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Monday, February 28, 2011

Gopher Therapy Dog to More than Just Humans: The Story of Barney

As I said before I am going to from time to time share stories of how Gopher has been a therapy animal to more than just humans. No case is this more true than in the story of Barney.

Barney came into our home just two weeks after our previous foster had gone to his forever home. (The foster was Ramsey and you can read his story in a previous entry.) He had been in boarding for some time as he was a ‘more difficult’ foster. He had been labeled as having some dog to dog aggression. From a personal viewpoint I despise the use of the word aggressive in most incidences as the term brings to mind a Cujo-esque personality with bared teeth, growling, biting, barking and the general appearance of a dog that would rather eat you or another dog instead of looking at them. I prefer to state that these are cases of dog to dog reactivity. Barney was dog reactive, meaning he would get excited and scared when interacting with a new/unfamiliar dog. He is still working on this issue in his adoptive home, and will always be something that will need to be worked on with gradual improvement over time. We have the utmost confidence in his adoptive mother that he will always be handled appropriately and continue to build on the improvement he had in our home.

The first two weeks we had Barney were difficult. He came out of boarding anxious, scared and trembling. His initial interactions with Gopher were fine and not something we couldn’t handle so we brought him home. We could not isolate Barney in a crate or another room to decompress as is sometimes is needed for these dogs to survive as either measure would make him more anxious and nervous. So we had to closely monitor him when we were home and his behavior toward Gopher. When we were away the two dogs were separated to different halves of the house as we could not trust Barney alone with Gopher.

In addition to Barney’s issues, Gopher had some problems during this time. He had grown quite attached to our previous foster Ramsey and had been depressed ever since. If you are one to believe that dogs do not suffer depression please refer me to another term that would describe a dog that was medically healthy, but was disinterested in play, even with a tennis ball, laid in one spot on the floor without acknowledging his humans for days on end. Then we brought in Barney who could be reactive to our home with our still very young dog, and when he attempted to play with him was rejected due to Barney’s reactivity. This made Gopher reluctant to be around him and slow to trust dogs a part of his character he has maintained when interacting with any new dog.

Although the first two weeks were difficult, with not once, but two times escalating to dog fights that had to be broken up, we stayed strong although we were more than a little worried about Gopher. He showed us again what a wonderful dog he is by his own personality and once again this was not something we could train him to do. Gopher learned once Barney had started to calm down that he was not as scary or ferocious as he sounded. We noted this as well that often Barney would go into a situation wanting to play, but then would send the wrong or mixed signals. Gopher picked up on this and would then approach Barney on his belly; he would flip a toy or a coveted tennis ball in his direction. At first Barney would growl, he would be hesitant, yet his tail would wag the entire time.

Gopher continued this and Barney and he began to play regularly, this took several months, but allowed us to continue to have many breakthroughs with him. Including this one that is posted on youtube.

In that video Barney is shown playing with another dog, Tobi, that he only met an hour or two before, Gopher shows up a couple of times as well. This level of play had taken Gopher and Barney over a month to achieve, Barney’s ability to do this with Tobi after only an hour or so was entirely due to the diligence, patience of Gopher. He taught Barney how to play, led by example and taught Barney that not all dogs are scary. What would have taken a human handler a year or more to achieve Gopher had done in a matter of months once again showing us his innate need to perform therapy work.

Barney ended up being in our home for nine months and was adopted by a loving and wonderful woman who will be the strong and caring handler/ mom that Barney needs. Before leaving our home Barney was allowed to be on free roam with Gopher and eventually a new foster brother Squirrel when we were not home. Squirrel (Gophers forever little brother) continued to help Barney taking lessons from his big brother, someday he will be a therapy dog as well. Barney’s progress, change in attitude, improved demeanor and all aspects of behavior modification are to be credited to Gopher, Barney’s unlicensed therapist.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gopher on His Second Visit to a Children's Hospital on 2/8/2010

I got to go back to a hospital for children again last week and it was extra special. This time Mom was my handler, Dad was there too, but Mom was in control. Being the pup I am I did have to try to get away with more with her than I would have even thought about with Dad. I was just showing her how challenging it is for him when Squirrel chooses not to listen to Dad.

Mom and I went out and we visited with about 20 people 11 of them were patients and the rest were the staff and family members. This visit was another group visit, but I was the biggest boy there and the kids loved me.
Mom and I showed them how to high five, roll over, give paw (shake), and just how good of a boy I can be during the show part of the visit.

Before and after the show we visited with the kids and their guests individually. I got to see a little boy and a little girl who were there last time I visited, but I was sad to see the special little girl that dad told you about was not there this time. After the show I talked with a mom and daughter, the mom has a therapy pup like me at home as well, and was very impressed with me. Then mom put me up in a chair so I could see a little girl who had to come to the show in her hospital bed, she was so happy to see me and looked so sad in the bed I thought I should go ahead and climb off the chair and into bed with her, Mom thought differently and quickly put a stop to my attempt.

We went afterwards to Keys to get our now infamous post visit pancakes (thank you Mr. Stein for writing the book so Dad would have me enjoy pancakes like Enzo). Since they were so hot Mom and Dad wouldn't let me have them until I went home and I sat on the edge of the seat casually sniffing the air and letting out mild whines to remind Mom and Dad I knew the pancakes were mine. Since I was sitting so close to Mom and Dad I was able to listen in on their conversations which are typically boring so I just ignore this talk this time though I thought my pancakes might be at stake so I focused in on what they were saying.

