Pascalle Bippert | June 11, 2014
Your mission: End loneliness one visit at a time.
One diminutive pup has accepted this mission, with The Dixie Belle Project, based in Rockwall, Texas.
Dixie Belle is a teacup Chihuahua whose fourth birthday will be June 16. Her mere four pounds belie the power packed in this tiny therapy dog, who visits nursing homes around the country.
Back in 2009, Phyllis Ludwig’s brother in Kentucky suffered a brain injury. During his recovery, she noticed that one lady who visited a relative at the nursing facility was accompanied by a dog, and Phyllis saw how the residents flocked to the front door to see the dog. She thought this would be a good way to bring some happiness to nursing home residents.
Phyllis started reading dog-whisperer Cesar Millan’s website to learn more about dogs. Having been bitten by a dog as a child, she needed to overcome the fear it had instilled.
During a visit to Grenada, Miss., Phyllis bought a Chihuahua puppy at a jubilee. Then she went to Bardwell, Ky., for a visit; while there, she visited a nursing home, taking her new puppy with her. The reaction was immediate.
The puppy simply loved the nursing home residents, and they loved her in return.
“She was born to do this!” Phyllis said.
She named the puppy “Dixie” after one of the residents of the nursing home, and “Belle” because she came from the South. Phyllis started taking pictures of residents with Dixie. A nurse suggested she establish a Facebook page for Dixie Belle and soon her photos were seen all over the United States and the world. Dixie Belle now has more than 3,000 Facebook “friends.” It’s not a “pet page,” but a project site, with Phyllis listed as a volunteer, in line with Facebook policy.
As people noticed the difference the pup made in residents’ lives, they began donating socks, snacks, clothes, and other items to meet the needs of the nursing home residents. People also send homemade greeting cards that she passes out to nursing home folks.
Phyllis founded The Dixie Belle Project as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization through which she shares the items donated.
People also asked if they could send clothes for the diminutive pup.
Dixie Belle never goes out without her clothes on. Fashion designers have invited her to New York’s fashion week; she was even given a designer gown to wear on the runway. Yes, a gown!
Dixie Belle has clothes from people all over the country and around the world, including a designer wedding gown from Germany, and clothes from Italy, Spain, and Austria. While visiting at Country Care Manor in La Vernia May 31, resident Peggy Thompson gave her a little summer frock that used to belong to her own dog. Dixie Belle proudly modeled it for Peggy, who was pleased as punch that Dixie wore her dress.
Dixie also visited with Valetta and Byron Wise, Vera Hutson, Doris Jackson, and others. The reaction to Dixie Belle is immediate. She brought smiles to everyone’s faces, including the nurses.
Peggy and Doris enjoyed a little balancing trick Dixie performed.
“We hope she comes back for a visit real soon!” Doris said.
Vera said Dixie reminded her of a Chihuahua she had for 16 years; she laughed as Dixie rooted through her blanket.
Phyllis would like everyone to know that residents in nursing homes need love. She hopes to raise enough funds to help them reach out to more elderly folks and “to encourage others to follow in our footsteps.”
For more about how you can help, visit The Dixie Belle Project on Facebook or call your local nursing home to see how you can volunteer to brighten someone’s day.
Phyllis Ludwig welcomes donations of all kinds — suitable for giving to nursing home residents. Send them to The Dixie Belle Project, 2931 Ridge Road No. 101, Box 126, Rockwall, TX 75032.
Monetary donations also can be made through Paypal: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correspondent Pascalle Bippert often performs musical presentations for area nursing home residents and is aware of the need for contact from caring people.
“Sometimes nursing home residents don’t have family who can visit them,” she said. Some have a lonely life. They need love and they need someone to love.”
She encourages everyone to share their time with nursing home residents.
“Take them stuffed animals to hug and love, socks to keep their feet warm, lotion to relieve dry skin, lip balm for chapped lips, books to read. Visit them, love them, sing for them, read to them.
“Don’t forget them,” she added.
Tags: Country Care Manor • La Vernia • Long-term Care • Nursing Home • Rehabilitation • Texas