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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sometimes......

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.

Sometimes it’s a pedicure…pawticure…

We don’t do costumes; we don’t play dress up with either of the Brothers Rodent.  Not only is it not allowed per our registering organization, we have always felt it takes away from the dog more than it ever adds.

There is one exception, will it help the patient? Will doing this help our patients and even for a moment bring them joy? As long as it will not do any harm, and it helps we do allow a few exceptions.
This is what happened a few weeks ago while visiting. It has happened before but courtesy of publicly available images given out by the facility we can share with you Gopher getting his pawticure?

Enjoy:



Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Parents' Joy

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.

I have often heard that a parent’s joy comes from seeing their children smile. Having never been a parent to humans, I am unable to confirm this. I also have been faced with the fear and apprehension of parents working through a difficult medical situation.  I have experienced it countless time holding on to Gopher’s leash and a couple times on the other end with my own niece.

Add into the fear and apprehension a reasonably upset and angry child. A child, who does not understand what’s going on, does not feel well and nothing can be done as a parent to soothe or provide comfort. The sky is falling and all you have is a broken umbrella, the desperation has to be among the most difficult parents face.

One young patient not that long ago was just like that. No smiles, not even for a moment, upset, uncomfortable, confused and frustrated. His anger was nearly palpable.  He was just getting ready to leave his room and head to surgery when the staff had us pause for a moment.

They told us what was going on, and they hoped the boys might help.

Gopher and Squirrel were in the hall as they moved equipment around and the young boy came out of the room in his wheel chair.


Both Squirrel and Gopher waited patiently in the hall getting the “oohs and awws” of passersby. The chair rolled up and both boys were on their game. A few light pats and there it was a smile, albeit brief before they rushed off to surgery. The boys had done their job and the parents were able to see the first smile in sometime on their sons face.

Friday, August 14, 2015

He Sat Alone....

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.

He sat alone.

His eyes fixed on a point on the other side of the room, and only he could tell us.

This was a group visiting situation, and Gopher and I had arrived at the spot and began visiting with the various residents that were waiting for us at our standard spot.

His gaze shifted to Gopher, and an observant nurse noticed. She leaned over and asked if he wanted to visit the dog. Nothing, no affirmation nor was there a refusal. She did what many a caretaker has done, and said why don’t push you over. He is very gentle and if you do not wish to pet him, you do not have to. Once again she was met with silence, and no acknowledgment.
As she wheeled him over his gaze stayed on Gopher and as he got closer his head moved for the first time so he could watch him. There was no fear or apprehension in his gaze, he was just focused.

Gopher got up and separated himself from the group that was pining over him and went to sit by the chair. The gaze followed.

As he arrived at the chair, he sat down and leaned into the chair. Fortunately the caretaker had set the brakes. The gaze was still upon him and as he leaned a sparkle in the eye of his new patient greeted him.

His hand rose gently with a light tremor, he reached down and began stroking his side. Gopher leaned in harder, and everyone watched as our new guest and Gopher became the only thing in the room of interest.

The moments passed, while the two new friends became better acquainted. Gopher returned his gaze with the affectionate brown eyes I have had the privilege seeing so many times, staring back in the man’s now sparkling eyes as they had a silent conversation.

“You are very handsome” the man said to Gopher barely audible to the crowd now watching.

A gasp from a few spectators, behind me broke the focus on the interaction and the room fell silent again.

He started telling Gopher the story of his life. The dogs he had, his parents, his wife, and their kids. 

He reflected heavily on the last few years, how slowly things had started being taken away from him.
His ability to sleep through the night, as he was awoken by the need to pee, or the soreness of his aching muscles.

His home where they raised their kids, because they could no longer afford to care for it, and no longer had the ability.

Being able to hit the open road, and how he missed taking off on adventures with his wife to see something new.

Most recently his wife, one night they were there in their apartment, saddened but had spent the evening talking about their blessings. Then he awoke in the middle of the night, needing to pee, and when he came back he realized he was alone and she was gone.

How after the services the world kept moving, but he just stopped, and then he was here.

He stopped telling his story and continued to pet Gopher.