Dad asked Mom what she thought of being my handler in a real life situation, since this was her first time. She told him that she was so focused making sure she was doing her job, that she didn't have time to see what was going on around her. Then she said that it didn't really hit her until the last little boy we visited that night. Sorry I forgot to tell you about him, the last person we visited was a wonderful little boy who was in a wheelchair. I did my best golden lean against the wheelchair and he pet my head and scratched my ears with a big grin the entire time despite the surroundings, the wheelchair and medical equipment he was hooked up to the little boy still smiled especailly while petting me. Mom recounted this to Dad and said that was when it finally hit her what we were doing there. I thought I even saw a tear start to well up in her eye and I was going to climb up in her lap and wipe them away. I decided not to as I knew they would think I was just after my pancakes, which was only a little true. Thank you for reading and I will let you know of my new adventures soon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gopher Therapy Dog to More Than Humans: The Story of Ramsey

Not all of the therapy work I have had the pleasure to witness Gopher perform has been with humans. He has lived in our home since he was seven weeks old, Carla and I technically purchased him from a reputable breeder in northern Minnesota. This was the first time I had ever gone out and purchased a purebred dog, and although I understood and still feel justified by our decision, I felt guilty about not helping out one of the many dogs who needed a good home. This guilt led us to start volunteering with the local Golden Retirever rescue, Retrieve A Golden Of Minnesota ( We sent in our application and were soon approved to become a foster home.

Gopher was a year old at the time our first foster came to live with us and had been through a lot of training by that time. When the first foster came in, a middle-aged purebred golden retriever, we soon discovered what many persons who own multiple dogs learn. Our Therapy dog in training was able to teach an "old dog new tricks" and that despite the fact we were training him to handle the complex facilities such as hospitals we would have in our midst a "therapist" for more than one species.

I am going to include in this blog from time to time the stories of how Gopher also provided therapy to one of his fellow canines. I am going to start by not telling you about the first dog, but the second a very ill boy who while in our home was known as Ramsey.Ramsey came into our home lethargic, ghastly thin and had difficulty catching his breath after only a few steps. He had been diagnosed just days before as being heartworm positive, an extremely deadly and devastating parasite. Carried via mosquito the parasite is delivered to the blood stream where it begins to grow, and spread effecting the heart and lungs. This relatively cheap to prevent via monthly pill parasite (approximately $120.00 per year) is terminal if left alone, but also extremely difficult, expensive and life threatening to treat.

Gopher and Ramsey hit it off right away and were close friends throughout their time together at our home. Ramsey was so ill when he came in that he didn't do much so we let the two boys spend the day free roam while we were at work, often coming home to find them cuddled together on the couch, or a dog bed something that Gopher has rarely ever done with another dog before or since, but he and Ramsey were often next to one another. I like to muse and think that Gopher knew he was sick, he did know something was wrong as Ramsey didn't act like other dogs to sand had mell different thanks to those fine canine scent receptors.

As we got through a few weeks of medication and Ramseys lungs started to clear from the fluid build up he started wanting to play so we had to seperate the boys during the day. We didn't want exuberant play to compromise Ramsey's already poor health or create a potential embolism casued by pieces of the worm breaking off and drifting into the blood stream. Gopher would run to meet me at the door and then take off and nose the door knob to the area where Ramsey was kept, anxious to get to his new friend.

It was soon after this that Ramsey began the actual treatment to treat the heartworm. He would receive an injection of arsenic in the lumbar region, the trick was to give enough arsenic to kill the worms, but not the dog. After the injection the risk of emblism increased greatly so Ramsey had to be crated at all times, and went out to the restroom on a leash only. Gopher started working overtime on his untrained therapy work. When I came home from work I would find Gopher laying as close to the crate as possible, or Gopher and Ramsey engaged in a staring contest. When I got home Gopher would bring me a tug toy, one of his favorite games especially with a canine friend he would show it to Ramsey. Gopher always tucked me into bed but when I woke in the middle of the night and my feet were cooler than usual I would find him lying next to Ramsey with only the wall of the crate sepearting them. It is my belief that Gopher allowed Ramsey to survive the treatment through his support and friendship and Carla and myself were merely the taxi service.

After many weeks and multiple injections we were able to start letting Ramsey out for limited and controlled excercise as the weeks progressed we were able to let him be more and more active. He came in a stray, and although he was very affectionate to humans, you could tell he hadn't spent much time in a home and had never been given a toy. Gopher was his nursemaid during the treatment, his friend and supporter, but now it was time to finish his therapy. As Ramsey gained more and more energy and was able to play more adn more. Gopher started to introduce him to the joys of toys, taught him more and more how to play. From what we have heard these games he continues to play in his adoptive home with his fur brother, also we learned at some point Gopher taught Ramsey how to open gates.

Gophers interactions that I have witnessed with humans and canines makes me think of the vet school t-shirts I have seen students wear stating "Real Doctors can Operate on More Than One Species". I guess this goes for Therapy Dogs too, that they can help more than one species, and proves to me that all of the work Gopher is doing is more him and less about his training. The training just gave him the confidence to go into the scary places and do what he does best, give true love and affection.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


We are getting ready to return to the location of our first visit. We will be returning there on Tuesday February 8th, working on some new tricks to make those kids smile. Maybe I will wear a tie this time. A Golden in a tie, that always gets some laughs. I will tell you all about once I return.