Sunday Conversation with Jerry Wilson

Willie Hill, a veteran of the Korean War and resident of Scepter nursing facility, get a visit from Jerry Wilson and his labradoodle, Rascal. CONTRIBUTED

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Willie Hill, a veteran of the Korean War and resident of Scepter nursing facility, get a visit from Jerry Wilson and his labradoodle, Rascal. CONTRIBUTED

Man, dog ministry brightens lives of nursing home residents

After deciding to spend retirement putting his faith into action, Jerry Wilson sought out a partner — a four-legged, tail-wagging one. For almost four and a half years, Wilson and his chocolate labradoodle, Rascal, have visited residents of Scepter Health & Rehabilitation of Snellville. What began as a way to brighten the days of older and sick people has ended up enriching the lives of a man and his dog (who gets rewarded with plenty of scratches and treats). “It’s hard to describe,” Wilson says. “When we first started going, I was the guy on the other end of the leash. Eventually, the residents learned my name and now they have a love for me as well. And I love them.”

Q: How did you and Rascal get started going to Scepter?

A: I worked in the finance department of DeKalb County school system for 34 years. When I retired, I felt it was time to help others. Originally, I thought about just visiting nursing homes myself. My wife, Jan, said, "You love dogs and you love old people, too." I prayed about it and decided to make visiting with a dog my ministry. I truly fell in love with the people at Scepter.

Q: Have you always had a dog?

A: No. I always loved dogs but thought a dog was an inconvenience that tied you down. Since Rascal, as long as I can take care of a dog, I will have one.

Q: How did you end up with Rascal?

A: I did a lot of research and found that labradoodles were perfect for this kind of thing. I wanted a puppy but couldn't find one here. I talked to a breeder in Texas and told her what I wanted to do and she said, "I have the dog for you."

Q: How often do you and Rascal visit with residents?

A: We go at least twice a week and spend at least two-to-three hours. At first, I planned on seeing just a few residents but others started asking if they could see Rascal. Every two months, Rascal throws the residents a party with cake and ice cream and pizza and Coke. We have a ball and the residents eat it up, literally.

Q: You must have a good relationship with the Scepter staff?

A: Yes and they call Rascal their mascot.

Q: Does Rascal enjoy going?

A: When we are in the car and make the turn to go to Scepter, Rascal will start jumping up and smiling. He can't wait to get there. The residents have a special way of rubbing him. He loves to be scratched up under his harness.

Q: I bet he likes those treats?

A: Oh yeah. I have to break them up in small pieces.

Q: What do you think it is about a dog that the residents relate to?

A: Unconditional love. There are no questions asked with a dog. There is nothing false or phony about a dog's love. The residents talk to Rascal and pet him and start reminiscing about their dogs. I think he brings the past to them.

Q: Do the people with memory problems relate to Rascal?

A: Yes and they remember him and look forward to him coming.

Q: So all and all, how would you say your ministry has gone?

A: The strong bond and triangle of love, friendship and respect between the residents and Rascal and me is unreal.