A shaggy little dog named Rudy has been the mascot of the Bradenton Oaks assisted care facility for the last decade.
Rudy, now 14, was just a puppy when a Bradenton Oaks resident got him and shared him with all the fellow residents at the facility at 1079 Seventh Ave. E., Bradenton, where residents are allowed to have dogs and cats.
“There are pictures of Rudy all over the place here,” said Marissa Vazquez, a sales representative at Bradenton Oaks.
But about six months ago, Rudy’s human “mom” died.
Almost immediately, Allen E. Poet, 70, who came to Bradenton Oaks three years ago after a stroke, volunteered to be Rudy’s caretaker, which is no easy job since Rudy is blind, almost deaf and has a passion for walks.
“We walk about five times a day,” Poet said. “He likes to walk, and I don’t mind.”
When Michelle McKinley, Bradenton’s Oaks’ activities director, asked Poet a few weeks ago what he would like to get for Christmas through Home Instead Senior Care’s annual Be a Santa for a Senior program, which supplies gifts for needy seniors, Poet told her, “Just dog treats for Rudy.”
“He didn’t ask for anything for himself,” Vazquez said.“He has taken his role as the caregiver for this dog seriously, taken it to heart, Allen doesn’t have a lot of extra funds, even for himself, so it is difficult sometimes to make sure Rudy is being taken care of, and as a community we step forward as well, but it is great that Shelly was able to do this for him.”
Vazquez was speaking about Shelly Rodriguez, a home care consultant for Home Instead Senior Care, 5239 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
Every year for Be a Santa to a Senior, Rodriguez’s agency puts Christmas trees tagged with seniors’ names in all of the county’s Bealls Outlet stores. The rest of the year, the agency provides companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands, shopping, personal care, medication reminders and incidental transportation for seniors, Rodriguez said.
“Shoppers take a name off of a tree and shop for the gift suggestion on the tag,” Rodriguez said. “They leave the item at Bealls Outlets. I have gone around to all the Bealls Outlets and picked up the gifts, which number in the hundreds.”
Rodriguez put Poet’s name on the tree with more than doggie treats.
Rodriguez decided to drop off Poet’s gifts in person on Dec. 13.
After Poet was invited from his room to the main activity area, residents clapped as Rodriquez walked in with a 20-pound bag of Beneful dog food and doggie snacks as well as a plastic basket filled with other gifts in red wrapping paper.
“We were so touched that the only thing you asked for was for Rudy that we wanted to get some things for you, too,” Rodriguez told Poet.
A surprised Poet said, “Oh wow” as he unwrapped a coal-gray sweater from the basket and remarked, “That’s very nice.”
He also got a workout suit because he likes to exercise, ankle weights, mini-chocolate chip cookies and pajamas.
“Look, look at what you got,” Poet excitedly told Rudy, who sniffed at the box of doggie treats.
“I was overjoyed,” Rodriguez said moments after presenting the gifts. “I am just so happy there is a program that can help people like Allen and I am just so glad and thankful that I get to be a part of it.”
“Thank you so much,” a humbled Poet said.
Holidays in a facility can be OK
Most people think people being in assisted care facilities on the holidays is sad, but Vasquez said that residents actually can be happier at holiday time because they are surrounded by fellow residents and staff, who become their new families if their partners are gone and children far away.
“I think they all enjoy the security of having someone there if they need it,” Vasquez said. “They get three nutritious meals a day, their housekeeping taken care of and they have activities. They make friends for life. And their families also feel secure knowing they are here.”
Poet said that he is happy to be at Bradenton Oaks for Christmas.
“Nice people,” Poet said. “The staff is nice, residents are nice, just like a big family. I don’t drive anymore because of my cataracts but they have a bus here that goes to Publix on Mondays and Wal-Mart on Wednesday.”
Poet spends his time at Bradenton Oaks watching TV, reading and playing bocce ball at 12:45 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
Poet was a professional photographer who made his living selling his photographs to “picture agencies” and postcard companies. His favorite camera was a Rolleiflex.
He doesn’t take pictures anymore because of his eyesight. He has never held a digital camera and is not interested. He says the word “film” lovingly.
Poet is married, but his wife is in a nursing home with a higher level of care in the Tampa Bay area. He doesn’t get to see her much and said he doesn’t know her condition.
But Rudy is always close by Poet. Poet is concerned because Rudy has begun to shake. Poet does not have the means to take him to a veterinarian to check out the tremors.
“He drinks a lot of water,” Poet said of Rudy. “I think he could have diabetes.”
Poet whispered this amateur diagnosis, as if he didn’t want Rudy to hear, especially at Christmas.