The Kindness of Strangers

A post from volunteer Paige

Pearla batted cleanup this afternoon, at Twice the Gift in the IDS Center, downtown Minneapolis, after Josie, Jazmin, and Madeline placed ARLP in scoring position. Pearla was the perfect hitter. She smacked the Therapy Dog ball out of the park in a major home run, winning the hearts and minds of strangers and friends of ARLP alike. With fewer shoppers/carolers/commuters around, each person that stopped by to say hello to her, received special attention.

One lady was special in her own right. Zipping around in a motorized wheelchair, this character maneuvered through the Crystal Court like a pro. Dressed in multiple layers, it appeared to me this lady had not been out of her wheelchair in quite some time. Her right foot was in a splint, the kind you can walk in, but her right arm and right side were covered with different layers of protection against our MN winter. A blue fleece hat covered her mop of gray hair. And holy cow did her lined and sad face light UP when she saw Pearla.

Pearla at Twice the Gift
Ms. Lady surged in our direction, stopping a discreet distance while Pearla treated a small group of admirers to her antics, licks, tricks, and happy dance. When the group moved on, Ms. Lady wheeled forward slowly. Pearla seemed a bit hesitant of the chair, but discovered the human inside it and soaked up the petting from Ms. Lady. Ms. Lady talked to Pearla in her own words, smiling and nodding at me while stroking the Bombshell. Ms. Lady spoke to me. I struggled to understand, so she backed up her chair, reversed and came towards me again with the other side facing me, speaking to me again.

“Service Dog.”

Of course! She is saying ‘Service Dog’ to me. She had the small red vest of a service dog as part of her belongings packed into the back of her chair. Darkened by age and grime from city life, the vest clearly showed the patch that at one time labeled its wearer as a service animal. I explained to her, speaking slowly, that Pearla is a Therapy Dog—not quite the same as a Service Dog. Ms. Lady explained to me that she had a dog (I believe her Service Dog) that died of old age. “Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Ashes,” she said. Cremated, I replied—yes, she said and nodded.

“Kind Hearted”

It took me a few tries, to understand this phrase too. Ms. Lady, who chattered away into Pearla’s smiling face, slowed her speech way down for me to understand. Frustration crossed her face more than once, as she tried to think of alternate words from the ones that would not roll out of her mouth. She communicated to me that she didn’t understand why people are afraid of these dogs. She was able to say ‘pit’ but the ‘bull would not come out—STROKE she explained, as she tried and tried to finish the phrase describing Pearla’s generic breed. “Why Afraid?” she asked? I took that to be, Why are people afraid of these dogs? I trotted out my standard answer—while there are a lot of bad people in the world, there are a lot of bad dogs, too, no matter how they became bad dogs. I blabbered on how we temperament test our dogs, how they used to have HA bred out of them, how cruel people treat their property cruelly…but she wasn’t listening. “Why Afraid?” she said again.

“Art” “Five Years of College”

She was gesturing inside TTG, at the canvases displayed on the wall behind the cash register. “I’m an artist. I have a gallery on Washington.” For the life of me, I could NOT understand the name of the gallery. I tried. She tried. She grew very frustrated, because her explanatory words would not come. Pearla helped her smile again—when Ms. Lady grew frustrated with her inability to communicate to me, Pearla calmed Ms. Lady. I understood that Ms. Lady went to college for at least 5 years, and the look of pride on her face was ALMOST as bright as her smile to Pearla. I did not understand the rest.

We went through more rounds of “Why Afraid” then Ms. Lady tried a new word on me. I didn’t get it. She tried again. Then again. Then she said, “Down.” AHA, you meant sit! So I waited til the next round of visitors were done petting Pearla, and just for Ms. Lady, I put Pearla through her tricks. Sit. Down. Wave. High Five. “Does she roll over?” No, I had to say, blushing. “WHY NOT?” Ms. Lady was indignant. Then we both laughed—I had no reason to explain why not! We learned how to last summer in our Tricks class, but I did not follow up with practice…maybe because Pearla is so awkward on her back.

More visitors came and went. Ms. Lady was pleased to share Pearla’s attention with others, but even more pleased when Pearla returned her attention to Ms. Lady’s one visible hand. “Kind Hearted.” “Kind Hearted.” Ms. Lady removed her hat. Her gray hair was short but neat, or as neat as any of us have neat hair, after removing a winter hat. She sighed in contentment, and petted Pearla for a few more minutes. She thanked me. I thanked her. She smiled the most amazing smile—a smile that highlighted all the lines of joy in her weathered face. Then she fumbled with her vest, deep in her covered lap. I thought she was looking for her hat, which she’d also placed in her lap. But no.

Ms. Lady, who did not appear to have a home of her own, or really anything other than the enshrouding layers in her motorized wheelchair, was digging into her secret stash in a waist pocket. She pulled out her money—several small bills, a $20, and a $5. Using her mouth to pull out the $5, she succeeded in extracting the bill. She looked at me expectantly.

“No,” I said. She nodded. The bill was stuck to her lips. She nodded again, and stuck out her chin in my direction, as she had no other hand to remove the bill and hand it to me. I took the proffered $5 from her, feeling completely overwhelmed at the kindness of complete strangers.

“Thank you,” she said. Thank you, I said, struggling in vain to fight back the tears welling up in my eyes. Michelle gave her one of our post cards. I gave the bill to Michelle, who placed it in our donations bin. “Thank you,” she said, and smiled. Ms. Lady reversed her wheelchair, and retreated from the entrance to TTG. She swung herself around, and ventured off to other areas of the Crystal Court.

I was too choked up to even say, Happy Holidays to this incredible stranger. A lady who appeared to be much in need, Ms. Lady donated some of her valuable dollars to A Rotta Love Plus, to help us help these wonderful dogs, when clearly the dollars were very precious to her.

Jana & Madeline at Twice the Gift
If anyone in the Minneapolis area has any idea how to identify this remarkable woman, or the gallery on Washington Ave where she may have displayed artwork, please contact us. Paige would like to return her very generous donation, with a contribution to her.


2 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Megan

    Dammit! Totally at work with tears just rolling…beautiful story. It is definitely amazing to see that the ones who may need it the most are the first to give it up. Very educational.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *