Pattyanne, an elder healthcare professional working at a large not-for-profit skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Boston, knew there was much to be concerned about as the pandemic was making its way to the United States in early March 2020. She kept an eye on the news—she read many media sources each morning from her phone before even getting out of bed—while stories of the coronavirus made headlines overseas, trickling their way into the states. “We didn’t have adequate PPE, and we knew we didn’t have any way to protect our staﬀ,” Pattyanne said, reﬂecting on how her long-term care & rehab center coped during the early days of the pandemic. “It was time to get creative and ﬁgure out how I was going to support them – the front line, bedside/cleaning/dietary– she always mentions how in awe she was, and is, of the frontline staff in this pandemic.
A compassionate leader, Pattyanne took it upon herself to help keep the healthcare center as prepared as they could possibly be. Being surrounded by clinical and medical professionals made her acutely aware of the danger of what was yet to come, but left a gap in terms of a creative solution to combat these fears. In an eﬀort to shield the residents and staﬀ from a potential outbreak, she’d ﬁnish oﬀ her long days at work by heading to the store and grabbing any of the remaining bottles of hand sanitizers and bleach cleaning spray, or supplies to make face shields for staff. The earliest days of the pandemic were immensely stressful, Pattyanne recalls, because she knew just how dire things could get—and she was right: some colleagues fell ill, too many deaths. Each night after work, she’d take her Golden Retriever, Red Aussie Shepherd mix, Tricky, on an hour-long walk. And she’d decompress by simply talking to him.Having her dog Tricky helped her feel less alone.
“I needed to hear my thoughts out loud so that I could be creative and think, ‘well, if I did this, would it work?’” Pattyanne described her thoughts as she worked with Tricky to be her sounding board. “In the evenings and late at night, walking the dog was my time that I could be creative and talk and walk, and just think of some ways to problem solve.”
Pattyanne’s relationship with Tricky was a strong bond long before the pandemic ever took hold . She adopted him from a Humane society in Arkansas roughly 6 months prior . “He is the ﬁrst dog that’s just mine, so it’s awesome,” she said. “I really think we were made for each other.” She adopted Tricky only a few months after her mother passed away—a loss Pattyanne will mourn for life—and believes Tricky was sent to her by her mom. “He interestingly has some very similar traits to my mother,” she recalled fondly, “kind and supportive”. Tricky’s gentle demeanor made him the perfect candidate for therapy dog training, which Pattyanne worked toward by bringing him to work with her every Tuesday. By the time the pandemic was prevalent in the U.S., Tricky (and other therapy animals) were advised to no longer enter healthcare centers due to unanswered questions around infection control.
Tricky’s therapy days were far from over, though—whether he knew it or not, he was providing a much-needed support system for Pattyanne. “As we got into [the pandemic]—the sadness and the emotional drain, and the tears that would inevitably ﬂow without control,” she recalled, “he would just lick the tears oﬀ my face. He would sit on the couch next to me with his head on my lap, and just snuggle in closer.” His night walks varied from his morning walks, and he seemed to be aware: as her post-work energy dwindled on their nightly walks, Tricky would match her speed, shifting his attitude to adjust to her capabilities of that day. He’d match her morning pep talk to herself, perking up with enthusiasm as she encouraged herself to begin a new day at work with a clear mind.
She was battling an unprecedented amount of grief—aside from the everyday toil of her mental health from working in elder healthcare amidst the pandemic, Pattyanne unfortunately lost her childhood best friend to COVID-19 in May, 2020. It grew increasingly diﬃcult to cope with the frustration and the lack of support nursing homes and their staff were receiving, along with the lack of preparedness the entire medical ﬁeld was left to operate with. It was days like these that the emotional toll weighed heavy on her—and days like these that Tricky knew to lick the tears of her cheeks, accompany her on the couch, and keep his paw on her hand.
Pattyanne knows that her daily habits, let alone her outlook on life, would be vastly diﬀerent without Tricky. Reﬂecting on her always increasing to-do list—commuting home, doing laundry, cooking for the next day’s lunch—she knows Tricky helps hold her accountable. “I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. If I didn’t have Tricky, I would probably just sit on the couch. And by the time I got halfway home, those ideas of doing laundry and meal prep would have been out the door. But you can’t ever forget to walk the dog,” she said. “He is going to be at the door, with his wigglebutt, and excited to see you every single time.”