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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rooms with a View: Revisited

Long time readers know that we actually have two dogs working as therapy animals. The vast majority of articles here on the blog our based on experiences I have had with Gopher. My wife's dog is Squirrel and together we go to visit hospitals, splitting the floors and covering the entirety of their Animal Assisted Activities approved floors.

Carla and myself are also fans of the old sitcom "Frasier" and no we will not apologize for our taste in television. One of our favorite episodes is from the shows 10th season titled "Rooms with a View". In the episode we see our fictional characters sharing their various visits to the same hospital over the years while they wait for news on Nile's surgical procedure. It is a great episode and you should check it out.

Many people approach the hospital with trepidation and fear, we go in with smiles looking forward to another great set of experiences while working with our boys. Unlike "Frasier" our stories are not works of fiction, but all true. We go from room to room to find a vast array of patients going through a just as wide range of emotions, we never know what we will find when we knock on a door.

Don't judge a book

Gopher and I knock on the door and are greeted by a rather gruff, deep voice. "What" he yelled out, "Excuse me sir, would you like a visit with Gopher the therapy dog?" "Dog?" he responded. "Yes sir, we are here for a visit with you if you would like.". "Bring him in".

We enter the room to see a very large, muscular man sitting in the chair by his bed. He is covered in tattoos, his head is shave and he has a large handlebar mustache.

"Good evening, sir..." I get cut off and before I know it this large man has scooped Gopher up with one arm. At first Gopher gives me a look, then settles in burying his head on the mans chest while he begins to sob.

Nothing else is said for several moments and Gopher gets in deep. The man continues to sob, but the starts to speak to Gopher while stroking him and clutching him to his chest. "Tomorrow they are going to fix my heart, boy, but I think you beat them to it. "

Across the language divide

Squirrel and I walked into a room where 3/4 couldn't speak English.The granddaughter in the room translated for the older couple but it was not needed.  

The looks on their faces transcended language.
The grandmother scooped Squirrel up off his front paws by the chest and hugged him and tried to put him in her lap.  I went in to distract, and make sure Squirrel was uncomfortable but my dog just looked at me and so "don't worry about this I got it" and proceeded to be hug and petted repeatedly by this very lovely women.  He ate it up! The family did as well.

Just lie with me a minute    

Gopher and I went into the room and were greeted by the beaming smile of a middle aged woman. 

"Would you like to visit with Gopher for a bit?"

"Yes, please"

We went further in the room and she began to pet Gopher, and we visited for a few moments.

"Could he lay with me for a bit?"

"Yes, just let me grab a sheet."

I lay down the barrier and Gopher climbs gently up on the bed and slides down along her body to ensure no space is left unfilled between the two of them.

She lowers her head to his and kisses him and says to Gopher. "Thank you, I am just so lonely, I don't understand as my family was just here, but I feel alone. Something about you makes me feel better, can you just lie with me for a minute or two, I know other people need you too."

She went on petting Gopher for several minutes, but then started to doze off, and we excused ourselves to let her rest.

NO CONTACT!!

Squirrel and I were asked to visit a room we knew was off limits, despite being on a regular floor we saw the sign limiting contact. We are not typically allowed to visit Contact precaution rooms but as I was leaving a wing a woman asked me if we had visited her mother in the area we just left.

I didn't think so so she took us back to her room. When I noticed why and explained hospital policy to her she understood but asked the nearby nurse anyway to see if their was anything we could do.  

The nurse was understood the need and gave us instructions to walk a few feet into the room but no further. 

Once the patient saw us she cried.  It was hard for both her and Squirrel to not be right next to each other but both behaved.  Squirrel wagged his tale in anticipation at her from across the room which made her happy. We all chatted for a few minutes, and through tears she said good bye, but was happy to get to see him even if she was not able to touch him.

Hate to be alone...

Squirrel and I knocked on the door, and entered the room as is protocol.

"Would you like to visit with Squirrel?"

"Yes, I hate being alone." she cried.

Squirrel and I walked up to the bed and she pat him gently a couple of times and talked to me about he life and her family and why she wished they were with her.  All through tears.  

It was one of those instances where I was doing the therapy more than Squirrel.  He was there to assist but what she really wanted was someone to talk to. Squirrel acted more as my therapist so I could help her.  It was a team effort. 

Greek to me

Gopher and I didn't even have a chance to knock.

"Yes, yes" and ushered us in her room with her hand,

No one else was in the room and the lights were dim. Gopher walked right up and she began petting him. He leaned in tighter to the bed. "Love.....dog." she uttered in a thick Greek accent. She smiled at me with a tear in her eye and kept petting Gopher. He lifted his chin so she could  get his chest, where the therapy comes from is what we call this move.

