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Friday, March 27, 2015


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 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.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to all, and hope to see you next year!

Obviously this post owes credit to Clement Moore's famous work.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the hospital,
few creatures were stirring, as the population was little
Two rodents were present to provide some care.
in the hopes their love would limit despair.

The children were nestled in their beds
trepidation and sadness in their heads.
Gopher and Squirrel formed a loving band,
as they knew a large task was at hand.

Down the hall there was not much chatter,
the rodents took to the rooms to bring what matters.
Love and comfort was what they could bestow,
a moment of peace to ease the worries in tow.

Giving love and time like only an animal can do,
they made the bald ones, the quiet ones, the families go “Woo hoo.”
For in those few moments their world was at ease,
as in the furs of the rodents they found some peace.

Three hours had passed in such a flash,
their jobs were done and they were able to dash.
Home they went with but one wish,
that next year you will join them in this niche.

For many are needed to provide some care,
and wonders await for those who dare.
For in the moments you will find,
truths about yourself to which you were blind.

“Now Rover! Now Snoopy!
Now, Lassie and Sassy!
On, Spot! On, Chase!
On, Lucky and Tigger!
To the top of training!
To the top of the class!
The world needs you now.
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

Now the year is coming to an end,
resolutions made you may bend.
But make this one to yourself,

“Next year my friend, will be a healing elf”


Happy Holidays to all best wishes in the New Year!

With Love,

Chad, Carla and The Brothers Rodent!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gopher and Squirrel's Southern Belle and Knitters/Crocheters we need you again!

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.

On a string of recent visits Gopher and Squirrel each had the opportunity to visit with a young girl. At an age where traditionally she would be preparing for a Cotillion given her creole history she was instead laying in a hospital bed. She was able to experience a number of firsts which we discussed, the first time seeing snow, the first time experiencing the cold in the way we have cold in Minnesota, the first time spending a holiday hundreds of miles from home.

Some of these firsts you may be thinking don't sound too grand, however as she described each one she would remove any hint of negativity and focus on the first as if it was an adventure awaiting her discovery.

Our first visit we would find her on a main floor, having traveled in the hopes of finding the right physician to aid her with her particular malady. Surrounded by her family, immediate and extended they cooed over Gopher and were amazed by his behavior. The room as is typical had been quiet when we arrived, but was now bustling with stories of dogs they have owned and their silly antics. Times past when all were feeling better. Gopher all the time on the bed with a blanket under him to protect the bed stretched out and enjoying all of the hands scratching him, his read gently resting on the abdomen of his patient. Their excitement over our visit prompted me to ask Carla and Squirrel if they could visit prior to leaving the floor. We left her with a Cuddle Cap provided by our readers and supporters, and she put it on her head and beamed with pride.

On our next visit Carla and Squirrel would find her room first. She had enjoyed her visit and when she found me on another part of the floor ushered me over as our little Belle has asked for us. She was noticeable weaker, but her conversations were just as animated and excited about some of the new things she had seen since our last visit. She sat up and before I could get the blanket to protect the bed she had invited him up on the bed, he laid down and resumed his position of last time, gently laying on his side, head resting gently on her and his brown eyes looking at her. We visited for a while and then as she seemed to be finished with our visit she thanked us as we left and asked us to make sure to tell Squirrel thank you as well.

Our third visit Carla and Squirrel would once again come to her room first and invite us over as requested. We found he quite a bit weaker and she spoke softly, but the light remained in her eyes and it danced as I put Gopher in a chair near her bed so she could reach him. Our visit was more subdued than the first two. She spent most of the time gently stroking Gopher's chest and whispering to him. After a bit she said she wasn't feeling well and wanted her dad, we called to the family who had been huddled in the back of the room and he came over. Once he sat down we went to leave. She sat up for a moment, "Gopher, I still have your hat you gave me." she smiled and laid back down. Her grandmother walked me out and asked me when we would be back, I told her that we would be there on Thanksgiving Day. She smiled and said "Good, the whole family will be here and I know they want to meet Gopher and Squirrel. Please make sure you come by and see us."

When we arrived on Thanksgiving we had to do our rounds a bit differently. Some of the floors we visit were also going to be visited by a special group of people who make and serve a home cooked meal for the families and patients unable to make it home. We made our rounds and on each floor we kept a watch out for our Southern Belle. She was nowhere to be found. Carla and I returned to each of the nursing stations to inquire about the patient and her family who had asked about a visit. She was unable to be located on any of the floors we visit, there is however one floor that we are unable to visit and not knowing her malady could have placed her on that floor on that day.

When we returned we made a point of keeping on the lookout to for her and her family, but once again came up short. There are several possibilities besides the one you may fear the most. Her time needed at the hospital may have come to an end, or very possibly she could have returned to extended family housing nearby as she no longer needed 24 hour care. No matter what we may never see her again, but know how much we were able to help bring a smile even if for a short time.

Our stock is getting very low!!

