Pamela Ditchoff's latest book, Phoebe's Way, chronicles a fictional account of a therapy dog it a nursing home. Ditchoff's own dog Phoebe and her own trips to Queens Manor served as the inspiration behind the book.
A simple nuzzle from a dog can be enough to brighten someone's day, and carries insight with it one might not expect.
Pamela Ditchoff's new book Phoebe's Way explores that topic, with the tale of a Saint John Ambulance therapy dog's journey through a nursing home.
Phoebe is based on Ditchoff's real dog, who accompanied her for many years to Queens Manor in Liverpool, and is where much of the inspiration of the story comes from.
The book itself is a work of fiction, so none of the stories are based on actual residents of the nursing home. It also takes place at a nursing home in the fictional community of Safe Harbour, Nova Scotia. Ditchoff says it was a better way for her to tell the story.
"There is more heart and soul, and language that I could use," she says.
She has read non-fiction books about dogs going into a nursing home, and while enjoyable she found it very scientific.
"In non-fiction, I would have felt compelled to address Alzheimer’s and dementia in that way."
Writing fiction also allows her to add a little magic to the story as well.
Ditchoff has high praise for the real Queens Manor, from how they decorate the facility for holidays to how they celebrate the birthdays of residents. There are also many volunteers who care about the manor and its residents, she says.
"It's such a wonderful place," she says, about the staff and the residents.
Ditchoff says she hears from people on occasion that people are afraid of going to the manor, not because of how they treat the residents but because of what it means to them.
"A lot of people think that that is where you go to die," she says.
While people do pass on, Ditchoff says she has heard many wonderful stories and made many friends in her trips to the manor.
"I wanted to write this book to try to convey what a dog can communicate," says Ditchoff.
For those that enjoy seeing the dogs, Ditchoff says it opens a door to conversations, from the residents own dogs to just stories in general.
A dog can also bring out interesting aspects from people as well. Many dementia patients for example, don't respond to people very much in the later stages. Often they will have their heads low and not look at people.
"The dog goes in and puts a nose under a hand. The (resident's) head turns, there is eye contact and a smile," she says.
It can also be a way to work through some misconceptions about people as well. There was on resident she was hesitant about, that looked angry and had outbursts. However Phoebe was determined to see her. When she went over the resident yelled out in delight.
"What I mistook for anger was really excitement about seeing the dog."
Phoebe's Way is Ditchoff's way of describing how a dog can help people in long term care.
Ditchoff started doing therapy dog work with Phoebe when she lived in Michigan.
"I really enjoy the company of elderly people," she says.
She says most people feel happy around dogs, and wanted to bring that to some of the elderly who could no longer have a pet due to moving into long term care.
"It's rare that you have the opportunity to brighten someone's life each week."
When she moved to Queens County, she started off in the dog therapy program at the hospital before switching to the manor.
As Phoebe's life was winding down she had to stop making trips to the manor, but Ditchoff's new dog Willie took up the role and now accompanies her to the manor.
Ditchoff has published works in the form of six novels, two teaching texts various poems, short stories, literary magazines and anthologies. Her work has come out in a variety of forms, from ebooks, traditional publishers and Amazon's in house press, but this was her first experience with ECW press, and independent publisher out of Toronto. She went with them because she wanted a hard copy version of the story, and says they were very easy to work with.
Phoebe's Way is launching on Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. at Lane's Privateer Inn. There she will be doing a reading, answering questions people might have and books will be available for sale.