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A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher

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A layabout mutt turned therapy dog leads her owner to a new understanding of the good life.

At loose ends with her daughter leaving home and her husband on the road, Sue Halpern decided to give herself and Pransky, her under-occupied Labradoodle, a new leash—er, lease—on life by getting the two of them certified as a therapy dog team. Smart, spirited, and instinctively compassionate, Pransky turned out to be not only a terrific therapist but an unerring moral compass. In the unlikely sounding arena of a public nursing home, she led her teammate into a series of encounters with the residents that revealed depths of warmth, humor, and insight Halpern hadn’t expected. And little by little, their adventures expanded and illuminated Halpern’s sense of what virtue is and does—how acts of kindness transform the giver as well as the given-to.

Funny, moving, and profound, A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is the story of how one faithful, charitable, loving, and sometimes prudent mutt—showing great hope, fortitude, and restraint along the way (the occasional begged or stolen treat notwithstanding)—taught a well-meaning woman the true nature and pleasures of the good life.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published May 16, 2013

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About the author

Sue Halpern

14 books96 followers
Sue Halpern lives in the Green Mountains of Vermont where she writes books and articles, consorts with her husband, the writer and activist Bill McKibben, looks forward to visits from their wonderful daughter Sophie, plays with their remarkably enthusiastic dog, and introduces Middlebury College students to digital audio storytelling. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate from Oxford, the author of a book that was made an Emmy-nominated film as well as six others that weren’t, one-half of a therapy dog team, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, and a major supporter of the ice cream industry.

(from her website)

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5 stars
345 (22%)
4 stars
530 (34%)
3 stars
492 (32%)
2 stars
130 (8%)
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23 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 294 reviews
Profile Image for Lizz.
779 reviews19 followers
May 17, 2013
I loved this book. I see that many reviewers were hoping for more stories about the author and Pranksy, and I can understand that ... but as someone who works with a therapy dog in a nursing home, I was fascinated by the other aspects of the book. I originally bought the Kindle version, but I found myself wanting to underline passages, to be able to go back and re-read parts. As I'm just not that Kindle-nimble, I ordered the dead tree version. So many things that the author writes about are similar to what I have experienced when Winston (my Golden Retriever) and I make our rounds, I can see so many or the people that we visit with in the residents at County. I found the book to be thought provoking and truly fascinating.
Profile Image for Diane.
2,027 reviews5 followers
August 28, 2013
Two things I'd like to point out about this book before going any further, A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home, is not just another cutesy dog story (although the cover is pretty darn cute), and, NO, the dog on the cover doesn't die in the end. That being said, this is a terrific heartwarming story about a therapy dog named Pransky and his owner Sue.

Pransky, a 7 year-old labradoodle, named after the author's grandmother, lived a happy unleashed life in Vermont. When his owner was beginning to find herself with too much time on her hands, she decided that both she and Pransky would be trained so that Pransky could become a certified therapy dog. After his training was complete, for 2-hours each week he and Sue, would visit nursing home residents at County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center nearby.

Although Pransky's visits were a hit and put a smile on the faces of the residents, even more amazing is the fact that she seemed to sense what each individual needed. Sometimes she is bouncy, tail-wagging and puppy-like, and every now and then she just stands close by, sensing a pet or two coming her way. At other times when a resident is close to death, Pransky seemed to sense that just being close in a chair or even on the bed was what just what that person needed.

The residents, some old, some with dementia, and some young or sick and terminally ill, the residents come from all walks of life -- some share stories or their younger days while others just sit quietly and enjoy their weekly visitors. Although some of the people Pransky has interacted with do die, the story never comes across as too sad, but rather a reminder to the reader to make the most of the time we have left.

The chapters headings bear the (7) Virtues for titles: Restraint, Prudence, Faith, Fortitude, Hope, Love and Charity, and the author ties each heading into experiences and observations from her time at the nursing home with Pransky. It did seem like Pransky seemed much more comfortable spending time with the sick and elderly than his owner. The stories told by the residents and reflections by the author left me with a lot to think about. This isn't a book just for dog lovers by any means.

