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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Solo Visit to Long Term Care Facility

Chad visited a Long Term Care Home shadowing another team on 1/25/2011

Disclaimer:
Names/conditions and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared.
Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits. The names of the institutions have also been changed or not used and if the name of a person is used it will likely be changed as well. 

The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, and institutions have only been changed to protect the privacy of those we visit.

When starting off as a visiting animal/handler team there are many situations when you are asked to shadow another team to ensure you would be interested in visiting the facility. This was the case on January 25th, 2011. I left a very pouty Gopher at home on Tuesday evening, when I grabbed my Delta badge and placed it around my neck he was up and ready to go, the look of dismay he appeared to have when I didn't grab his equipment and walked out the door turned to a nasty looking glare as he rested his head on the window sill watching me start the car and leave without him.

The faclity I visitied was a long term living facility for the families and their children whom are going through extended treatment and needed to be close to the hospital. The children undergoing treatment are very ill and often fighting for their lives. I arrived quite early and met the handler team whom I would be shadowing a lovely woman, and her bigger than average Golden Retriever, Zeus.

The visit was quite astounding with not just patients and a few visitors and the staff coming to see the dogs, but often it was a whole family many of whom were from great distances away and had uprooted their entire lives to live near a foreign hosptial, in a foreign city, getting the treatments their child needed and hoping and praying for the best possible outcome.

The visit lasted for roughly an hour with many children coming over to pet Zeus with their families. Throughout training Gopher, our extensive reading and through discussions with experienced handlers there was one common theme that never went unmentioned. It was that, "Often you will find that your visits will lean less towrds the person it is targeted for, and more towards their families, and the staff whom are in desperate need of a break and the type of therapy only a good dog can give:" While raising and training Gopher I have also become a little biased toward Golden Retrievers and I now proclaim proudly they are my favorite breed. The one thing I have heard the most since making this proclamation is, "They're wonderful dogs, but I don't like all that fur." That night allowed me to see with my own eyes how much a therapy dog is needed by the families and not just the target of the visit and gave me an answer to those who remind me of the amount of hair a Golden Retriever has.

A half hour into our visit we had a lull in children as there was a very nice activity with beautifully carved wooden puzzles going on in the adjacent to the sitting area we were assigned to be in on this visit. This gave me an opportunity to discuss some thoughts and concerns regarding this facility with Zeus's handler. Zeus meanwhile laid on the floor getting occasional pets from three women who were also in the room and whose child or grandchild had just left to get a puzzle.

The three women began to discuss where there respective children were in treatment for their similar diseases both of which were life threatening. They exchanged some different thoughts and talked about the when they were going to hear from the treating physicians when they could go home, even if only for a little while with their kids. Both of the families involved in the discussion had been there for months, and some had only gone hom for a few weeks and had been there for several months during the previous treatmert. The conversation carried with occasional breaks in talking while one or the other attempted to recompose themselves. Each break was accompanied with more pets for Zeus and a quick diversion to saying things like,"Isn't he the biggest Golden Retriever, you've ever seen." Inevitably the conversation returned to why the women were there to begin with.

The womens discussion turned toward death and I was stricken to hear both women talk about other children and their families whom had lost the battle, and they would refer to it as "We lost another one." or "Last time we were here all 7 on her floor died and one was a friend of my kids." They never reffered to the kids who were gone as, children or by name or by family, but always by this one or that one, I presume this is a way to cope with the difficuties these women have seen.

They returned to a discussion their current treatments and discussed various donors and how one kid got to meet their donor and really liked them. It was then that I got to see another wonderul interaction between therapy dog and the person whom needed them, one of the women stated that, "We are really happy to have so many potential donors, the last time there weren't as many, she will get the treatment on Thursday and pending there are no complications we will go home for awhile next week. It always seems like that doesn't it, pending no complications, it feels like we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. We are lucky however if this donor takes than she will need a new kidney someday, but not right now and no more major treatments, that is all I wish for though she will need a new kidney someday but not right now and for a little while she will have more life." Her eyes were reddened and the tears were just starting to form and as if on cue Zeus stood up and walked toward the woman and placed his paw gently on her knee, she chucled petted him and leaned over to give him a kiss. When she leaned over to kiss him she buried her face in that excessive some people feel Golden Retrievers have letting it dry the tears that had started to form and regain her composure. Zeus had done his job and done it well, fortunately he returned to the spot he had been before near me allowing me to bury my face and use that beautiful Golden coat to dab the tears that had started to from in my eyes. Gopher and I are comleting the paperwork now and should begin visiting this facility soon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Special Needs Classroom Visit

Gopher Visited a Special Needs High School Classroom on 1/24/2011

Disclaimer:
Names/conditions and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared.
Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits. The names of the institutions have also been changed or not used and if the name of a person is used it will likely be changed as well. 

The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, and institutions have only been changed to protect the privacy of those we visit.

Gopher was invited to visit with a Special Needs classroom on 1/24/2011, the visit lasted for nearly three hours with intermittent breaks throughout the time. While visiting he interacted with approximately 25 different students with diverse backgrounds. Some of the students had minor learning disabilities while some of the students were developmentally disabled.

Gopher was in his element on this visit, the purpose of which was to help the students relax prior to final exams which were being held this week at the school. As some of you may know it has been proven that many animals including dogs have a calming effect by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, increasing endorphin etc. So that was Gophers and his fellow therapy dog, a black lab named Zeus, goal of the day to help the students relax.

