ANDERSON — At first, you think they’re dogs. Then you find out they’re really hams. The Pet-A-Pal dogs love nothing better than getting all dressed up in costumes and taking center stage. Twice a month, from April through October, the dogs do just that as they visit area nursing homes and put on a narrated fashion show to the delight of residents.
Pet-A-Pal president Fran Tedrow narrates the show while six dogs strut their stuff, with 30 or more costumes.
“Each dog has anywhere from four to seven or eight costume changes,” said Pet-A-Pal member Carol Rattler. Dogs wear costumes from Santa Claus to Mickey and Minnie Mouse to Colts and Pacers, bringing plenty of smiles to residents' faces.
“They all love the Wizard of Oz group,” said Rattler. “The scarecrow is just adorable.”
Another favorite is the Birthday Dog that sports a hat which sort of looks like a birthday cake and a dress with ruffles that says ‘Happy Birthday.’
“We have a tremendous time,” said Rattler. “We’re changing the dogs’ clothes every five or ten minutes.”
“It’s really cool. The dogs are just hilarious,” said Liz Frank. Frank brings her two Labradors, Maggie and Oyate. She noted that both dogs happily wear their costumes.“They love it.” When Oyate dons his costume, Frank said, “He literally will prance.”
“The dogs love it because they know everyone’s going to pet them,” said Tedrow.
One of the favorite parts of the show comes at the end, when the group honors service men and women, and those who serve as nurses, firefighters or police.
“One of our dogs does a good night prayer in her jammies,” said Rattler. Labrador Maggie puts her paws up, and rests her head on her paws.
“Many of the residents remember the dogs from year to year. They look forward to it tremendously,” said Rattler. She said residents even remember the names of the dogs, including her own golden retriever Sadie. Sadie was a regular until after Carol’s husband passed away in September. Sadie died two months later, grieving her lost owner.
Tedrow calls the narrated fashion show the “Fun Bunch,” but the Pet-A-Pal dogs have other jobs, too. Sometimes they’ll spend a day visiting with folks at a nursing home. Other times, they visit day cares or elementary schools to teach pet safety.
Right now, the “Fun Bunch” includes a diverse group of dogs. Tedrow’s dachshund/Jack Russell named Peanut and her terrier mix named Khristy are part of the crew. Frank brings her two 70-pound Labradors. There’s also a chocolate poodle named Kitty, and a Bichon Frise called Dasher.
The group has had as many as 15 dogs, and they come in all shapes and sizes, from 4 pounds to 140.
“We’ve had as large as a Newfoundland – that is a very big dog – all the way down to Chihuahua. We go from one extreme to another,” said Tedrow.
Dogs must be up-to-date on their shots. Tedrow evaluates the dogs to make sure they can handle the job. She noted that the hand dexterity of some of the residents may cause them to grab onto the dog’s fur and not let go easily.
“We don’t want the dogs to snap at them,” said Tedrow. She said dogs must also be comfortable around all the appliances like wheelchairs and walkers. Another prerequisite is an owner who can be consistent about showing up for visits or shows.
Tedrow said that the late Jo Rehm founded Pet-A-Pal with her Akita, named Koz, more than two decades ago when Rehm’s own mother was in a nursing home.
”She saw a need. People in nursing homes or assisted living — they need to have some sort of pet contact,” said Tedrow. She has been involved in Pet-A-Pal for 17 years.
“We volunteer for this because we love doing it,” said Tedrow. “We’d love to have some more people.”
“We would love to have anybody interested get in touch and let us meet your dog,” said Rattler. Give them a call at 621-5975.
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