The book concluded with a finding reported by an Australian Hospice Nurse, regarding the 5 biggest regrets hospice patients expressed just before they died:

I wish I'd had the courage to love a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends
I wish I let myself be happier.

Give this book a try - I think you will be glad you did. It is also available as an audiobook and eBook.

4.5/5 stars
Profile Image for Amy.
89 reviews3 followers
June 9, 2013
Based on the description of this book, I was expecting lots of stories about a therapy dog working in a nursing home. Since I am the Activity Director in a county nursing home, I was really looking forward to reading this. Instead, the author intersperses dog stories with lots of research & commentary on philosophy, statistics, religion, etc.

I did enjoy the dog stories. Especially touching was the story of how she had a resident walk her dog in her wheelchair... it really is these little "normal" things that mean the most to residents. I also enjoyed the section that talked about how animals seem to sense approaching death, and specifically how her dog instinctively laid with a dying woman and provided comfort.

By the end, I was skimming though the research/commentary sections and just reading the dog stories. I wish there had been more of those and less focus on theories, research, and statistics.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in return for posting my honest review online at Amazon via the Amazon Vine program. I am repeating that review here in order to add it to my total books read for 2013!
Profile Image for Jamie.
323 reviews
May 7, 2013
Oh, I just did not like this book at all. I love dogs and I was really interested in hearing about how to train a dog to be a therapy pet. I was also interested in the people in the nursing home. What I was NOT interested in was reading a treatise on philosophy, which I absolutely hate.

Unfortunately, the author focuses so much on philosophy, philosophers, and philosophic virtues that this book isn't really what it purports to be. Details about the nursing home inhabitants are vague, and the dog training seems to be secondary to long-winded philosophical wanderings.

It felt like having a conversation with a long-winded professor who ties every topic back to their research interest. Dull and not worth the effort.
Profile Image for Linda Wright.
Author 4 books3 followers
July 16, 2013
Lately things have been difficult. My 92 year old stepmother, June, had to be moved to assisted living. She'd been living alone and it became apparent that she couldn't care for herself any longer. She thought she was doing a fine job and there in lies the problem. Navigating the world of home care aides, long term care insurance and assisted living facilities is not for the faint of heart. Throw in a senior citizen who doesn't want to budge and let the headaches begin.

We found a lovely facility for her (but don't tell June it's a facility) that has therapy dog visits on its list of activities. When I found A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home I thought maybe it would give me some insight. I am open to any and all kinds of advice because like I said earlier, I had unexpectedly entered a new place with a new set of rules.

Pransky is a therapy dog with a funny name and a huge heart. She and her master, Sue set off on the journey to become a licensed therapy dog. Sue intended to spend their time at the county nursing home. What they learn about life is fascinating and what they learn about each other is amazing. The book walks through the people they meet at County, Pransky often introducing Sue to people she might have avoided if Pransky hadn't tugged to enter a certain room, a room that wasn't on her list of those requesting a visit from a dog. Each patient had a story to tell about a life that had been well lived.

Pransky only wanted a rub behind her ear from everyone she met. Sometimes she also got a biscuit or a scrap of lunch that fell to the floor. Sue came with the preconceived notions that we all as humans, have about other people. As a team, they made a difference to people facing a time in their lives that is not usually the most pleasant. While Pransky never changed, Sue learned many life lessons she never would have without the love of a good dog.

