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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.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


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.

Gopher and I have spent a large amount of time interacting with patients that are at the end of their lives. I personally enjoy working with hospice patients, and have a lot of fun doing it. This may sound surprising that one would say it is fun working with the the dying, but it is, the honesty, the joy they share and the clarity one can have at the end of their life is something to be experienced.

The Showtime series "The Big C" in its final season "The Big C: Hereafter" explained this experience beautifully via the Hospice nurse when Cathy asked her if it got to her working with all of these dying people and she responded with, "When people are close to death they open up like flowers, they teach me so much and that I can provide a little comfort it sure makes me feel good."

With all of our visits whether in hospice or otherwise I get so much out of it, I get to work with my dog and that is amazing. I have the unique opportunity to see the human-animal bond in its most splendid form, and I almost always learn something from our patients.

Recently I was able to learn first hand about forgiveness.

We had been visiting a patient for some time, in his life he had served America in an armed conflict. He was proud of his service, and had been a prisoner of war. In our visits he spoke about many things, his family, his marriage, his children. It was a visit when he was laying in bed and had Gopher cuddling when we spoke about his service.

He told me he had enlisted and was excited to serve his country. He was not on the front very long when he and a fellow soldier were cut off, captured and became prisoners.

He spoke to Gopher and I about the tremendous horrors he saw while he was held, how he witnessed his fellow soldier die as a result of his captors neglecting to administer medical care. He never said how long he was a prisoner of war, but the atrocities he described to us were nearly beyond comprehension. He witnessed suffering, torture and the deaths of fellow prisoners.

He himself had been beaten, would only be given mere scraps once a day. Conditions were deplorable and he wasn't sure how he survived a fever he experienced during his captivity.

He audibly sighed and kept stroking Gopher. He looked at me and said, "It was awful, and I hope if it was different and I was guarding them I would have done better, but I don't know if I would have I was young and they were the enemy. I hope I would have done better. If I had time to do one more thing I wish I could find the men who held me and tell them it was okay. I forgive them. It might not mean much, it might make a difference for them, but I do forgive them. I would also thank them, for each day since I have never taken my freedom for granted."

The sentiment was so sincere, and so powerful. It was a great lesson for me as well, and I only hope in my life I can be half as forgiving as he was, and I am so thankful that Gopher and I were able to provide him with a little comfort.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thank You!

Mother Teresa once said, "It's not about how much we give but how much love we put into giving."

Over the last six weeks, since we announced "The Brother's Rodent Cuddle Caps" this quote has kept coming to my head. We have been overwhelmed by the response so far, and although the hats may seem small the investment of time, the creativity captures the spirit of this quote, for this could not be done without a large amount of love. 

Here are some of the items that have been completed and shared with us so far, we are so excited for the future of this project and hope to share with you images of the patients enjoying your wonderful contributions soon!

Thank you all so much again!! These are all amazing! 

The boys are ready to hand them out and cannot wait to see the smiles you are helping put on so many faces!

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help with this project please go to: Brother's Rodent Cuddle Caps

If you are not creative and would like to help with the purchase of supplies and postage go here.

If you need a kit, please send e-mail us at