Several minutes passed, "Thank you.....lungs no work, happy to see...dog again." Her DNR bracelet became more visible through Gophers fur where she was still petting him and Gopher tried to get even closer. She smiled, "Thank you.....go now....more people....need you."

Not the paws, well for you maybe

Squirrel hates having his feet handled, while he will tolerate grooming he does not do "paw" work. He doesn
t offers his paw, no shake nothing.

However if you are an ill little girl with some finger nail polish doesn't suddenly he doesn't mind. We were able to meet her several times in her extended stay.  He walked away from a couple of visits with either black or glittery toes.  His paycheck for the torture was using most of her bed to sleep on while she did it.  I think he took advantage of the pillow a couple of times too.

Just like my grandsons dog, but not as obnoxious

"Would you like to visit with Gopher?"

"Oh, yes"

She pets Gopher as soon as he gets to the bed and then stops.

"He's so beautiful and so calm, my grandson has one of these, and she is not, she is obnoxious."

"Yes", I reply "Gopher is working now, so he is really calm, he loves his job, but as soon as it is over he is a typical Golden Retriever"

"But is he obnoxious"

"Well, I don't think so, but some people may disagree"

"Can you come train my grandson?"


Because I'm dying?

Their was one woman that was so excited to see Squirrel that when she patted the bed he instantly jumped into it like it was an invitation. He was too quick for me to stop him!  He is well aware of his rights and limitations when it comes to visiting patients and he also knows when to through all of that out the window and do the job he knows needs to be done.  

The patient became very concerned when I told her he doesn't usually do that.  Her first concern was that he was paying special attention to her because she was dying.  I said "No, he just knows a person who needs a hug when he sees it".  

He proceeded to lay next to her in bed for awhile while she pet him.  I left the visit when Squirrel was getting so comfortable he was taking up most of the bed.

Summation

Every time we visit it is a cluster of these stories, brief windows into the lives of strangers. We never know what the impact we have is for the long run, it could merely be a nice story told to friends once or twice over dinner or it could impact their lives in way we will never understand. Often we get questions: This is great, can I do this? How long does it take to train? Do you have to be a certain age? How much are you required to visit? Do you think I could do this with my dog? We answer the questions, and always hope that they may follow through, create their own stories. It is the same mission with the blog is that we hope one person who reads it may go, yes this is something I can do and want to do with my dog. Working with a therapy dog is not a grand gesture, it is simple and holds infinite possibilities for providing small impacts. 

This week, we lost a great comedian, actor and philanthropist whom I was a great fan of his work. Mr. Williams would often quote Mother Teresa in interviews and in his work "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." 

While reflecting on the public persona that brought me so much joy, and his final act I was reminded of one of my great friends, a man who I love greatly and have great admiration. He had the opportunity to happen upon a young woman who was facing a similar final act. When he saw her, he embraced her in a bear hug, for what must have felt like an eternity until help would arrive. She is alive today, because he stopped. I wonder if presented with a similar circumstance if I would have done the same thing or would I have not been able to believe my eyes and just put my head down, not wanting to get involved. 

We, as a society tend to put our heads down, avert our eyes. The gesture itself was not grand, it was simply a bear hug, a few moments when he looked up and saw something and acted. So that is my challenge for anyone who may read this, look up, do something small it may be just taking the trash out for the elderly neighbor, it need not be grand as you will never know how large an impact a small gesture may have on  those around us. 

Our world is scary at times, there is bad in the world and we get caught up in the negativity get to a point we cannot handle it anymore and hang out heads and close our eyes, but look up, see the simple acts and together all of these simple acts will make the world a better place to live, you never know when you will provide the 'bear hug' someone else needs at just the right time.

I leave you with "Do it anyway" written by Mother Teresa. Take care of yourselves.


"Do it Anyway" 

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.
-Mother Teresa

Saturday, March 8, 2014

10,000 Visitors!! Thank You!!

Yesterday we passed a milestone with our 10,000th visitor!!!

When we started this on January 24th, 2011 we never expected to have such success and such a following. We are all truly humbled by the support, the messages, the comments we have been left from right here in Minnesota and all over the world.

Our goal was really simple. When we started training Gopher we read everything we could find on therapy dogs. The majority of the volumes dealt with training and a few precious gems actually discussed the experience, they however quickly shifted to discussions of healthcare in America, or how we treat our senior citizens. While these are important topics, we wanted to hear more about the experiences on this side of the leash.