After a few minutes, he asked the nurse if she could take him back to his room.
Then said, “I think I am ready to see the doctor now, can he come by?”

The nurse and him started talking about the next steps, as they wheeled off in the distance. Gopher had returned to his group and was even more surrounded with hearty pets, and even a few kisses.

Another resident placed her hand on my shoulder. “He has not spoken since he arrived, not in group, not to anyone, not even in the night when some others choose to speak when they think no one is listening. He has not said a word. Gopher is amazing.”

I smiled and said the same thing I have said a hundred times, “He is happy to help.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Squirrel!!

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.


Squirrels turn.  The glass of the room Carla and Squirrel were assigned allowed them to see the family and staff in the room as they approached. The illness was not known but given the location of the room and familiarity with the facility it was known that the patient had been on a difficult road.
When Squirrel and Carla came to the room the small figure in the bed seemed to be encapsulated by the equipment that was helping him. He was small frail and seemed oblivious to his surroundings. Mom, dad and nurse surrounded him attempting to get him to acknowledge them.  The patient remained still and would have been seen as lifeless had it not been for the ECG that told a different story.
“Joey, there’s a dog here to see you.”

There was still no response.


The excited family showed Carla into the room. “Joey, there’s a dog here to see you.”
This time, the news of dog seemed to pierce its way through the fog of pain, medication and illness.
The motionless limbs a moment before now attempted to move as his face turned. A huge smile filled his face as his half opened eyes tried to take in the dog that was before him. The muscles seemed to betray him in his efforts to reach Squirrel and despite being motionless a few moments before his parents had to struggle a bit to keep him in bed.

Carla had to find a way to make it easier, with his size and the amount of equipment there was little space. She knelt down on the floor on a single knee and gave Squirrel the ‘Up” command to get him to place his paws on her knees so he could get within reach of the patient in the bed.  She had trained this, but this was the first time she had attempted in a visit. Despite being in relatively good shape from years of Search and Rescue training it became obvious that with the weight of a 65 lb Golden Retriever resting on her thigh additional lunges would need to be added to her fitness repertoire.

The family that was present was astounded by Joey’s response. Moments before they had been struggling to breakthrough, and now a smiling patient laid in the bed attempting to pet Squirrel.
Carla and Squirrel bid their farewells, his job done and an overly grateful family left behind.


A few weeks later Squirrel and Carla would get the opportunity to see Joey, this time with Gopher and myself. He had left the bed behind and was walking the hall with equipment still attached and the aid of a walker. More mobile, but his face showed a look of sheer determination. Once he saw the boys though a smile filled his face, his eyes danced with joy and he came over to be near them and pet them. It is not often the boys visit the same patient at the same time in the hospital, but there in the middle of the hall they would go through their “Who is the better therapy dog competition.” Squirrel clearly won, this time, claiming Joey as his very own patient.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What is a therapy visit?

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.

Volunteers who work as a team for Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities spend a great deal of time training themselves and their animal partners. When done correctly it is the perfect representation of the human-non human animal bond. Furthermore it has a tremendous effect on the patients in need, this has been proved time and again in academic literature.

Here are a few examples of the scientific work that has proven the benefits.





The proven benefits are often missed by the public, health care administrators and even the team themselves. They just see it as something fun to do, and a nice way to give back which is also true.

What is a therapy visit though?

It is simply the only two gifts you can truly give someone, time and love.

I would also argue that the return benefit for the handler, is equal to or even greater than the team to the patient.

This last week has been difficult professionally for this handler, add into this the typical stresses of a lower income middle class family when the dollar does not seem to stretch far enough, I was at the end of my proverbial rope. I would say I was also just barely hanging on to the last fiber of hemp in that rope.

Monday night arrived with a special request. Visit a long term patient. Time to go, get up, be with my boy, my wife and her partner, and spend some of my favorite family time.

When we arrived we found not only our long term patient, but another patient we had seen several times before. Both showed the obvious signs of prolonged illness and prolonged treatment. Some are discomforted by this, but after so many years as a working team and not being a father of human children I find interacting with ‘normal’ kids more difficult.

