Sugar, a rescue dog, makes life sweeter for Oakwood Common resident

Photo courtesy of Oakwood Common
Rescue dog Sugar feels right at home with adopted owner Beth Rager, a resident of Oakwood Common in Dearborn.

DEARBORN – When Beth Rager, 70, decided to move back to her home state of Michigan last summer after 40 years of living and working in Virginia, she had one main requirement. In addition to being closer to her daughter, granddaughter and brothers who live in the Detroit area, she would have to be able to have a dog wherever she moved.

“My condo in Arlington had very strict rules, and dogs weren’t allowed,” Rager said.

Wanting to maintain her independence, Rager started researching continuing care retirement communities.

“It had to be a place that allowed dogs and also offered me a lifetime guarantee of a place to live,” she said.

Along with searching online, Rager visited different senior living communities during family visits to Michigan.

“When I first visited Oakwood Common in Dearborn, I loved the wetlands and grounds and noticed there are great places to walk a dog,” Rager said. “It’s also a smaller community so I felt it would be easier to get to know people.”

It was a two-day trial stay last year at Oakwood Common that finally helped her make a decision.

“As I was coming in the entrance, a woman who was walking her dog greeted me and asked me to join her for lunch when she learned I was a visitor,” Rager said. “Her invitation and seeing how staff knew everyone by name convinced me I was in the right place.”

Rager’s move also prompted Oakwood Common to make an exception for residents with pets.

“Normally, people move in with dogs they’ve had awhile and know their pet’s behavior,” said Donna Brandt, Oakwood Common’s sales manager. “Because of Beth’s situation, she couldn’t get a dog until after she moved in. We were a little unsure how that might work, so we agreed to a trial.”

A determined Rager was confident she could make it work.

During a visit to the Dearborn Animal Shelter, operated by the Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit, Rager found a shih-tzu mix that needed a home.

She named him Sugar and took him to her apartment at Oakwood Common. What she didn’t know is that Sugar, estimated to be a year old, had separation anxiety. This meant that Sugar would bark anytime she left him alone — not a good thing with neighbors close by.

Although Rager never previously owned a dog of her own, she had walked and trained other dogs after her retirement a few years ago. Researching the Internet and using her own instincts about dogs, she came up with a plan.

She decided to stay in her apartment, not joining other residents for dinner or activities, until Sugar no longer had separation anxiety.

“At first, I’d only leave him for a minute or so at a time, then return to reassure him,” Rager said. “I could go back to Oakwood Common’s Bistro after 10 days, and after three weeks, I could leave him alone for an hour and a half. Once you get to that point, the dog is basically cured and you can leave him for four hours with no problem.”

Now Rager is comfortable going to her church choir practices in Southfield and participating in other community activities. She has also made friends with other dog owners on campus, and they occasionally take care of each other’s pets when needed.

As an added bonus, Oakwood Common residents and staff have learned that not only does Sugar make life sweeter for her owner, Rager is making life sweeter for them, too.

Rager enjoys playing guitar, writing funny songs, and entertaining others. Two of her original pieces are titled “The Lottery Song” and “Things I Don’t Understand.”

“I plan to include a funny stanza about Oakwood Common in one of my songs,” said Rager, whose friends and neighbors also expect a funny song about Sugar, too.