While I struggle to decide whether A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is the story of a dog or the story of the end of life, I did find comfort in reading it. What I did learn is that none of us knows what hand we'll be dealt in life. We should relax and feel the love of a good dog any chance we get.
855 reviews
November 23, 2014
Is it possible for a book to have too much structure and not enough content? I think A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home has that problem. The word ‘dog’ in the title and the picture of the cute pooch on the front cover inclines one to think that this is a book about a dog. The subtitle is: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher. A dog would make an unlikely teacher so I am prepared for a book about a dog. And to a certain extent my expectations are met. Sue Halpern trains her dog Pransky to become a service dog and the two of them become a therapy team at a local nursing home. Sue’s journey of self-discovery, the stories of the residents and staff, and the stories of Pransky, herself, give the book a sweetness to recommend it. Beyond this, Ms. Halpern has devised a template for her book to codify her chapters based on the virtues: restraint; prudence; faith; fortitude; hope; love; charity. Constantly, the stories of Pransky and the residents are interrupted to segue off into a discussion on Aristotle or some such philosopher. In short, a sweet book with a lot of disruptions.
Profile Image for Patrick44.
98 reviews2 followers
February 22, 2014
It seems that many people expect this to be another dog book and they
are disappointed that it is not so much about the dog or the training
of a therapy dog. I am sympathetic (and empathetic) to those disappointments.
However, in reading the title more carefully, it more than equally suggests
that it is about what happens when the dog walks into the nursing home: what
happens to the dog; what happens to the owner and; what happens to the nursing
home inhabitants.
What happens is that lessons are learned by everyone involved.
The dog learns to become more sensitive and gains more self-control.
The owner learns a greater appreciation for the individuals and what
they are experiencing in that environment.
The patients/residents get to enjoy the simple pleasures of a dog's
acceptance and companionship for a brief period each week.
So, THAT's what happens (and much more) when a dog walks into a nursing home.
Profile Image for Virginia.
132 reviews6 followers
May 6, 2013
I found this book to be more philosophical and littered with statistical data from studies than about a dog . Yes the dog is mentioned, obviously, but its really more about quality of life for the aging and the nursing home environment. I was hoping to get to know the dog not learn Aristotle theories.
**Book received in exchange for a review**
Profile Image for Patty.
2,322 reviews100 followers
October 27, 2014
This book is an example of two things - that I still miss the card catalog and that I will always be a browser in libraries. As far as the card catalog, I know that there are major advantages to the computer. For instance, while I worked for our local public library, we added four new libraries. If we were still using cards, those libraries would have only had a list of some of the materials the library owned. However, the serendipity of finding something you are interested just by flipping through the cards is something that no longer happens. I like serendipity.

Browsing through the stacks of any library goes with my love of chance, of luck. You never know what book, DVD or whatever you might find by walking around. That happenstance is how I found this book. The title grabbed me as I was looking around my local branch library.

Halpern took advantage of some opportunities presented to her and trained her dog to be a therapy dog. She and Pransky have spent several years visiting the local nursing home. What Halpern learns may not be a surprise to many people, but her writing style draws the reader in and helps them understand the joys and sorrows of these visits.

I especially like the fact that Halpern uses the seven virtues - love, hope faith, prudence, justice, fortitude, restraint - to describe what she encounters at the County nursing home. This means that the narrative is not straight forward, but I liked the circling back that happens with this style.

This book will teach you about people and animals. It will give you insights into ways kindnesses affect our lives, both on the giving and receiving end. Also Halpern will keep you entertained as she discovers some truths about aging.

Most of us have reasons that we enjoy the company of pets. If you are in the dog camp and feel that your time with dogs has brought you joy and learning, you should pick this book up. Halpern will give you even more reasons to love dogs. If you are in the cat camp, then you still might want to pick this up, I believe Pransky will give you as much joy as your cats do.
Profile Image for Emily.
152 reviews
May 18, 2013
Full disclosure: I received this book for free in a Goodreads giveaway.

It's rare that I find myself at a loss for words about a book. As I sit here, pondering how to put my feelings about this book into words, it's difficult.

I grew up volunteering in nursing homes. My mother was a social worker there. This book, in a way, was like reliving those days. I still keenly remember many of the residents that have long since passed on. I remember the lessons they taught me, the people they were, and the pain of their passing. There is no place in this world like a nursing home. The bad ones are horror stories. The good ones are comfortable places where they endeavor to make a life for the residents within the walls.

