By Matt Cruz
VITAS Administrative Volunteer
How many wheelchair-bound dogs visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities around Southern California? The answer is relatively simple: one.
The Dachshund pooch known as Tinkerbelle has been tracked wobbling down hallways of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Pasadena in hopes of brightening spirits and healing souls. Rolling along in her specially manufactured wheelchair and sporting her custom-tailored diapers, Tinkerbelle is a particularly special VITAS Pet Volunteer.
The helpful canine was adopted by her current owner Dr. Kathy Fuller from a Dachshund rescue after becoming paralyzed most likely having been abandoned or abused by a previous owner. Currently writing a children's book entitled Weiner with a Heart, Fuller and "Tink" were already featured in a book about abused and abandoned animals, Rescued Tails. Physical hindrances aside, Tinkerbelle has helped numerous patients by simply bringing joy into their lives and brightening their spirits.
In one heartwarming story, a VITAS Hospice patient who would normally refuse social interaction and other means to improve her quality of life was completely transformed once introduced to Tinkerbelle. The patient immediately opened herself up to repeated visits from Tinkerbelle and reminiscence about her dog that she had to leave behind when moved to the nursing home.
Another involving account of Tinkerbelle's influential and infectious joy took place late last December. Trotting down the hallway of a nursing home in Pasadena, Tinkerbelle was spotted by a VITAS Hospice patient's son who was interested in meeting the energetic volunteer. The man's father had been admitted the previous night for prostate cancer. Recalling that his dad had grown up with a Dachshund, the son asked if Tinkerbelle was able to make a short visit to his father.
"Are you serious?" was all the patient could muster up after having Tinkerbelle's presence explained to him. The grimace of pain on his face soon curved into a soft smile as he began petting Tinkerbelle. The familiar warmth of Tinkerbelle's body left the patient to slip into a euphoric lethargy of nostalgia. Forgetting even his pain, the VITAS patient was able to sleep peacefully with Tinkerbelle at his side.
The son, staying with his father for the last twelve days of his life, began to weep at the sight of his dad being helped in the most precious way. The special moment that followed evoked deep tears of gratitude from the son and gave everyone involved a taste of the special care offered here at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care.
Tinkerbelle, with her signature wheelchair, VITAS purple Pet Therapy bandana, and diapers (complete with a special hole for her tail), continues to volunteer and bring thrills and bliss to VITAS patients. Her contagious spirit and friendly disposition give inspiration and fulfillment to all who are fortunate enough to encounter such a wonderful dog.
VITAS Innovative Hospice Care is the nation's largest provider of end-of-life care. A pioneer and leader in the hospice movement since 1978, VITAS has been caring for the terminally ill and their families in San Gabriel Valley since 1990. For more information about VITAS visit: