- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - It’s 2 in the afternoon and Bella is waiting.

At the same time each weekday afternoon - when she hears the click of a cane - Bella heads to the edge of the carpet, the dividing line that separates Dunklau Gardens from Fremont Health Medical Center.

That’s where Bella waits for Roger Randall and a massage, the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1PwYbTt ) reported.

Sitting in a cushiony chair, Randall massages the Labrador retriever’s neck and back. And before long, the yellow dog has melted into a furry heap on the tile floor.

It’s a unique partnership, but one that’s mutually beneficial.

Bella was a rescued stray, who’s become a friend to residents and staff at the hospital and care center.

Randall is a Fremont man, who had to relearn basic tasks like walking and using his left and right hands after strokes damaged his brain nearly seven years ago.

Together, they attract smiles and friendly comments from passersby.

Bella was just a year old when she was found by a Humane Society worker in another town. A family adopted Bella and had her for a year when they realized a daughter was allergic to the dog.

Cindy Cook Bouslaugh, resident life associate at Dunklau Gardens, was looking for a dog when she saw a listing about Bella on the Internet and contacted her owners.

“We met in North Bend and they let me have her for a day to see if she worked with our family and she worked out perfectly,” Cook Bouslaugh said. “We called them that afternoon and told them we’d take her.”

Bella has found her canine calling at Dunklau Gardens.

“She’s been coming to work every (week)day for the last two years and she has just been perfect,” Cook Bouslaugh said.

The dog happily enters - with her tail wagging - a group of wiggly, loud preschoolers and is equally at home with the residents.

“She’s just the right height for the wheelchairs and when we go into new people’s rooms, she breaks the ice - whether they’re scared or confused or even if they have dementia, she puts a smile on everyone’s face.

“She doesn’t judge,” Cook Bouslaugh said. “She just brings love to everyone.”

Bella also knows a friend, like Randall, when she finds one.

Randall was 58 when he had a series of strokes that affected both sides of his brain.

“I had to learn how to do everything again,” he said.

That meant simple things like learning how to brush his teeth.

And it meant relearning how to walk, a road he’d traveled years earlier.

“When I was about 21, I had both feet broken and had to learn how to walk again,” he said.

The prospects could have been extremely discouraging, but Randall realized something.

During rehab at Omaha’s Immanuel Hospital, Randall said he saw soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He cites the case of a 28-year-old soldier and father of three who was a quadriplegic.

Randall realized he’d already lived much of his life and had been able to do much of what he’d wanted to do, while the young father had many years of life ahead.

“You look around. There are so many that are so much worse off - and I’ve got so much to work with - you don’t want to lie there and feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “So you just keep driving ahead.”

After about three months, Randall could walk, although it tired him.

Doctors wanted to make sure he could walk and navigate stairs before he came home.

Randall said he returned home and went to rehabilitation at Fremont Health.

After that, he started working out in the hospital’s Wellness Center, operated by the Fremont Family YMCA.

At the Wellness Center, he works with the ActivTrax weights and cardio program.

Randall figures he’s gone 3,000 or more miles on the elliptical and lifted thousands of pounds of weight.

“I could have walked to Denver and back on the elliptical,” he said. “It helps my gait and my feet.”

Randall also walks a circular, indoor route that takes him along hallways at Fremont Health and Dunklau Gardens, which are connected.

Although his eyesight was fine when he walked outside, Randall noticed that while walking and looking down the hallways, it seemed like the walls would close in about 20 to 30 feet ahead.

So instead of walking on a treadmill in the Wellness Center, he began walking the corridors to help improve his eyesight.

About a year ago, he discovered an unexpected ally.

“I was walking one day and Bella was out here and so I stopped and petted her,” he said.

After his stroke, Randall lacked the coordination to smoothly pet an animal or hold a small child.

Even picking up inanimate objects was tough. He couldn’t control the strength in his hands.

“I’d pick up a pen or a pencil and snap it,” he said.

He worked with a ball in the palm of his hands until he could rotate it forward, backward and around.

Randall also began using both hands to give Bella shoulder rubs to help with his right and left hand coordination.

“I’d work her neck and around her ears, give her a massage,” he said.

Bella liked the relaxing massages.

“It got so that she just melted to the floor and collapsed upside down,” Randall said, smiling.

Eventually, Randall was able to pet Shredder, a miniature Australian shepherd.

“I pet him and I’m real careful,” he said. “I work very carefully and scratch his ears. He’s more fragile.”

He doesn’t try to hold cats.

“If I try to hold them, I clamp down or squeeze too hard and a cat doesn’t like that,” he said.

But if a cat lies on its side, he will pet it.

And he pets Bella who waits for Randall each weekday.

One day, Bella wasn’t outside waiting for Randall and he figured she wasn’t around.

So he proceeded down the corridor.

That’s when the dog took matters into her own paws and went looking for Randall.

“Pretty soon you had this feeling that something was watching you and I stopped at the corner and turned around - and here Bella rounded the corner,” he said.

Not one to miss a good massage, Bella was headed his way.

“We came back to the chair and I gave her a neck rub and talked to her and she gets all happy,” he said.

Randall estimates that he rubs Bella’s neck for no longer than 15 minutes to a half hour.

He appreciates Bella.

“She got my hands working . I can coordinate my right and left hands now . and she’s so friendly,” he said.

Cook Bouslaugh also appreciates Bella, who goes camping and swimming with her family.

“She’s really been a blessing to my husband, Joe, and I,” she said. “She’s been so good.”

And as she waits each day at 2 for Randall, it’s apparent that she’s a blessing to him, too.


Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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