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Friday, May 20, 2011

Video: Sent By A Fan

Good Afternoon,

This Video was sent in by a fan of Gophers' Shows the benefits of therapy animals and some of the reactions I get to see on every visit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Back to the Beginning: How Gopher Came Into Our Lives?

The two things that can be said about my wife, Carla, and I is that we love animals and we have an innate sense that we need to help our fellow human. Carla and I were college sweethearts meeting early in our freshman year at the University of Minnesota. We were best friends from the beginning and even now after over seven years of marriage, and over 11 years of being together I still can’t imagine a better day than one spent with her. We have had our tumultuous times. Difficulties in college, financially and two layoffs, but no matter what we stick together and always seem to make it through.

In 2008 after being together for all of our adult lives Carla and I knew we wanted one thing, a dog. Not just any dog, but a Golden Retriever and we would name him Gopher. We had been living in a rental house for a number of years and despite having a good relationship with the land lord he would not budge and let us get a dog. The economy of the United States was and still is difficult and full of uncertainty, but we decided to see if we could get a house. Not because it made financial sense, or that we knew we would be remaining in Minnesota for the rest of our lives, but because we wanted a dog. So we set out to do just that and were surprisingly approved and began the house hunting. Over a couple of months we saw a number of homes particularly in Saint Paul and the surrounding communities, we saw and looked at just as many websites for Golden Retrievers.

We knew we wanted a Golden Retriever as it had long been a desire of mine to work with a Therapy Animal and hopefully bring a few moments of laughter and peace to those in difficult or troubling situations. I had read and witnessed their effect on the people they visited. We decided on a Golden Retriever as we wanted to stack the deck in our favor and knew that this was an “eager to please breed”. Our intention at the time was start off with a Golden but maybe a different breed in the future, after having a Golden we now know in our home there will be no other breed. We also wanted to go through a reputable breeder. Being novice trainers we wanted to have a better idea of how the dog might act as an adult and raise it up from a puppy so we would have a better idea of how it would respond since we had known the animal most of it’s life. 

The house search droned on, and we settled on a few top contenders and called in the support of our families for their insight and know how before settling on any one house. The house we finally ended up purchasing was never the top of the list, but it always fit. Our parents approved of the little house knowing the neighborhood would hold its value better than some of the other homes. We made the offer and it was approved, before the date was finalized we had also chosen our breeder and made a deposit on the pup. The time for the pup to be picked up and the close date on the house were only a week and a half apart. When a hiccup in the closing process caused a delay we became very concerned as we did not want to forfeit our deposit and we wanted our dog. We had even purchased all of his immediate needs, found a veterinarian and where we would attend training classes.

The sale of the house went through the Monday after it was supposed to and we moved into our first home. We have always been quick to setup our living spaces as neither of us could feel truly comfortable and at home until family photos were on the wall and boxes did not fill living spaces. We also had more inspiration as our new pup would need a home box free so he would not hurt himself and so he could learn what it was like to live in a home. We set up our home and anxiously waited for the day to arrive.

My parents were going to come up from Iowa the Friday night before we would go and meet our new pup on Saturday morning. They had originally planned on coming up to help us move but due to the closing hiccup we asked them if they wanted to come and help us settle in, clean the rental house and meet their new grand son. Working in Des Moines and having a four hour drive to Saint Paul caused them to arrive very late, and to top off what had been a couple of weeks of poor timing my father went off without his medication so we found ourselves at a 24 hour Walgreens at one am a mere 4 hours before we were due to leave on another four hour drive north to near where the Mississippi river begins to get our new pup.

Carla and I had arranged everything. We made thermoses of Hot Chocolate and Coffee for the early drive. Picked up bagels and made breakfast sandwiches and packed chips and sandwiches for a picnic we would have on the way home. I had printed off a list of radio stations that would play the football game, Gophers versus Ohio State in Columbus, as Carla and I were die hard fans of our alma mater and my parents who don’t care for football agreed to let us listen to the game.

So on a typical crisp September morning in Minnesota we loaded the car and were off at 5 am in the dark to meet our pup born just a few weeks before on August 7th. The drive was long and tiresome as none of us had really slept either due to late arrivals and early morning pharmacy trips or for Carla and I we were restless with anticipation. The sun was still low in the sky when we made the final turn on the dirt road that would take us to the breeder’s home. He had a beautiful place in northern Minnesota a spot that was half prairie and half Northern Pine Forest.

