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 (www.ragom.org). 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.