Maisy the chihuahua is a regular and treasured visitor at the Rhoda Goldman Plaza
Maisy the chihuahua is a regular and treasured visitor at the Rhoda Goldman Plaza

This therapy dog loves to visit her friends at the senior home!

She may be the tiniest visitor ever to set foot in Rhoda Goldman Plaza, but whenever Maisy arrives, she quickly draws a crowd.

Maisy is a 3½-pound, 4-year-old Chihuahua. Her guardian, Susan Dosseter, brings the tiny, pointy-eared pup to the San Francisco senior residence twice a month, just to visit.

Before they even settle on a couch in the library, people are waiting.

One of them is Shirley Drexler. “When there’s a dog around, I come,” says Drexler, who gives her age as “99 and three-quarters.” She is one of Maisy’s most ardent admirers.

Another is Jackie Kirschner, whose shtick with Maisy includes getting a “kiss” on the face. “I miss my dogs. I had twin poodles,” Kirschner says. She moved to the Post Street facility, where pets are not allowed, about a year ago.

Adele Blink drops by as well. “I had five dogs; I feel kind of lost without them,” she says.

Maisy and Dosseter are graduates of the local SPCA’s animal-assisted therapy program. In their class of six canine candidates, only three passed muster.

close up of a white chihuahua on a lap
Maisy the chihuahua hangs out on the lap her friend Jackie Kirschner at the Rhoda Goldman Plaza

The dogs had to master several feats, including the “leave-it” test. “They put a big piece of sausage right in front of the nose. You have to be able to say ‘leave it’ and the dog won’t touch it,” Dosseter says. (Such willpower comes in especially handy, she notes, when she brings dogs for visits with pediatric patients at California Pacific Medical Center, where hospital trays with food or pills are likely to be within reach.)

Therapy dogs must also ace the “startle test,” proving they aren’t rattled by walkers, wheelchairs, canes or other such aids that seniors may use.

“I was very proud of her,” Dosseter says about Maisy, “but I had no doubt. I feel that she’s a very special little dog.”

As Maisy is passed from one lap to another, cuddled and cradled, she is downright unflappable. Even when wrapped in a flowered baby blanket and held tightly in a visitor’s arms, she is content as a sleeping baby.

“They love it when I wrap her up like that,” Dosseter says. “It takes them to another place.”

SPCA dog visits have long occurred at the assisted-living and memory care facility, which is associated with S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Dosseter and Maisy are among a few regular visitors in the program.

Dosseter says she knew right away that it was a good fit when she introduced Maisy to an elderly gentleman and he burst into song — a song about “Maisy.” Then a few others joined in, and “they all began singing,” Dosseter says. “I knew this would be a good thing.”

“I’ve always had dogs in my life,” she adds. “They are always consistent: They lend a certain calm to your life, and joy, and warmth.”

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.