There's a lot of death in a nursing home, but what Pranksy teaches us, what the author learns, is that death is not all their is. That life does not stop when the body becomes infirm, when it becomes difficult to run and jump and ride a horse.

This book is more a philosophy book about life than a book of stories. I know that bothered some reviewers, but to me it seems appropriate. In my experience you cannot spend a great deal of time in that environment and not relate it to philosophy. It's simply not possible. There are too many things that we as humans are uncomfortable with, do not often see. Truths to be learned and explored.

Dogs can teach us a lot about life, about love and acceptance. About devotion and being steadfast in the face of whatever comes. Pranksy takes these lessons from a place that is difficult for many to see, to experience.

I would recommend this book without hesitation to anyone, but especially to anyone who has worked or is working in the adult care field, nursing homes or assisted living, or end of life care. I'm buying a copy of this for my mother for her birthday because I'm sure she'll love it every bit as much as I did.
Profile Image for Paul Goble.
185 reviews4 followers
December 28, 2014
This book succeeds in many of the areas I most appreciate in a book: it is at once fun to read, well written, educational, and insightful. I am a better person for having read it.

The topic--a lady and her dog becoming a therapy dog team in a nursing home--touched me personally. I have a deep love of big, gentle dogs. I also spend a lot of time in a nursing home attending to an elderly relative.

The book is roughly chronological, but it is also organized around the Augustinian virtues of Restraint, Prudence, Faith, Fortitude, Hope, Love, and Charity. Every page shows how these virtues are taught by dogs, and by the elderly and frail. Once I tuned in to the structure and message of the book, I learned quite a bit about my world and my place in it. I was inspired to look for life lessons in the situations around me, and especially in the nursing home.

The author's approach is daring. Many authors have tried and failed at a breezy presentation and engaging story, while interjecting hard information and heavy philosophical insights. But Halpern succeeds brilliantly. There are a few genius turns of phrase, but for the most part, the writing is plain and direct. I noticed no grammar or spelling mistakes, which is a rare treat.

I did find myself disappointed by a lack of references. Sources are cited in a very loose, journalistic style. I know this is not meant to be an academic reference book, but there were some facts and figures I might want to follow up. In some cases, the information is interesting enough that I might want to cite it. In other cases, I don't know how much I can rely on the information presented, and the clues given are hardly adequate to track down the original sources.
Profile Image for Julie.
43 reviews9 followers
November 19, 2015
I am rather surprised at the number of lukewarm and even negative reviews this book has received. I thoroughly enjoyed this book of a woman and her labradoodle who begin volunteering in a nursing home. I thought her style of writing was engaging, warm, and appropriate in tone. This is not an informative guidebook on how to train therapy dogs rather the author presents lovely vignettes about the many residents that she and Pransky had interactions with in the nursing home. She highlights some of the lessons she learned along the way, about the elderly, about her dog, about herself, and about life in general. The author has a background in Philosophy/Ethics and she has organized her chapters loosely around the seven virtues but the insertion of philosophy is not heavy-handed or overly academic. It is hardly a treatise in philosophy as one reviewer suggests, LOL!

I am not a dog person by any stretch of the imagination. I am most definitely a cat person with three lovely cat companions. I don't usually enjoy books about dogs so it's unusual that I even picked this up. I happened to notice it when perusing the shelves of the local library. I read a few pages, liked it, and decided to take it home to read more. It turned out to be a real treat. Thus, I would say that the book has the potential to appeal to a broader range of people than just "dog-lovers" or people who enjoy dog stories. I hope that readers are not turned off by the reviews of others and give this lovely book a chance.
52 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2018
The training required is just the beginning of the journey. The actual visits are learning experiences in themselves. The journey is thought provoking to anyone.
152 reviews
September 13, 2021
Not a sad story. The dog is great, of course. The nursing home is a wonderful place. I wish all nursing homes were like this one. I’m sure they are not. Lots of philosophy about living a good long life. Again the quote from my Mother and now in the book: growing old isn’t for sissies.
Profile Image for Nancy Rossman.
Author 3 books34 followers
June 15, 2013
First I feel duped. The title hooked me and I expected (my problem, I know) a funny tale ... with some lessons. Instead this author is a preacher with too many stats and studies about the benefit of pet therapy. If anyone wants to read this book, they already know all of this. And I felt a bit too much self-congratulations at her volunteer work with Pransky, the dog, at the county nursing home.