Our breeder, Brad, is a very nice older man, a retired school teacher with a lot of love for Golden Retrievers. He stood very tall, but you could see this man had a heart not unlike a Golden Retriever full of love and compassion. We spoke with him for a few moments and he advised us again that we would have a choice of two remaining males. He showed us the bitch and the sire, and then released the litter from their confinement so we could make our choice. If you only can do one thing in your life and even have a minor inclination towards dogs nothing in this world could be better than watching seven Golden Retriever puppies come running at you in a herd of fluffy squishiness. 


Brad pointed out our two choices a purple collared pup that was a deeper red and had a thinner coat and a green collared guy that was blonder and fluffier. Carla picked up the blond fluffy one first and I picked up the guy with the purple collar. There was something about him and I already had an inclination towards him, but I didn’t say anything to Carla as I did not want to influence her decision. She was leaning toward the blonde fluff ball but as we traded the puppies back and forth she also said “How do we choose, I can’t decide.” Brad suggested we set the pups down and let them play with their litter mates while we took time to discuss. So we set them down, and the blonde fluff ball tore off to go rummage in the garden with his littermates. The redder one with the purple collar started to follow suit and then after going five feet from us did a 180 and returned to my side in a perfect heel, and looked up at me as if to say, “Well we going or what?” That purple collar was to be our Gopher and he had made up our minds for us. We knew many things, that we would love him, care for him, spoil him and keep him safe. We also knew we would do our best to make him into a Therapy Dog. What we didn’t know was that this little 7.5 lb ball of fur and energy would have an innate sense to be a therapy animal, that he would take us to a level of compassion and empathy that we could not even imagine then, and that he would provide us with insight into ourselves and the persons we didn’t even know we wanted to be.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Place to Belong

Disclaimer:

Names 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 experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, if given have only been changed to protect the confidentiality of those we visit.

You know that feeling you get after going someplace new for a while, whether it is work for school and you’re not sure when it happened, but you suddenly realize you belong there. Gopher and I have that feeling now at one of our facilities, not sure when it happened, but now we both feel like we belong there. Gopher directs me down the hall to sign in and back to our room where the visits take place with no direction from me.

Another thing that I am pleased to report is his presence has matured in the therapy setting. He now stays acutely
focused on me and waits more patiently for my direction. With the slightest flick of my finger I am able to tell him to go and say hi to someone. He will sometimes look at me while doing this and I will say, “Its okay, say hello” then he will turn his head and give the visitor the full attention of his precious brown eyes.

In the time we have had to take in adjusting to our role in this facility, we also were able to watch a little girl take the time to get adjusted to us. Dualla is only three years old and has Downs Syndrome, as with many children born with Downs she has had to have multiple surgeries to repair other birth defects. Gopher and I have seen Dualla at nearly every single visit we have had over the past three months. She always smiles at me and Gopher and blows kisses to Gopher on her own and when asked to do so by her Mom. Both Mom and I always ask Dualla every time and sometimes multiple times in a single visit if she would like to see Gopher. She always answers us with a very emphatic shaking her head no.

Dualla still always insisted on seeing Gopher, but only from afar. She would refuse to visit with him directly any time either of us asked, but she would always blow him kisses and get excited to see him. Then after nearly 8 weeks of solid visits something else had changed. I met Dualla as soon as I walked in, and she was so excited, a little more than normal to see Gopher. I said Hi to Dualla and her mother and told them I would be in the room in a moment, after I had signed in for the day.

When Gopher and I returned to the room, Dualla and her mother and father were waiting. She nearly jumped out of her chair and we didn’t even have to ask if she wanted to see Gopher as she crawled over to him. After 8 weeks of not wanting him to be too close, Dualla would spend the next forty-five minutes, loving him and playing with him on the floor. She zoomed up to Gopher and immediately hugged him and gave him kisses. She examined his ears, his face and the rest of this body while leaning against him as if he was a special living cushion just for her.  Mom, Dad and I couldn’t believe what we saw, and spent the time talking about the sudden change and laughing with Dualla as she played with Gopher on the floor. I guess Gopher and I have found a place we truly belong, now that Dualla has fully accepted us.