My lifelong friend Mary Steiner is physically disabled; she lives as a “shut-in.” Essentially, she lives life in a large La-Z-Boy chair. Mary is morbidly obese and cannot walk.
Her trouble started after she lost her job as the food service director at a nursing home. Mary loved that job. Losing it sent her into a major depression, and she became completely inactive. She began to put on more and more weight, and ultimately got to the point where she is today. She’s been housebound since 2008.
Her husband, Garry, takes care of Mary day and night. Garry is a retired truck driver. Even though they have hard lives, they are two of the funniest people I’ve met. Mary’s sense of humor keeps her alive, and, sometimes, when I’m depressed I call her to be cheered up. Actually, we cheer each other up. We’ve been friends since we were babies. Our mothers were best friends from childhood.
Mary’s life would be even harder if it weren’t for her three dogs. They are like Mary and Garry’s kids. First there’s Kenzie, or Momma; she’s a mixture of Labrador and Chow. “This one is the queen of the house,” Mary states. Garry adds, “Kenzie won’t eat unless she’s hand-fed.” Mary and Garry got this dog eight years ago at a dog adoption event called Pets in the Park, in Akron, Ohio. Kenzie was only 8 weeks old.
Then, there’s 6-year-old Mogley; he’s a Labrador Retriever. Garry states, “I wanted to name him after Mowgli from Jungle Book, but I had no idea how to spell it, so he became Mogley.” Garry recounts the story of how he was found. “It was minus 4 degrees outside. I saw this dog in the middle of the street looking up at cars. It was like he’d just been dropped off. The dog came close to being hit several times. I stopped and opened my passenger door. This guy climbed up and lay down on my lap and wouldn’t get off. I circled the area for an hour to see if anyone was looking for him. Then, I took him home and walked him into the house. Kenzie didn’t want anything to do with him. Mogley ate two bowls of Bil-Jac. He was very dirty, so I gave him a hot shower.” And the rest is history.
Finally, Buddy, the purebred German Shepherd, completes the pack. Four-year-old Buddy wandered around Mary and Garry’s neighborhood for three or four months. People tried to catch him with food. “One day, I sat and pitched Milk-Bones at him,” Garry states, but he didn’t have any luck luring the dog. Sooner or later, the stray befriended Mogley on one of their walks. Then, the stray followed Garry and Mogely all around the block and into the garage. The shy dog followed them into the house and never left.
All sweet dogs, these guys are Mary’s best friends, her kids, and — often — her lifeline. As mentioned, Mary’s husband of 17 years cares for her. For instance, if Mary needs help and Garry is out in the garage, he can’t hear her yelling his name. So Mary calls him even louder, and the dogs join in, howling so that Garry knows that Mary is in need. Works every time. Garry comes in and assists Mary.
Mary says the dogs are also her protection. Completely immobile, she can’t defend herself if someone breaks into the house. The dogs’ barking scares any predators away. “When those three get going, I don’t think anyone would try to enter our home.” Mary states, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t even come on the porch. I lucked out there.”
Garry told me that he trained the dogs to attack those who might try to harm Mary. “I pretended I was slapping her. The dogs didn’t like that. They got the idea that I wanted them to guard Mary day and night.” Garry feels dogs are much better than home alarm systems. When asked why, he states, “Dogs go off if they see a stranger out in the yard. With alarms, the predator has to be breaking into the house for the alarm to sound.”
The dogs are also entertainment. They play a unique game called “tukaroopalooza.” Mary and Garry made this game up. They give their dogs the cardboard cylinders from paper towel rolls (tukaroos), and the dogs are allowed to dash around the house and chew up the cardboard rolls. Mary says this keeps the dogs from chewing other things that matter, like furniture and shoes.
Mary says, “My whole world revolves around my dogs.” Dogs can do wonderful things for shut-ins like Mary Steiner.
I’m praying for the day when Mary can leave the house and jump in a car and go shopping with me. Or go to lunch. Or take the dogs to a park and play Frisbee with them. Before Mary became housebound, she loved to go camping with a large circle of friends. Mary’s circle of friends is praying for her. We’re all praying for Mary, our beloved Mary. She is the strongest person I know.
Until Mary can leave the house again, Kenzie, Mogley and Buddy will keep Mary’s spirits up. Thank God for dogs.
Do you know of dogs who make their people’s lives better? Share their stories (and photos) in the comments!
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About the author: Laura Yeager is a freelance writer who lives in Stow, Ohio with her husband and George the Beagle.