The room descended quickly into laughter. Hugs and countless pets for each of the boys, both of whom were in rare form with the excitement of seeing a patient whom they love visiting.
The evening passed, and despite appearances, signs of prolonged illness, the beeping of medical equipment and kids attached to hardware, the room was only filled with joy and love in those moments.

Our time together had come to an end for now and we left. Each of us feeling a little more energetic, a much needed refill of joy and love. The boys as you can see in the pictures below, a little ‘brighter’ as well, at least their nails were.


 


So do yourself a favor, love your dog, cat, rabbit or gerbil……..train them.....it will only make your bond with them stronger. Take a therapy animal training class…..learn all you can….become a team. It is hard work, it is emotional, it is the best feeling you can have. It allows you to give the only true gift you can give, time and love. The benefits to the patients has been proved by scientists, the benefits it will give to you…..well you will just have to take me at my word.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Walk

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.

A simple walk, something many take for granted at one point or another. It is also one of the final things needed before you can leave the hospital after a surgical procedure. Walk, defecate, urinate and able to eat and you get to leave.

Gopher walking with my niece, not the patient in this story.

What would you do if you were at that age when you wanted to be like your friends and now due to a surgery in the middle of the school year you were different? A surgery that was just the start for a number of treatments over a long period of time to remind you of the difference. A start of a journey that would forever change you when all you want to do is blend in and not be different. A journey that had a good prognosis, but was very scary. You still don’t feel great, but have done all of the steps to get discharged, but the walk. Would it hit you at that time, as long as I am here I do not have to face my friends and my room as a different person? Maybe you would put that walk off, hold off facing being the different kid a bit longer? Maybe put off the upcoming challenges for a little longer?

That is the situation Gopher and I found a patient facing not too long ago, a young patient who just needed to go for a walk so that they could be discharged, just completing the first step on what would be a long journey. However staying in the moment allowed the patient did not have to go on to the next step and face the world being the different kid.

Gopher and I arrived at the room, knocked and entered. Our young patient lay on the bed, morose, and ignoring mothers prodding to get up and going. As soon as Gopher pranced into the room and with a gentle swish of the tail her face brightened and her eyes lit up. She invited Gopher up on the bed and thankfully Gopher looked to me and waited giving me a chance to grabbed a drop cloth.
Once on the bed she proceeded to inspect every golden lock and stroked his velvety ears. Mom and I spoke for a bit while she spent time burying her face in his coat. Once again, her mother asked her if they could go for a walk, but the request fell on deaf ears.

“You know Gopher likes to go for walks.” I tried in hopes of urging her, “Would you like to take him for a walk?” Gopher looked up, cocked his head and smiled and with a subtle finger movement looked away from me and to her.

“Well he does look like he wants to go for a walk, I think I can take him.”

In just a matter of moments she was on the edge of the bed steadying herself. I handed over the end of the leash and took hold of a section in the middle. Off we went, slow at first, then the pace quickened slightly. On hand holding the leash and an IV pole, the other stroking Gopher’s back.  We walked circling the floor, we get back to her room. Her mother told it was time to go back in the room, “Mom, can I just go around one more time with Gopher?” she asked smiling still petting him. We went for one more lap bid our farewells and left.


Such a simple thing a walk, but something so necessary. Given the journey ahead we are so thankful that we may have the opportunity to help some more, with other future steps like those she shared with Gopher that day helping face the little fears with a new confidence and with less fear.

Don't forget, we are in need of more cuddle caps if you feel so inclined!

More information here:


Monday, January 5, 2015

The Huff

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.

Gopher has a very pronounced huff, he uses it when he is frustrated, tired, and even when he gets comfortable for a nap, and sometimes he uses it to let me know when it is time to leave a patient. Gopher also will whine softly when he is excited about a new location, or if he thinks he needs something and we are too slow in our response. We started visiting Ian a long time ago, he was agitated on our first visit, frustrated with his condition and where life had led him.

We would visit with him every couple of weeks. The months would pass and with each visit his agitation and frustration seemed to lessen. Ian would tell Gopher about his fears and his joys, his regrets and proudest moments. Ian divulged many aspects of his life to us, all while stroking Gopher who would happily hop into his bed, on a protective sheet.

