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A Tale of Two Public Guardianship Clients: Tom and Carol – and a Dog

March 16, 2016 - A dog named Rocco and two Legal Aid Public Guardianship Program staffers.

Together, they made a huge difference in the lives of a 78-year-old man Tom with dementia and a 62-year-old woman Carol who was developmentally disabled.

The story starts with Tom, who had been the subject of both physical and mental exploitation that resulted in him falling on hard times. His only stability – and friendship – was his constant companion, Rocco, a 10-year-old mixed breed rescue dog. 

A client of Legal Aid’s Public Guardianship Program, Tom was forced to move to an assisted living facility (ALF) after his health declined. At the time of his arrival, Rocco was allowed to stay with him in a private room. 

But several weeks later, the staff began complaining that the dog was defecating and urinating in the room, as well as barking throughout the day. Tom was no longer able to care properly for Rocco due to his physical limitations and increasing progression of dementia. 

As a result, he became depressed and uninvolved with other ALF residents -- prompting the administration to consider moving Tom to a secured unit reserved for Alzheimer and dementia patients.  The move would have placed Tom in a more restrictive environment and Rocco would not have been permitted. When informed of the move, Tom said he “would die without Rocco and there would no longer be any reason to live.”

That’s when the Guardianship Project Attorney, Rena Taylor, and social worker, Kathy Morakis, stepped in.

After meeting with the facility’s administration, they requested time to develop a plan that would allow the dog to stay with Tom. The ALF staff was sensitive to Tom’s need to have his loyal companion but was unable to identify a solution. 

The solution: ask Carol to help out.

Carol, who again was developmentally disabled, was also a client of Public Guardianship Program after suffering financial and physical abuse for many years. She lived independently and was within walking distance to the assisted living facility where Tom resided. Carol was having difficulty finding a job and had gone on several interviews, only to be constantly rejected, despite having an excellent work ethic and maintaining employment for many years.

She was active, alert, and full of energy. Carol had become involved with Goodwill Industries in order to assist her in finding a job. Goodwill Industries is a nonprofit that provides opportunities for youth, seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities, criminal backgrounds and others with specialized needs to reach their full potential through education, skills training and the power of work.

Carol’s Goodwill representative had been unsuccessful in trying to find employment and this left her feeling very discouraged. 

Attorney Rena and social worker Kathy collectively came up with a creative solution for both clients: Carol agreed to help out with Tom’s dog by walking Rocco twice a day and assisting with light housekeeping for a small stipend.

Rocco was doing well and Tom had become more involved with other residents and demonstrated increased engagement in resident activities. Carol was happy to be useful again and appreciated being able to earn extra money. She not only felt more self confident, but empowered, and important with a purpose.

The relationship between Tom and Carol evolved into a real friendship that was mutually supportive.

Today, Tom has since passed away due to a decline in his health. Tom’s only concern was that Rocco be cared for in the event of his death. Tom had an agreement with the social worker, Kathy, which stated, if Tom was no longer able to care for Rocco, then Kathy would become responsible for his care. 

When Tom passed, Kathy fulfilled that promise.

(Tom and Carol’s names were changed to protect their privacy. Their story is based on real life accounts in Legal Aid’s Guardianship Program.)

Help the Legal Aid support more clients like Tom and Carol through our Guardianship Program. Please consider donating here.