ST. PAUL, Minn. – No one can say with certainty if dogs go to heaven. But the residents of Lyngblomsten care center feel confident that heaven sent a dog to them.
"She's an angel," 90-year-old Ruth New says, as a teacup poodle named Nala climbs up on her bed and nuzzles in beside her.
"I love her and she loves me," says New softly.
Nala has formal training in neither pet therapy nor elevator operations, but somehow has mastered both as she makes her rounds from room to room in the four-story nursing home.
"There's something about her," says Nala's owner Doug Dawson, a trained medications assistant at Lyngblomsten.
Dawson brings Nala to work each morning and puts her on the elevator. Then he goes his way and she goes hers.
"She'd rather ride it alone than with people, because she knows where she's going," Dawson smiles. "If she could, she would push the button herself."
Lyngblomsten's elevator riding dog sets her own agenda, visiting residents who return her kindness by holding her in their laps and gently praising her.
"Grandma loves her little girl," Carmen Flaherty tells Nala as the poodle tucks in with her in bed. "I just love her," she says. "She knows where to come."
Ironically, Nala washed out doing therapy work at another nursing home where Dawson used to work.
"They said, 'You can have her,'" Dawson says.
He blames Nala's previous failure on youth and too much time spent in a kennel, that left her "whiny and neurotic."
Now 5 and kennel-free, Nala has more than redeemed herself at Lyngblomsten.
"If you put her down she'll pick out the person with Alzheimer's," says Dawson. She has a way of picking the sick."
Nala also seems to sense when people are at life's end.
Several people mentioned Izez Gugisberg's recent passing and the way Nala remained by her side.
"She had died earlier in the morning, but Nala knew and went and sat with her," said Sandy Glomski, a Lyngblomsten staffer. "It was wonderful and we were all in tears."
Dawson says he's constantly amazed, by both Nala's compassion and her ability to navigate the nursing home's floors on her own.
"Where did this little being come from," he asks rhetorically. "She's here for a purpose. She really is doing God's work."