By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The youngest resident at the Mississippi State Veterans Home in Oxford came to live there just after it opened in 1996.
Stryker, a golden retriever, works as ambassador, counselor and best friend to his fellow residents.
“He was trained to be a therapy dog,” said Shirley Glasgow, an Activities Department employee. His job, she said, consists largely of being a momentary comforting presence.
“He’ll go up to somebody and let them pet him,” she said. “He’ll stand there a couple of minutes and then move on to somebody else.”
Stryker is still amazingly spry, but like a lot of his fellow residents, he used to be even more active.
“If a resident was going out the door who wasn’t supposed to, you could say, ‘Stryker, go!’ and he’d go stop them, go where they were and stand there until somebody brought the person back in,” Glasgow said.
Stryker, whose mother and brother were given by the same breeder to the homes in Jackson and Collins, almost didn’t survive his first year.
“When he first came here they had him a dog pen outside, and lightning struck,” said Judy Lott, a familiar face at the Oxford facility’s front desk since its opening. That terrifying incident apparently lingers in Stryker’s mind, because he now gets a dose of antihistamine to make him sleep through any bad weather.
“When it’s storming, before the Benadryl gets to working, he’ll get up under the desk and put his head on my leg,” said Rozalyn Jones, who shares the front desk duties.
Glasgow, who’ll retire at the end of this month, is one of several Veterans Home staff members who’ve taken Stryker home occasionally. One staffer with young sons used to take him home every night.
“He protected her boys one time from a rottweiller,” Lott said. “The dog messed him up, but he wasn’t going to let that dog hurt those kids. He’s very protective.”
He’s also trained to stay out of the dining hall, to be very gentle with residents and not to bark inside. He’s learned on his own how to avoid medication slipped into cheesy treats.
“The first bite he’ll drop on the floor, but then he’ll eat the rest,” Glasgow said. “He’s too smart for his own good.”
As intelligent and well-trained as he is, though, Stryker still entertains his inner canine occasionally, as when he killed a rabbit last year.
“He had that thing hanging out of his mouth, and he was just a-struttin’ his stuff,” Lott said. “He was so proud, like ‘Look what I did.'”
Usually, though, Stryker is devoted to visiting his fellow residents.
“When we’re making the rounds and I’m doing something helping a resident, if I take too long, next thing you know he’s going out the door,” Glasgow said. “He’ll go on to someone else.”
Clarence Harrison of Houlka, however, found a way to make a special friend of the old dog.
“He likes Vienna sausage,” Harrison said.
Walter Hugh Burchfield of Kilmichael noted that Stryker loves attention, from just being petted to hamming it up for a camera.
“He’s spoiled rotten,” Burchfield said. “But he’s a good rotten.”