Charlie the pug has grown accustomed to being addressed in different languages. Russian. Chinese. English. German. Once the therapy dog enters a room, faces brighten and people speak directly to him. As if he understands what they’re saying.
In the hallways of the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, the portly pug greets many people face-to-face. Wheelchair to wheelchair. The patients have their wheelchairs, and the therapy dog has his, pushed along by his owner, Catherine Mah of Canton.
Charlie can walk, just a little slower than most. He’s 10. At 33 pounds, he’s also twice the size of an average pug, so wheeled transport allows him to visit more people.
“You have a wonderful dog,” Ayzik Ryaboy, 93, says in Russian to Mah. He removes his headphones and looks at Charlie. Then at Mah.
Charlie and Mah have volunteered at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the past eight years. The center has a collaboration with DOG B.O.N.E.S. Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts, an nonprofit that trains the canines.
“We’re sort of unique in the sense that we have seniors that reside here,” said Gail Bork, director of volunteer services at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston and Dedham.
“Dementia and Alzheimer’s are prevalent [in the chronic-care population] ... so we find that when the dogs come and visit it provides emotional support, relaxation, it de-stresses the patients, and it’s just a feel-good feeling — you know, petting the animals.”
When her kids got older, Mah and Charlie went through training to serve as a handler and therapy dog. In those days, the dog wasn’t nearly as plump, his face not nearly as gray.
At home, Mah carries Charlie up stairs because his legs aren’t as strong as they used to be. While she works out on her exercise bicycle, she puts him on the treadmill to keep him active. He has allergies, eats prescription dog food. He doesn’t give kisses, but does enjoy the occasional cuddle.
And there’s no getting around how soothing a dog can be.
“When my mother was in her 90s, she’d be sitting in her recliner in my house and she only weighed 89 pounds. My last pug laid next to her. She was happy just petting her,” Mah said.
As hands reach out tentatively to pet him, the old dog sits perfectly still. He brings comfort to short-term patients in beds to patients with walkers. On one floor of the long-term chronic care hospital, an elderly woman begins crying when she sees Charlie. She looks so thankful to stroke his fur, wiping the tears from her eyes and speaking in Russian. After a while Mah rolled Charlie out of the room and the woman continued listening to music, pretending to play the piano in the air.
“When we went in you could tell she wasn’t happy,” Mah said. “But when she sees Charlie, she just lights up.”
Charlie makes the rounds. They all know him.
‘When the dogs come and visit . . . it’s just a feel-good feeling — you know, petting the animals.’
“How appropriate that Charlie the dog is coming in and we have all these paintings of animals?” said the art teacher. Lola Green, 67, a Hyde Park resident, gives the dog a once-over.
“He’s fatter than me,” said Hyde Park resident Lola Green, eye-to-eye with Charlie from her wheelchair. “He’s a nice dog and he comes in and visits people. Some people don’t like dogs, but I have a little puppy.”
Her dog’s name is Lola, too, Green said.
Dorothy Selby, 92, also of Hyde Park, wasn’t expecting visitors.
Then the pug in a wheelchair rolled in.
“Oh my God, I love that dog,” Selby said.Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.