Having Indie and Bennett certified as Therapy Dogs has been something I've wanted to do since they were pups. But life kept getting in the way and other things had to be higher on my priority list (or so I thought). Last summer a dear friend of mine reached out to me to help her stay on track in training her Cocker Spaniel and getting ready for their CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test. That was her first step on the way to her own goal of having a therapy dog. I am so happy she did! Making the commitment to spend one early morning a week together, seeing where progress had been made and where training could be strengthened, was just what I needed to get out of the house during a time when the heat of the summer had me physically drained. It wasn't much of a stretch to start bringing my own "kids" along and getting them ready for the test as well. Bennett studied his books and Indie practiced the "Appearance and Grooming" part of the test whenever they could.
Their friend Flirt took the testing procedures a little more seriously.
Testing day came and all three graduated! As you might be able to tell from this photo, from left to right: Indie is the class clown, Bennett tried hard to smile for mom and Flirt gave her best Commencement Pose. I love these dogs!
The next step was a little training in the things our chosen organization (Love On A Leash) wants their therapy dogs to know: how to crawl (so when they are on the bed with a patient they don't tromp on sensitive skin, or step on a tube or IV line and pull anything out), how to stay calm when someone falls in front of them, getting them familiar with wheelchairs and walkers, how to "pose" to present the best part of them for petting (for our smaller dogs, that means turning their back to a client for easy petting, so their faces and ears are safe from grasping hands), how to "paws up!" to say HI to someone in a bed - and so much more. After passing their controlled evaluation (all three with flying colors!) they were well on their way. One more step to go! Each dog/owner team had to complete 10 hours of "supervised" visits. That means going on the therapy visits with a Love On A Leash Visit Captain. Flirt and her mom flew through their hours. At first I was going to alternate each dog and try to finish them about the same time but I learned of some great volunteer opportunities (and needs) in the organization that requires a team to be completely certified. So after talking to my Chapter Leader I decided that Indie and I would complete our training hours first, then it would be Bennett's turn to get some hours under his belt. Last week Indie finished her supervised hours and passed her final evaluation! We are very excited by all that means to us.
During the supervised visits the dog/owner teams are encouraged to try many different types of therapy environments. Indie and Flirt were naturals at a Health Fair, since they are used to being at events and "on display" to the public. Doesn't Flirt have a great smile?
Bennett really enjoys the quiet time at the library with his little friends. (please forgive the photo quality ... cell phone shot!)
This week another friend of mine underwent hip replacement surgery and I was so happy to find that the facility she is in for her physical therapy recovery is just up the street from me. I've been popping in on a regular basis to bring her news of the outside world. I found out from the front desk what would be needed for me to bring in one of my dogs (not as a Love On A Leash representative yet, just as a friend bringing a dog to visit another friend). The Activities Person was so happy that I was doing this - we are set up to talk about regular LOAL visits as soon as Indie's official paperwork arrives and I clear it with my Chapter Leader. My friend has Springer Spaniels at home and she has a soft spot for my Cocker kids, too.
Yesterday was a hard day for me. I just received very disappointing news that meant I wouldn't be able to attend the National Cocker Spaniel Specialty show in Reno later this month. I was crushed - this was something that I had been looking forward to for a few months, and was a chance to see some wonderful friends from other states/other parts of CA that I can't see regularly. I decided that sitting at home crying (yes, I was that disappointed!) was pretty useless and I believe that when someone is down, the best thing to get past that feeling is to get "out of self" and help someone else. So, Bennett had a good brush-out and trim (thanks to his fab groomer who did this on her day off!) and off we went to the PT facility to visit Vicki.
We stopped at the front desk to drop off shot records and a photo and were given a very warm welcome. Walking down the entry hall we were stopped by everyone for a pet and a talk. I mean everyone - staff and patients alike! This is going to be a wonderful addition to the LOAL rotation, when it is all set up! No one smiled bigger than Vicki as we entered the room - some canine snuggles was just what she needed that night! (again - cell phone photo!)
As I left to go home that night after our visit, I felt better. Still disappointed, but better. My dashed expectations for a small vacation were nothing compared to what other people are going through. I can still celebrate with my friends through their own photos and facebook posts. And I had to wonder - who benefits from these therapy dog visits? Not just the patients and the staff, but the human part of the therapy teams as well. Going to visit Vicki lifted my own spirits and put things in perspective. Today, as I look at the photo of Bennett snuggled up on Vicki's lap, I noticed the big smile on his own face and realized that this is great for him as well.
Who really benefits from a dog therapy visit? EVERYONE!
(PS: I arrived home after the visit to find out that yet another wonderful person in my life has reached out to me and I will be able to attend the Cocker Spaniel National show after all! I am grateful for the good KARMA in my life!)