The spiritual care team at NewBridge on the Charles has an unusual team member: a two-year-old black Labrador Retriever named Tamari.
Tamari is a ministry service dog who works with Rabbi Karen Landy, a chaplain at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center (HRC) and Assisted Living, both on the NewBridge campus in Dedham. Tamari was trained by NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that trains and places service dogs. I recently spent some time with Rabbi Karen and Tamari – who is somewhat of a celebrity on the NewBridge campus – to find out more about Tamari’s job.
Why did you decide to add a service dog to your team?
The NewBridge team wanted to provide more pet therapy for our long-term care and assisted living residents and rehab patients. I have two rescue dogs that I brought to work with me occasionally, and I saw how happy it made residents and staff. Around the same time, I read a newspaper story about NEADS and learned that they trained ministry service dogs. So I thought, how amazing it would be to have a trained dog work with me and participate in the community.
What was Tamari’s training like?
When she was eight weeks old, Tamari was placed at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, where she lived and trained with an inmate during the week, and spent weekends with a foster family in the community. NEADS also trained with her in nursing homes and hospitals. When Tamari was about a year old, we were matched and spent a week and a half bonding and training together on the NEADS campus before we were fully certified.
How do residents react to Tamari?
Tamari brings connection and joy in a way that we as human beings can’t always touch people. Most of the residents here have really bonded with her. They see her as part of the community and think she lives here! One resident we visit has advanced dementia, is nearly blind, and never speaks. Tamari puts her head in the resident’s lap, and I guide the resident’s hand to Tamari’s head to let her know the dog is there. The resident’s response is always to put her face towards Tamari and say, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” It’s this delightful moment. Another resident had to give up her dog when she moved here, and Tamari often gets in bed to snuggle or nap with her. It makes residents feel more at home.
How does Tamari enhance the work that you do as a chaplain?
Tamari helps me create an immediate connection with residents and their family members. I start by asking if they ever had a dog. This often unlocks memories and stories. It’s also very helpful when young children visit a grandparent or great-grandparent – sometimes it’s a distraction, and sometimes it simply makes the resident happy to see the child and Tamari playing together. Once a resident gets to know Tamari, they’ll ask for visits with her. It’s not easy to say, can I have a visit with a rabbi? But it’s very easy to ask for a visit from a dog – and I come too.
NewBridge has many multigenerational programs that bring children and seniors together. Does Tamari participate?
She does. The children at the Rashi School, which is located on the NewBridge campus, are especially connected with Tamari. NEADS requires a fundraising commitment when they place a dog, to help with the training costs. I asked the Rashi School to get involved and they raised several thousand dollars. The students understand they’re part of the reason that she’s here. Tamari is also part of a program that brings second through fifth graders for monthly visits with our long-term care residents. She helps the students feel more at ease and provides a connection between the kids and seniors.
What other jobs does Tamari have around campus?
Tamari does a lot of work in our Rehabilitative Services Unit. For example, she helps patients who’ve had strokes or aneurysms improve their fine motor skills. The patient throws a ball or toy, and Tamari will retrieve and deliver it. Rehab can be hard work and this reduces stress for the patient.
Tamari is also important to our staff. The people who work here have incredibly challenging jobs, and sometimes in the process of providing compassionate care for others, they need care for themselves as well. So they have their own special moments with Tamari. Many keep treats in their pockets or desks. Having her around relieves stress and brings happiness to both our residents and staff – I never get to a meeting on time, because people are always stopping us in the halls to say hello.
What else should people know about having a service dog as part of the team?
Now that Tamari is here, I can’t imagine her not being here. She adds so much to what I do as well as to the lives of people who live and work here. It’s been amazing to watch it happen in such a short amount of time. She brings out the best in people.
About Hebrew SeniorLife Continuing Care Retirement Communities
Hebrew SeniorLife offers a variety of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in Massachusetts, open to residents of all backgrounds, faiths and cultures. A CCRC is an organization that offers a full range of housing, residential services, and health care in order to serve its older residents as their needs change over time. Their mission is to give older adults easy access to a continuum of care that ensures residents enjoy independent and productive lives with the support of social and health care services.