First he “notifies” me when it is time to leave for the hospital. We have been going to the behavioral health unit at a local hospital for over 3 years. It is his FAVORITE place in the world. We show up at 3:30pm on Fridays regardless of a holiday. At about 3pm Myles becomes increasinly anxious and will park himself in front of me. Being the butler as we call him (because he is so polite) he simply stares at me and waits for me to notice and then looks at the door. This is my cue to put the laptop down and get his therapy dog vest on him.
He instantly turns into “Myles at work”. He is very focused. Typically he stretches out in the car but not on Fridays and not when it is time to “work”. He sits straight up and monitors the road on the way to the hospital parking lot.
When we get close he starts whimpering and whining. The moment I open the door he gingerly (he is the butler) steps down and out of the car and parks his rear next to the trunk. He then stares at me until I look at him and then he looks at the trunk. This is my signal to open the trunk and pull out his backpack which is filled with treats, a water dish, tennis balls, and poopy bags.
Once the backpack is on my back he stands up and waits for me to grab his leash while looking at me as if to say “You know I do not require this leash correct?”
We then make our way inside the hospital passing several people that always looked shocked that a dog is marching into a hospital. Myles believes his nose is responsible for opening the automatic doors and the elevator doors. If he points straight ahead his nose causes those doors to open magically.
First stop is the reception desk where he jumps up while the friendliest person on the planet opens the glass window and scratches him on the head. After a pat, Myles stairs at the locked door which makes a buzzer go off, a red light on the door panel turn green, and the door magically open.
Second stop is to say hello and sniff whoever might be on the phone. This is always a surprise and he has had many, many people screech into the poor and unsuspecting person they are talking to on the phone because they can’t believe a dog is in the hospital.
We then march into the group room to more screeching and “Myles is here!” Chairs are moved into a big circle while I park myself on the floor.
We start with treats. You would think this is Myles favorite part but I only do it first so he will allow himself to be pet. The MOMENT the ball comes out of the backpack he is all about the ball. Each person gives Myles a few treats while he sits, stays, rolls over (always a production), does a high five, lays down, barks, and sometimes give kisses.
Then it is BALL TIME. Myles likes to dig his head into the backpack and fetch the ball which delights every person in the room. He then makes his rounds to everyone making sure the slobbery tennis ball is handled by all people because it is a proven fact that dog slobber has curative powers.
Let’s stop there for today. Needless to say or write – before we enter the room people are sad, depressed, and full of anxiety. By the time we leave everyone is happy, smiling, and laughing. Ending my long work weeks on this note is just as good for me. I know Myles loves it more than anything.
More next week……
I will keep everyone updated on how it goes. We have someone coming with us that is going to make a movie short out of our visit and post it on their YouTube channel. I’ll try to be quiet while they are filming but I am so excited I can hardly keep from howling.
Just yesterday I got to go back to the hospital and visit all of the patients. I hadn’t been able to go for a few weeks. Kristin took my Very Important Dog vest off so I could get some great back scratches from everyone.
We used to have all the patients sit in a circle in chairs but now everyone sits on the floor with me. I like this much better. Some of the therapists were asking Kristin why she doesn’t sit on chairs anymore. She said, “When I first started coming I used to have all these posters and do a little speech. I stopped doing that and we all sat in chairs. Then I realized it is way more important to get on the floor. No one needs to hear a speech from me. They care about connecting with Myles. If we sit on the floor this brings even the most reticent patient out of their shell and into a very playful and loving place. It is much easier to connect with them this way.”
I thought that was pretty cool. Besides it is so much easier to drop the ball in their laps now and sling dog slobber right in their face when I jump up to catch things!
Will post more next week! Maybe I can see the new white house dogs and check them out.
Therapy Dog Continue Reading
There is nothing like writing about something you did and then eating those words a week or so later. I just blogged about how important it is for therapy dog handlers to watch their dog at all times.
Myles got hurt. It is my job to protect him. I failed. My feet are clean and, yes, they taste terrific.
He is fine. Just a sprain. I got too comfortable around some patients and looked away for a second.
There was a loud yelp and then there was limping and then there was “the calm”.
I can’t freak out because that can escalate a situation in a place where everyone on duty must diligently defuse outbursts. I also can’t freak out because I don’t want Myles to associate pain and hysteria with a place that really needs him. Even in pain he is watching my every move and taking my emotional temperature.
Childhood nightmare experiences that taught me so well how to swallow every emotion in giant gulps actually helped me swallow my outrage, fear, and guilt so “the calm” could wash over me.
You actually can take survival skills that aided you when you were young and then crippled you as an adult and put them to good use. Lots of therapy helps anyone take those skills and turn them into gifts rather than weapons of self-destruction.
I called a friend after the visit to have a moment of hysteria in my car while Myles flipped on his back and slipped into a fabulous dog dream. The same foot that was hurt was punching the air while he dreamed about catching a ball. He forgot the whole thing already.
Let me repeat. Myles is fine. No visits for a week or so. Patients rushed in to help me pet him and take all possible negative association away from the place he was hurt. It turned out to be a beautiful experience for everyone.
And, with all humility, I will pay more attention next time. And, with all humility, Myles will keep on doing what he does.
Training begins with the pet owner deciding they have a dog perfect for the job and that they too are willing to dive into the world of being a therapy dog’s handler, which is no small task. This is such a committed job for the handler as well and therefore, there has to be true certainty and desire. There are even organizations who train the handler as well as the therapy dog. http://www.therapydogcertification.com/category/training/
When a dog is trained as a therapy dog there are five essential requirements they must learn as they will visit places like nursing homes, hospitals, schools for children with learning disabilities, and other health-related institutions and must be prepared. The specifics are as follows:
- Dog must be 1 year of age and have been with handler for at least 1 year.
- Breed matters, there are specific breeds that are known to be the better therapy dogs due to their amazing personality attributes, however most breeds can be trained to be therapy dogs.
- Dog must be healthy and have up to date vaccinations. Remember therapy dogs are meant to help healthcare practitioners bring quicker healing process to the sick.
- Enrolling your dog in a training program costs money, whether a non profit organization or not, they will still depend on donations.
- A series of tests will be conducted by the training organization. The dog must pass all to be certified as a therapy dog. Some organizations even work together to provide a sequence of tests to ensure the dogs’ ability to handle many different situations and to see how the dog behaves. http://www.therapydogcertification.com/5-essential-therapy-dog-requirements/
Written By: Nicole Blazer Continue Reading
Cameron is an amazing child who has been dealing with this horrible disease that takes over your life and the lives of your family from the moment you are diagnosed. For Cameron that was when he was diagnosed with a malignent ependymoma brain tumor at the age of two and he has gone through so much. He had to have brain surgery to remove the tumor, followed by 33 rounds of radiation. The following year the tumor returned and he had to have another surgery and 25 rounds of radiation. March 1st of this year the tumor once again returned, but much more aggressive. Cameron is currently about to start a trial chemotherapy at St. Jude’s because he can no longer receive any more radiation. That is the summarized version of little Cameron’s life. He has had countless surgeries, rehabilitation, constant therapies, and in his Mom’s words “his little life has been surrounded by others caring for him, including animals.”
I went to school with Cameron’s Mother for 5 years and she was one of my closest friends long after high school. Cameron’s story has broken my heart and touched my soul and I am so very honored to have been able to share some of it with all of you. He is a trooper! What an amazing, strong little boy, with so much love surrounding him, including the horses. Thank God for therapeutic animals.
Written By: Nicole Blazer Continue Reading