More stats about old people, and more studies that have been done, blah blah blah. No thread of a story. It seems fair to me that we all know the benefits of pets and how vital they are in healing all ALL kinds of illnesses both emotional and physical. Don't quote over and over again all of these facts. Boring.

And of course the mountain of characters. Could not wait for the thing to be over. Possibly the dullest dog book I've read in ages.
Profile Image for Heidi Marleau.
278 reviews4 followers
April 16, 2014
A thoroughly enjoyable book. Sweet, insightful and instructive. My husband is thinking about going forward with getting our dog trained and certified to be a therapy dog so this was a perfect read. But even if you aren't on that path...you can learn some great lessons about life from this book.
85 reviews
March 18, 2015
The stories of the rest home patients are sweet, though.
Profile Image for Christie Bane.
1,038 reviews11 followers
October 10, 2021
I devoured this book on a gorgeous, lazy Sunday afternoon. It was appealing to me for two reasons. First, it showed up close yet another of the many ways dogs can help people in ways that nothing else in the world can. (I will never not appreciate how lucky humans are to have dogs in the world.) Second, it reiterates what I’ve read in every single book ever written by anyone who works in any capacity with people who are at the end of their lives — that end of life is not the worst thing in the world, even if culturally we absorb the idea that it is. I really believe that anyone who can conquer fear/dread of death is on the path to mastering life. Ok, next dog, it looks like you will have to be a therapy dog as well as everything else I want you to be.
Profile Image for Kerrie Hatcher.
411 reviews5 followers
April 26, 2022
What does happen when a dog walks into a nursing home or into your own home? Based on this story and my own experience, the dog brings acceptance, happiness, unconditional love and a host of other virtues. Those are things badly needed in a nursing home or any home for that matter. I really enjoyed this book about Pransky and her owner and their time spent in County nursing home.
(p.s. this is not a story where the dog dies at the end.)
Profile Image for Missy.
39 reviews
August 2, 2022
I read the 1st chapter, stumbled along the beginning of the 2nd chapter, jumped to the last few pages of the last chapter. Being in the senior living field, I was expecting something different. The author spends a lot of time taking about philosophers; especially Aristotle. She also talks a lot about the research behind pet companionship. This for me, dragged the book along.
24 reviews
April 11, 2023
I loved this book and would have read a thousand more pages of it, if they existed. I feel so lucky to have read Pransky and Sue's story, because there were so many beautiful moments in this book. Other reviews mentioned that the book is too philosophical, but I have to disagree. I loved this book exactly as it was, and I could see myself reading it again soon!
Profile Image for Lee McClain.
Author 130 books441 followers
May 1, 2018
Loved this book--pretty deep for a dog story--fun and moving at the same time. You won't zoom through it, you'll savor it. And want to get a therapy dog yourself!
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1 review1 follower
May 24, 2023
A quick and enjoyable read! It was fun to hear another therapy dog team share their perspective of volunteering, very relatable to me!
15 reviews
September 17, 2016
This is for all intents a "mom book" so given to me by my mom and if you don't like dogs don't bother reading it because you've already proven yourself immune to heartfelt things. But it was a surprisingly well written, honest look into not only death but the act of dying - something we are eager to either ignore or fictionalization.
Profile Image for Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.
2,455 reviews513 followers
May 26, 2014

When Sue Halpern found herself and her Labradoodle, Pransky, at a loose end, she searched for ways in which to keep them both busy. Of the options available, Sue felt Pransky would make a wonderful pet therapy dog and began the process of training for certification. Reigning in Pransky's natural exuberance was no small task but within a few months, having passed the assessment process, Sue and Pransky walked into the County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center to meet its residents.

