NEKAYAH, THE FEAR-BREAKER
Fears are hard to overcome. Florence came to the Rehabilitation Center several months past. I knew Florence was a new resident and I also took note that when Nekayah and I walked down the hallway Florence stayed to one side, never taking her eyes off of Nekayah. In fact, the first time Florence saw Nekayah she was wide-eyed with fear. When I visited her roommate, Norma, I would ask Florence, “Would you like to see Nekayah?” I would receive a fearful, “No.” Now, these patients have enough to deal with. After all they are seniors. They have had to leave their homes. They are separated from their families. Many of them feel rejected, neglected, often abandoned. It is not my place to foist Nekayah on any patient. I know those who want to interact and those who do not. I always want to respect their wishes and do not take it personally.
On this Monday I took Nekayah in to see Norma. Florence kept her back to Nekayah, avoiding eye contact. As I prepared to leave the room I had Nekayah sit in a place out of Florence’s sight. I sat on the bed by Florence and said, “Florence, you are really afraid of dogs, aren’t you.” “Oh yes,” she said in a quiet voice. “Can I ask you why?” She proceeded to tell me of her longtime fear of dogs. Her fear centered around a pitbull that threatened her life. I listened to her story and told her I understood and if what happened to her happened to me I would have a very difficult time overcoming the fear she felt. I then explained to her how Nekayah is trained both as a service dog and a therapy dog. I told her about some of the people Nekayah has helped. I ask her if I could call Nekayah to sit in front of me, but away from her. Florence gave me that permission. Nekayah , slowly, came into our view and sat in front of me. We talked about Nekayah’s size, her spots and her ice blue eyes. Florence said, “She is a very pretty dog.” Nekayah did not look at Florence and moved a little closer to me and put her head in my lap. “If you want to overcome your fear Nekayah is a perfect dog for you to get to know.” Florence would now look more often at Nekayah. I pointed to a spot between Florence and me. Nekayah moved and laid her head on the edge of the bed. Now Florence was feeling closed in and I didn’t want to push the envelope. I was surprised when Florence took a giant step and asked, “Will she bite me if I touch her?” I assured her that would not happen. I told Florence, “You just sit there and I will have Nekayah sit in front of you and she will just lay her head in your lap. Okay?” With a deep breath, Florence said, “Okay.” Nekayah did just as I said. Nekayah did not move and I assure you, Florence did not move. With great hesitation, fear and trembling, I saw Florence’s hand make a very slow, uncertain movement toward Nekayah. I cannot adequately describe the challenge this was for Florence. She touched Nekayah’s head and instantly pulled her hand back. Nekayah has not moved. She reached out to touch Nekayah again. Still Nekayah has not moved. This time Florence put her hand on Nekayah’s head and slid it back to her neck. “She’s a nice dog,” Florence said.
“I’ll be back next Monday, would you like me to bring Nekayah to see you?” “I’d like that very much.”
So for Florence she is stepping out of her fear. Nekayah is helping Florence to feel comfortable with a dog. It is a big step, but I am glad Florence is willing to take it.