It was our hope that if we put this out there we could help a few potential new therapy animal handlers in understanding the experience and maybe help increase the understanding of what a therapy animal does, and some insight to the human and non-human animal bond.

We hope we have succeeded in doing this and look forward to continuing!

We are thankful everyday for the opportunity to spend over 2,000 hours collectively with 100's patients, students and families. 



The first story of a dog doing therapy work comes to us from Catholicism, and the story of Saint Roch (circa 1348- circa 1379).  It is humbling to be a part of such a long history, and be part of the 1,000's of registered therapy animals around the world.

For our fans, if you would like to send us a message or leave a comment with your favorite story from Gopher Sessions please do and we will update you as best as we can on the people involved, and where the patient is today.

Thank you again, and hug your dog!








Thursday, March 6, 2014

Nausea? The Brothers Rodent can help with that.....

Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Squirrel, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

The whole family had the pleasure of being called to a young girl in need. It is not the first time we have been asked to do this, but thankfully it will be one of the last. It was her last treatment after a long and difficult year. She was however having some issues with the last treatment and was checking back into the hospital once again. 

Gopher and Squirrel were very excited to return to see one of their favorite patients. Both up in the bed taking up more room than they should. Squirrel settled in quickly and cuddled into her while she struggled against her upset stomach.


Gopher, had another plan in place. He was excited to see one of his favorite kids, but this visit seemed a little different. He shifted his focus to her mom. Even though the patient he was called to tend to was not feeling well, he felt mom needed him more and showed her his undivided attention.

The last year had taken quite the toll on her, her baby was seriously ill. She had been hundreds of miles from home, the rest of her family and her supportive community. The road had been long and as it was coming to an end, there they were once again in the hospital. She was ready to go home, ready to start moving forward and pleased that her little one had beaten the odds. We had gotten to know her quite well in our visits and this was the first time Gopher had become so focused on her.

As we visited it became ever more clear how much the events of the day had rattled her. The fatigue and stress was more noticeable than it had been. Gopher cuddled in and she started rough housing with him, and he played back. Soon she began to laugh and smile and make jokes. Her shoulders relaxed and she seemed to accept this final hurdle with perseverance that has allowed her to get through the last year.

We continued our visit. Gopher went back to help Squirrel cuddle our young patient while staying close to mom. After some time it was time to leave and we said our good byes.

We do not know if we will get the chance to see the young patient and her mother again, as they were nearing the end of their time here, and were looking to a bright future. I know that although we only did get to know them for a short time, all of our visits with them will last with us for the rest of our lives. It is not often that you get to spend even a short time with someone with so much bravery, strength, positivity in the face of seemingly unsurmountable difficulties, compassion in the body of a feisty, stubborn and strong willed little girl.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Saying Goodbye....

Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

Saying goodbye is always tough, but this time it was especially hard. Gopher and I had been visiting her every other week for 1 year, 9 months and 2 weeks when we had to bid adieu. She had been among the first of our patients in hospice volunteering, and we never missed an opportunity to spend time with her. Gopher would get excited at the mention of he name and whimper as we turned the corners nearing her home. She was one of his favorites.

Saying goodbye was especially hard because she had not been renewed for hospice services, she was still ill, and still suffered from her disease, it will be the disease that will end her life. However after many months she had not continued to decline naturally she had plateaued, thus was no longer eligible for the care that hospice provides. It is uncommon, but does happen that a person can graduate hospice. This is indeed joyful news as she will continue her time on Earth and have more memories with family and friends.

I am not a friend though, I am a Volunteer Professional Caregiver and so is Gopher so as the service is removed, I must also stop my visits. We had to bid farewell.

I knew this was to be the last visit for a few days and as I knocked on the door, Gopher sitting obediently at my side with tail wagging hard in anticipation I had to remind myself, just breathe.

The door opened and I was greeted by her husband a warm smile on his face and his attention quickly turned to Gopher. "What, why are you here, we don't like dogs here", he joked as he reached down and gave Gopher a scratch at the ear.

We walk into the house and settle into our place. Gopher gets up in his chair and leans in for the pets and the treats he is about to receive.

We talk about the good news, graduating from hospice, and what it means. They ask me a few times if there is any way I can continue to visit. 

Just breathe, Chad, breathe.

"Unfortunately no, I am unable to continue visiting as Gopher and I have to visit as part of a service and since the hospice services are being removed I am unable to continue visits."

Breathe, pet Gopher, and look away so the tears that have started to form cannot be seen.

They say they understand, we continue our visit. 

