Memorial Care Center include Amanda Baird, Colleen Nelson, Saige (visitor) and Gail Ochsendorf. Photo by Ida Kesteloot
“He is an amazing dog; so quiet. If he needs to go potty he just goes to the door and makes one little bark. The residents and staff, whoever is nearby, let him out; he does his thing and comes back in. We sometimes help him down off laps, too. We don’t want him to get hurt; he is 11 years old. When he came here he was as small as a kitten,” said Ochsendorf. So far Dusty’s only mishap has been the day his long fluffy tail got caught in the wheel of the cart he was riding on. Since that day, they keep his tail trimmed a little shorter.
“What sometimes surprises me is the last person you would expect to reach out to a dog is one of the people that love him the most. I don’t know why, maybe she had a dog once or always wanted a dog. It is fascinating how the residents respond to Dusty. He has such a calming effect on everyone,” said Seefeld.
“I have been here almost a year, it was Feb. 1, 2015, when I came to live here. I am a paraplegic. I had a motorcycle accident in September 2014 and was hospitalized in Sioux Falls and then at Mayo and spent some time at a Courage Center, and now I Iive here. I always really liked dogs, I had a Yorkie for 12 ½ years, and I had a cat when I had the accident. So having this little guy around means a lot to me. He sits on my lap and listens when I talk to him and looks at me with those wonderful eyes. If the girls need to get me into my bed he just stays on my lap and rides in the sling with me. He is so calm. ‘Aren’t you baby boy?’ I have really missed my cat, but this baby boy makes me feel good,” said resident Bonnie Hersom.
“There have been a lot of studies that state the health benefits of having a pet; it lowers the blood pressure as well as other benefits. Here at the center we know firsthand what this little guy does for not just the residents but also the staff. He is so loved and plays such a vital role in our day-to-day lives. He is priceless to all of us,” said Wicht.