There are Teddy and Bella, who are. . . . Well, what are they, anyway?
“They’re mini goldendoodles,” says Shay Wilkinson, their owner, who brings the dogs every Tuesday afternoon to N Street Village, a nonprofit on 14th Street NW that helps women who have experienced homelessness.
Mini goldendoodles? Sounds like a breakfast cereal.
Well, in their own way, the dogs do provide sustenance. They provide that spiritual uplift that comes from being with a creature that doesn’t judge you, doesn’t look down at you, doesn’t dismiss you.
N Street Village offers an array of services for homeless women, from health care to housing. At its Bethany Women’s Day Center, at 14th and N NW, women can come in from the streets, get a meal, take a shower, wash their clothes. There is also a schedule of daily activities, from meditation to flower arranging.
And there’s Dog Time.
“Some people want to be near the dogs. And some just want to be in the room with them,” says Lucy Berman, Wellness Center program associate.
At Dog Time, chairs are arranged in a big circle in a room on the second floor. Women come in. Dogs come in.
“Bella! Bella!” they shout as the butterscotch pooch pingpongs around the room.
Bella is a puppy — 14 weeks old — and her red “Therapy Dog” vest is a little too big. She periodically drops to the floor to gnaw at it, pinwheeling around on the polished floor like a canine break dancer.
The 5-year-old Teddy is more content to sit and be petted, though he occasionally stands up and walks around the room to visit the women. Sometimes Bella drafts behind him, remora-like at his side. Sometimes she shoots off, circumnavigating the circle of chairs.
“I can just keep this one,” India Frazier jokes as she scritches Bella’s ears.
“She has the same energy I do,” says Deidre Turkvan.
“She doesn’t hesitate,” says India.
“Cause she’s a baby,” says Deidre.
Both women are N Street Village clients.
A woman holds up a chew toy — a rubber beer bottle — and Bella stands on her hind legs to get it, walking with the aplomb of a runway model.
“Bella!” everyone shouts, applauding.
While Bella’s manic toddler energy is delightful, many of the women are drawn to 130-pound Tank and Cornelia, a.k.a. Connie, who weighs “only” 100 pounds.
“They’re huge. And you think they’re scary. They’re not,” one woman says as she strokes Connie, who is spread placidly on the floor, taking it all in.
“That’s why they qualify to be therapy dogs,” says owner Sid Stolz. “This is a perfect example of what Connie does best, with whoever she thinks needs this.”
Sid and his partner, David Hatfield, live up 14th Street and bring the dogs almost every week. They swear Tank knows when it gets to be around 12:30 on Tuesdays and time to go to N Street Village. Tank looks forward to Dog Time, too.
Sid calls up photos of Cornelia as a puppy on his phone.
“Awwww,” say the women as they look at the little pile of black, brown and white fur, the tiny acorn from which this mighty dog grew.
After an hour, leashes are snapped onto collars and final neck scritches are applied. Dog Time is over.
Says Deidre: “They can sense when you’re not feeling good.”
Says India: “When you’re having a rough day, just playing with the dogs picks you up.”
In dog we trust.
Lend a Helping Paw
The people at N Street Village understand that feeding the soul is as important as feeding the body. That’s why it offers things like Dog Time. It does a lot more, too. And it’s a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual charity campaign.
You can support N Street Village by visiting posthelpinghand.com and clicking where it says “Donate.” To give by mail, make a check payable to N Street Village and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.