Our patient leans into Gopher, "Gopher I am going to miss you, you are such a good friend Gopher, I love you." Tears are dripping down her face and the leash grows tighter in my hand as Gopher leans in closer to her. She buries her head in his fur and once again his coat absorbs more tears. It is unimaginable how many tears have been dried by that golden fur.

I get closer, pet Gopher while looking out the window so that the family could not see my own tears. 

Gopher and I present her with a prayer shawl as a memento and get up to leave for the last time, at least for now. I remind them that should services be necessary again to ask for Gopher and I.
I shake her hand, "Thank you, it has been an honor to be here."  I shake hands and say goodbye to the rest of the family. Then hurriedly rush to the door as I feel the tears welling up and do not want to let them see me lose my composure.

This was not what I had signed up for when I joined hospice, an started working with the family and patient. Gopher and I were supposed to be there to help support in any way we could until the inevitable end, but we had no end. Our patient was still ill, still suffering, and still wanted to see Gopher, but we could no longer visit. It feels as if we left with our job unfinished.

In the time leading up to our last visit and even as I write this I still struggle with our goodbye. We were not done, we had committed to be with the family and the patient until the end, and the end had not arrived, but we are no longer in service. It was possible for us to continue visiting her, she had become so special to us and it was tempting. However to do this I would have had to move past the caregiver relationship to that of a friend, I would have also had to take a leave of absence from the hospice program, and stopped visiting our other patients. Being raised on Star Trek, this seemed wrong as "The need of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." It was logic that made me say goodbye, so that I could continue to visit the other patients who had grown to love and need Gopher as well.

It is a perfectly logical decision and the right one, if only logic would fix my heart. 

Live long and prosper. 





Thank You!! Thank you!! Thank you!!

We cannot say it enough all of the wonderful hats, scarves and letters of support. Here is just a sampling of some of the wonderful items we have received to date!


They are all so beautiful and putting the smiles on faces!!

Thank you, and those who have sent so far we will be getting thank you's out soon!

Coming Attractions:

Saying Goodbye: "The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one" This important lesson from my Star Trek upbringing comes to play as Gopher and I say goodbye to a hospice patient who is removed from services.

Upset Tummy: Gopher and Squirrel pay a special visit to a young girl who is having nausea with her latest chemo treatment.

That is all for now. Sorry to be distant of late, but stay tuned for the upcoming entries.

Love and peace to all of you from the Rodent Household. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Importance of the Chair

Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

Chairs come in all shapes and sizes and most people I know have a favorite chair. I never rally thought much about chairs I either liked the one I was using or did not.  What seems like a lifetime ago though when I was taking therapy classes with Gopher I had my first in depth discussion regarding chairs. Now that I teach a class, I am leading the discussion of chairs, never thought growing up, or throughout school I would spend any amount of time talking about furnishings, but here I am.

Chairs have come to the forefront of my mind when entering a facility, a new home or anywhere we may be visiting. All of the furnishings, equipment and more are important and I look at all of them , but nothing has the importance of the chair.

When Carol, my instructor brought up doing chair work, teaching Gopher to get up into a variety of different chairs slowly and comfortably I scoffed.  Gopher is a Golden Retriever, he weighs 65 lbs and is 2 ft at the withers he will never need a chair for someone to reach him. Being a diligent student and also it was a bit to see Gopher get into a chair and sit regally as if he was on a throne.

So we worked, padded chairs at first, then the more difficult slippery unpadded chairs, and folding chairs that required me to brace them before giving him the indication to get up.

I am glad we spent so much time working on it as it has utilized on countless occasions. Our patients have been able to get just a little bit closer, and get the pleasure of the golden lean despite the wires and equipment.

Our chair work has come in handy, but more so on a recent visit. Gopher and I have been visiting a patient for some time who is in end of life care. We visit every other week, and she absolutely loves her time with Gopher. I have even written about our visits with this patient in Marge.

Over the months since I recorded that visit with Marge she has grown weaker and in our last few visits I have had to bring a wooden folding chair to facilitate our visits. I get Gopher in position and Marge buries her head in his golden fur taking in his warm smell. She strokes him all over and Gopher sits in his chair, patient and regally. Adding the chair has allowed us to stick with the 30 minute visits as it is not as exhausting for her to visit with him.

On our most recent visit Marge immediately told Gopher how tired she was that day. I put Gopher in his chair, and Marge leaned in buried her face and wrapped her arms around him. Gopher leaned in and wrapped his head around her neck, hugging her back. There they stayed for the entirety of the visit. Neither of them moved a muscle and no more words were spoken.

It was a beautiful moment and reminded me of the importance of a chair.