Thursday, June 7, 2012

Red Cross Pet Therapy Volunteers James and Elaine Cappuccino and Miss Lilly, Stony Point, New York

In 2004, Elaine Cappuccino’s Christmas surprise from her daughter, who lives in Maryland, was a two-pound, seven-ounce toy poodle that she named Miss Lilly. On the drive home, this little red fuzzy puppy with glistening eyes and floppy ears rested quietly on Elaine’s lap, knowing that she was safe and loved. And Elaine realized how fortunate she was to have Miss Lilly.

Elaine is a registered nurse forced into early retirement 20 years ago due to multiple sclerosis, which has affected her left leg and balance. Helping other people now seemed like a fading dream until a friend with a therapy dog, Judy Audevard and her dog Kizzy, suggested that the affectionate and loving Miss Lilly could bring joy to others. But how could Elaine accomplish such a feat with no balance?
The answer was Elaine’s walker. Miss Lilly was comfortable with wheelchairs and walkers, since Elaine uses both at home. Lilly rides in the low basket on Elaine's walker whenever they leave home and jumps in and out of the basket upon command.

Elaine contacted Therapy Dogs Incorporated and began the process of becoming a member in September 2007. She received special permission to have Miss Lilly ride in the walker during visits.

Once registered, Elaine, Miss Lilly and Elaine’s husband, Jim began visiting Riverview Assisted Living facility in Haverstraw, New York every week with therapy dog friends Kizzy (a Bichon Frise), and Brandy (a Standard Poodle).

Miss Lilly dances for the amusement of patients and does a few tricks, although the patients say she could get away without doing anything because she is so cute. One patient, who rarely spoke, gestured to her lap and, once Miss Lilly was there, hugged and kissed her and said “cute puppy.”

Miss Lilly even has a much-admired wardrobe. It consists of dresses, t-shirts, sweaters, sweat suits, coats, matching collars and leashes, and bows for her head. Treats are carried in a treat bag which clips on to her belt. Miss Lilly gets excited when Elaine puts bows on her or sees treats going into the bag.

Miss Lilly joyfully whimpers during the drive for a visit. She rides in the basket of Elaine’s walker and moves from person to person, sitting in their laps and showering them with kisses upon request while they cuddle and pet her.

Last summer the Cappuccinos and Miss Lilly and joined the Greater New York Red Cross Pet Therapy program and began visiting the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at the United States Military Academy, at West Point, New York on Wednesdays. The mission of the WTU is to help soldiers with physical injuries, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, anxiety, depression and/or other emotional stressors brought about by battle and separation from family and loved ones to develop coping and relaxation skills.

At the WTU Miss Lilly joins several other dog-and-owner teams. The dogs help soldiers relax as they pet, play and interact with them. Because of her diminutive size, the soldiers pick her up and play with her and Miss Lilly responds by giving them kisses.

Elaine thoroughly enjoys this program. “The staff, soldiers and everyone at West Point are pleasant and helpful to us,” she says. “It's a cheerful environment with plenty of parking for us. Miss Lilly looks forward to her weekly visits with the soldiers and her pet visitation dog friends. Elaine also enjoys seeing the soldiers, the dogs and their handlers since they are all friends.

Jim, a Korean war veteran and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, enjoys these visits as well; he enjoys talking with the soldiers because they share a common bond.

Because of Miss Lilly’s docile demeanor and loving personality, hospice visits may soon be in her future. The Cappuccinos and Miss Lilly thank Therapy Dogs Incorporated for blessing them with the opportunity to use their lives to bring a bit of sunshine into the lives of others.

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