Last year The Brothers Rodents started asking for chemo caps and scarves to give out to the kids we visit. The response was overwhelming and we cannot thank all of you enough. Now almost a year later we have handed out almost every single piece and expect to run out when we visit on Christmas Eve. So once again we have to ask for your help! Thanks to you we have been able to give out over 150 pieces to the kids and we want to keep going. For more info on this project please go to Calling all Knitters and Crocheters.

Not crafty and want to help? We have been able to make six kits for those who have wanted to help, but did not have the means. Each kit includes 2 skeins of yarn, one purple, one green, two way postage and a special thank you from the Brothers Rodent and costs just under $10. Brothers Rodents Cuddle Caps

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Do NOT read this, look up!

Do not read this, do not take the time away from the person you are sitting with, have a conversation a smile and a laugh, you will learn more from that than the meanderings of this stranger.

The gift of time is one of the best ways of giving, whether that be volunteer time to your favorite charity or time spent with a stranger who then becomes a friend. While working with a therapy animal, the animal itself, Gopher in my case, provides a medical effect that is just coming into its full understanding and smiles and stories that I have shared before. Perhaps one of the most important parts of this equation is time. This week I learned of the death of a wise and learned friend. I would always know her as an elder, one of those people our society is too quick to discard and fail to recognize the importance of, thus bringing about this blog entry. This is not going to be a tale of how wonderfully a therapy dog performs, and the impact on a patient, instead it is going to be a soap box on which I will stand for a few minutes. If you have read this far you may choose not to go further, you may discard it, and that would be fine. It is the thoughts and feelings of this 33 year old white male, who has lived a fortunate life, bore witness to a great surge in technology, great tragedies of a society, and great accomplishments, who despite my age still tries to marvel and wonder about the world around me with the eyes of a child. This wonder of the world was something I shared with my departed friend who still had it despite her years of life and has served me as an inspiration to not be jaded and look with wonder of the world I am part of no matter how fleeting time may be.

Technology despite all its advances, and ability to connect oneself with the most obscure story from the other side of the world and allows me to stand on my proverbial soap box is also a source of limitations. Feel free to put the phrase 'back in my day' at any point you feel it is appropriate. Pause and think about it, if you are reading this outside of your home pause and look up. How many people do you see whose faces are glistened by the light of a glowing screen? How many couples, friends, colleagues are sitting in near silence observing the light emitting from their hands and not the light of the smile in the faces around them? In seeing the latest trending article and learning about the world miles away how much of the world are they missing right in front of them? How much knowledge is being lost in the pursuit of knowledge, entertainment or the latest celebrity scandal?

The questions I ask, may or may not get you to look up, but the world you are missing is so much more than what is captivating you in the moment. We are a culture of people who live in a fast paced environment we fail to see the forest for the trees and focus on the destination and forget the journey and other cliches you can add in here. Despite the fact they are cliches should not take away from their intent and meaning.

What has the gift of time has given me, a chance to learn the gift of time has been more for me than it has ever been for the person I have given the time to. Call me selfish I am, in this I thirst for knowledge and in the books I have read or diploma and degrees conferred upon me I learned nothing in comparison to what I have learned through the conversation with those around me. Strangers, friends or family have taught me more than memorized formulas, scientific calculations and even the arts could begin to teach me. In order to learn from this gift to yourself you have to be open, you have to listen and you must be able to reflect on those conversations even when you do not like the reflection.

Many years ago as a server working my way through college, I started a conversation with a woman who had come into the restaurant as a guest with friends and slowly those friends stop coming as they passed or age had taken away their ability to have freedom to go to lunch. I have never had any issue in speaking with an elder, even as a kid, my family always encouraged this and respect for elders in our society. I took this from childhood conversations with Mr. Woodworth on a bench when I as not more than 5 years old with me as an adult. In this case the conversations involved with a woman who merely wanted company while at lunch evolved into a wonderful friendship and great impact on my life, now all that remains is the memories of our conversations and being in her presence.

Our society is constantly changing and even different than it was a decade ago, a short time frame but an immense amount of change. Sometimes our elder members hold on to a hate or prejudice not acceptable by today's standards, but even conversations with people who feel this way holds a lesson for yourself. If you take the time, and have respectful conversations despite your differences you may learn of what propagated their hate, and how you may proceed in life and avoid those pitfalls. Embrace this look up and do not discard them.

Through time I have had the opportunity to learn via friends and first hand accounts of the conflict in Israel and Palestine by two people on differing sides of the issue sitting at the same table and having a conversation.

I have learned with time and conversations those around me traditions of countless cultures, differences in political opinions and social thoughts. All lessons independent of age, creed and prescribed race.

Through volunteering with Gopher I have had the opportunity to sit with many patients late in their life and have learned many lessons and the one consistent lesson, I wish I had more time to spend with this person, or that person or with my dog, my cat, I wish I had more time to show them how much I love them and how much they meant to me. The desire to spend time with a fellow human being is consistent and I have yet to hear one person tell me I wish I had more time with a glowing screen, the latest product, more time with the person in front of them.

My soap box has ended and I hope that you have not read this far, I hope you looked up, smiled and started a conversation, and started to learn. If you have read this far stop now, and look up in honor of my friend and for yourself.