After retiring from her career as a kindergarten teacher, Sandy Miller wanted to find a way to give back and spend her time volunteering. Her volunteer work started 11 years ago with the help of her furry friend and ended up turning into much more.
“When we got a miniature poodle named Molly, I decided that I wanted to do something with her since she was so obedient and such a loving little dog,” Miller said. “I thought to get her evaluated to be a therapy dog and she passed with flying colours. So I started taking her to retirement homes and nursing homes.”
When the director of the Adult Day Program at the F.J. Davey Home requested for a small dog to come and visit the clients regularly, Miller knew that Molly would be the perfect fit.
“I started taking her there, and right from the get-go she was a big hit and everyone loved her. The client's eyes just lit up when she came in,” she said. “Then I started teaching her some tricks, and she caught onto them quite fast. We had her jumping through hoops, and the clients would get up and hold the hoops while she jumped through them and did tricks. I took her twice a week for six-and-a-half years.”
One day, Miller asked one of the counsellors if anybody ever plays the piano in the room. Being a kindergarten teacher, piano playing was one of her specialties.
“I started playing the piano after Molly entertained them and did her tricks. I would play these old songs that they just loved and could all relate to. Eventually, they (the program) submitted a grant and got a brand new Yamaha piano which was just lovely,” she said.
After six-and-a-half years, Molly had to be put to sleep because of old age. But the counsellors and clients still wanted Miller to come and visit. She decided to start volunteering once a week just to play the piano for everyone.
“After I played the piano I would sit and stay and have tea with them, or if they were celebrating a birthday I would stay for that, and it was a great time. The clients just loved it, and I loved it too because I grew to have a greater understanding of Alzheimer’s and how it affects people. I could see the light in their eyes when they saw Molly and when they saw me come in and they were cognizant of why we were there,” Miller said. “It’s been a very rewarding time for me. Just to see how much these people enjoy the music, and how music is really an integral part of their therapy. They might not be very communicative otherwise, but they really enjoy the music. The songs are all ‘oldies but goodies’ but they remember them. They clap to the music, their toes will be tapping, and you can see that they’re really responding.”
The 76-year-old plans on continuing to volunteer her time for as long as she can. “I would continue on until I can’t play anymore. With COVID-19 I haven’t been there since March, so it’s been quite a long time and I miss going there. I enjoy every minute of it.”