Hours passed over those months of visiting, Gopher stretched out along his side, his hand gently stroking the golden fur. We learned so much about him, his biggest fear like many was not being done with what he needed to complete and leaving too soon.  His biggest regret was his son, he had one, and three daughters, and he spoke with pride of all of his kids, but was saddened by his lack of relationship with his son.

Many years had passed since they last spoke and Ian blamed himself for the time that had passed and the words not spoken. When Ian was young and so were his kids he had another illness, addiction. One night his wife had sat him down and said he needed to get help or she had to take the kids and go anywhere that he would not follow. It was the wakeup call he needed, and after treatment had spent the last 50 years clean, only thinking about relapsing one time a decade before when he said his final goodbye to his wife.

His son grew into a man, became successful and then slowly piece by piece lost it all. Ian knew what was happening and recognized himself in his only son. He approached him and they battled, Ian used the same method his wife had and told him if he did not get help he was no longer welcome in his home. Ian’s son left that night, and did eventually get help, but the wounds Ian felt were too deep. When his son came back and was clean, Ian turned away from him and the years would pass without bridging the gap. He told Gopher and I that he was never mad at his son, never mad at his temper the night Ian approached him, nor the time it took for him to get help. Ian was mad at himself that he passed along the same struggle he fought with his own life, that he gave him something that took so much away from him. He was angry that all he had given his baby boy was a lifetime of pain and misery.

One morning we received the call. Ian had declined and he was in the final stages of life, would Gopher and I be available to come and visit. We arrived in the room and unlike our previous visits found Ian sleeping and breathing very quickly. As we turned into the room we were greeted by several members of his family, it would be the first time I would meet the people who I had heard so much. I introduced Gopher and myself and said we could come back later if they wished. His oldest daughter said, “No, please stay we have heard so much about Gopher we feel like we know him and Dad would want him here.”

Gopher took this as a cue, went to the cabinet, raised his paw and whimpered for me to grab the sheet. I did as the King asked and placed the sheet on the bed with the permission of the family. Gopher got up and assumed his regular position, laid his head down and closed his eyes.

It seemed like an eternity passed in silence then the silence was broken, a woman in the back of the room sitting in shadow said, “He is just as calm as Dad told us that is amazing.” We spoke a bit about therapy dogs, the training combined with an innate ability to perform the work. Silence fell across the room again and another eternity seemed to pass when he stood up, a man sitting in the shadows next to the last woman who spoke stood up and walked towards the bed.

When he arrived he knelt down took Ian’s hand held it over on Gopher’s side and with his other began petting Gopher. He looked up at me tears welling in his eyes, “I am Ian’s son.”  He went back to petting Gopher, and holding his Dad’s hand on Gophers side. Someone in the back of the room said, “Look, Dad seems to be breathing a little easier.” It was true his respirations had calmed, and his breathing was lighter and more consistent.

Ian’s son looked up at me again and he began to tell me the other side of the story of a few weeks ago. “Dad called me a couple of months ago, it was weird as I had not heard his voice in years but knew it was him. He told me about Gopher and his visits, he told me that Gopher was a good listener, and that he wanted to say he was sorry.” His son paused as tears fell down his cheeks. “Thank you Gopher, I have gotten to spend a part of every day with my Dad these last few weeks.”

Ian’s son then got up, steadied his father’s hand on Gopher’s side. Time would pass again in silence. Gopher would be the first to break the silence when he lifted his head and let out a huff. I knew it was time to go, and feared what would be happening soon based on prior experience. Gopher hopped off the bed and I removed the sheet and bid our farewells, the whole of the room getting up to pet Gopher, and Ian’s son giving Gopher a long hug. It was during the hug that the familiar rattle came from Ian’s bed, his oldest daughter drew attention to it and asked if I knew what was happening. I lied, and said I would send the nurse on my way out.

Gopher and I left, knowing that Ian had passed, and stopped at the nurse’s station where a familiar face greeted us. I told her what had just happened, she gave a nod of mutual understanding, lowered her head, and went to Ian’s family. I heard an audible cry as we turned to leave.  

With tears in my own eyes, I looked down at Gopher, a gentle wag of the tail, a strut and a smile on his face, he knew his work was done.