The majority of the students Gopher visited with were afflicted with minor learning disabilities in need of extra help and whom were often hard on themselves when they made mistakes increasing their anxiety and causing them to make more mistakes. This played perfectly into a problem Gopher has regarding differing between the commands for High Five, Paw (shake) and Touch (pushing his nose against the palm of the hand).

While visiting with the students they all wanted to know what tricks Gopher knew. Carla and I had been so focused on obedience exercises and conditioning him to be calm and confident around foreign objects and strangers that we have lacked in the tricks education portion. He has known touch for a long time as this is a focusing exercise taught to handlers and dogs in early obedience. Paw and High-Five are both newer tricks all of which deal with an outstretch hand held flat so is easily confusable. Gopher is solid with the tricks when he has his gear on, the treat bag is visible, and the verbal command is given. He is shaky if no verbal command is given due to similarity in hand position he often resorts to giving all three typically with in this order, high-five, touch, exaggerated high five lifting onto his hind legs putting both paws against my palm (high fifteen?) and then leaving one paw behind in my palm (Paw). This is followed with a huff and quick lick of his lips showing his frustration.

The educator led in with a discussion of training a therapy dogs highlighting any time we mentioned a minor fallback in the process, and I used this to demonstrate with Gopher. I told them about the tricks commands and what I wanted and then demonstrated with treat bag not visible. Gopher performed and showed all the signs of frustration. Then I mentioned about ho Gopher wasn't fully focused and knew the answers but was uncertain, something kept him from seeing what he actually knew. I then set up to do the same tricks with treat bag visible. Told the students whom were with me that once he took a deep breath relaxed he was able to focus and the correct answers that he knew were inside him were able to come out. Then went forward.

Gopher, "Sit".

Perfect Sit.

Gopher, "Paw"  he gently put his paw in mine.

Gopher, "High-Five" you could almost hear the leather of his paw slapping my hand.

Finally Gopher, "Touch", this one was exaggerated with my palm held a few feet above his head forcing him to jump off the ground. The students applauded.

After that we talked about how only moments before Gopher had made mistakes, knew he made them, allowed himself to be frustrated, but then when it was time to try again he did with confidence and did not give up. I think they got the message and came in a gave Gopher a lot of pets, one student saying "Don't worry pup, I make mistakes sometimes too, we just got to keep trying."

The time flew by much too quickly and Gopher was still happy and rearing to go at the end of the day, but was also happy to be done and passed out as soon as he got back to the car. As is becoming our tradition with our visits Gopher went to Key's Cafe and got his post visit pancake.

First Visit: "A Children's Hospital"

Gopher first visit to a Children's Hospital on 12/21/2010.


Disclaimer:
Names/conditions and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared.
Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits. The names of the institutions have also been changed or not used and if the name of a person is used it will likely be changed as well. 

The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, and institutions have only been changed to protect the privacy of those we visit.



Our first visit went well, despite my nerves in handling. Gopher did great. We visited as a group with the Twin City Tailwaggers a group affiliated with TCOTC. There were three other teams that joined us that night, but Gopher despite being a smaller GR was the biggest guy there. We interacted with about 20 people in total with 11 of them being patients, others were family, staff and friends.

The notable event of the evening was his interaction with a 5-6 year old girl suffering from a spinal disorder that necessitated her being on her stomach. The girl did not show much interest in the other dogs or Gopher at first. I asked the young girl and her mother if they would like to see Gopher and the patient gave a reluctant, "Yes".

Gopher then refused to approach.

I was embarrassed thinking the odd position or equipment made him nervous.

I gave him the command again, "Gopher say hello." With my hand gesturing him to where he needed to be. Alas my command and training of him seem to be for nothing, and I began to get a bit red in the face. Then it happened.

Gopher lowered his head and looked at the little girl through the tops of his eyes, and wagged his tail ever so gently. She saw this and started to grin and even chuckled a bit. With this confirmation from her he began to gently approach placing one paw ever so gently in front of the other.  By the time he arrived at her side she was giggling, petting and fully engaged. Gopher's tail started what we call pinwheel tail and it was all I could do to get him to sit so he wouldn't hit her with his tail.

I would have liked to take credit for this interaction, however I had nothing to do with it. This was purely him, and there is no circumstances that could have created an opportunity to train that behavior it was just instinct.

Hello and Welcome

Hello and Welcome,

This blog will be a chronicling of my experiences with my therapy dog, Gopher, AKC Registered HRH King Gopher. Here are the quick details about Gopher.

Born 7 August 2008.
Graduated Puppy Kindergarten and 4 levels of Obedience by 16 months old.
Certified as a Therapy Dog with the Delta Society at 18 months.
Foster Brother to countless RAGOM dogs.
Brother to the Earl of Squirrel whom is in training to be a search and rescue dog with MinnSARDA.
Human parents Carla Donovan-Burgess and Chad Burgess.

Gopher is more than just my companion and it has always been our intent to have him this way, he belongs to our community we just get the pleasure or living with him. We purchased Gopher from a reputable breeder with the sole intent of training him to do Therapy Work. What started off as a goal trulychanged the lives of my wife and I, are views on the world, our dog and the impacts we can make. Gopher has made it through much of the rigorous training and I am inviting you to join us as we discuss his experiences.

Now the Dislcaimer:
Names/conditions and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared when needed the approximate age and sex of the patient, resident or student visited may be changed.
Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits. The names of the institutions have also been changed and if the name of a person is used it will likely be changed as well. 


The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, and institutions have only been changed to protect the privacy of those we visit.




Thank you, I hope you enjoy and I welcome your feedback.