Halpern introduces us to the men and women she and Pransky visit each week, who suffer a variety of ailments from simple old age to genetic diseases such as Huntington's and Alzheimers. The stories are sweet, touching and poignant and it is evident that Pransky's presence benefits those that spend time with her, providing companionship, comfort, and joy. It is equally clear that Halpern and Pransky also benefit from the time they spend at the facility.

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is "...about one singular, faithful, charitable, loving, and sometimes prudent dog....showing great hope, restraint and fortitude....". but also a thoughtful treatise on life, illness, aging and death. Each chapter is framed by one of the seven Virtues and includes anecdotes of Sue and Pransky's visits with the residents of the nursing home, interspersed with commentary on philosophy, religion, social policy, scientific research and healthcare.
Profile Image for Jennifer W.
484 reviews41 followers
September 20, 2014
A feel good kind of book which is what I needed right now. Extra special because the dog in the book didn't die or get hurt and make me sad!

There is a wonderful quote from Pope Benedict on charity that was included towards the end of the book:

"What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of 'showing mercy' towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail of hear the cry of the poor... Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness."

Given how "wrapped up" in my own problems I've been over the past few weeks, it is good to be reminded that there are others who need my attention. That I don't have to give all, but I can still give something. The fact that I get paid to give may go against what Benedict was saying here, but I could chose to get paid doing something else, something mindless. As I struggle to stay optimistic, I have to remind myself that I cannot allow anger and fear to control me. In this book, a little dog showed up weekly to a nursing home and was her little dog self. She was happy to see everyone, happy to help everyone, in her own little way. Fear and anger cloud that in people.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,406 reviews
July 26, 2015
I bought this book because of the title and the adorable dog on the cover. I am a pushover for books about dogs. When I read this was about a therapy dog who goes to nursing homes I had to try this book. I really wanted to like this book more. her labradoodle "pranksy" was trained to be a therapy dog. I was really hoping this book would be about Pranksy and the nursing home residents. Part of this book does talk about the residents and Pranksy. but not anywhere near as much as I hoped. A lot of the book is taking about the Philosophy and the psychological benefits of dogs and human contact. this book could have been so much more if the author wrote more about the beautiful dog and the residents at the nursing home. I will give this a three since part of it does address the dog and those who lived at the nursing home. just kind of disappointed.
24 reviews6 followers
September 21, 2013
I was really disappointed in this book. The summary on the cover boasted about a heartwarming and profound story of a dog that spends days lifting the spirits of those in nursing homes. However, two chapters in I was already annoyed, bored, and skimming the pages. The author seems to feel the need to fill the pages with facts about therapy dogs and nursing homes, along with paragraphs and paragraphs about several philosophers.
I enjoy philosophy, don't get me wrong.. But I didn't pick up this book to read all the general background about every important value of a subject I already know. The author never actually got to the point and it felt as if she was trying to prove her own intelligence more so than explain what her musings had to do with the book. I skimmed through the first half of the book without ever really finding anything enjoyable.
Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,456 reviews82 followers
March 29, 2014
This was somewhere between a three and four for me. I see other reviews like mine, wishing there was more dog stories. Seriously though, every time the author started ging into facts, or quoting philosophy or the bible, I zoned out and had to reread that part. It's very annoying to see, that shocking moment you realize you are reading a book and not living the story. They mostly felt unnecessary, and I just wasn't invested enough after being jolted into self awareness.

However, I loved Pransky. I really enjoyed the way she didn't judge, the friends she's made. The writing was good without the interruptions. I've read dozens of animal stories over the past few years and this one rates highly. The dog makes it worth while anyway.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 294 reviews

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