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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Greatest Gift

What a wonderful holiday, time with family, friends, and he was a little spoiled as well.  Grandma and Grandpa treated him with new stuffed animals, bones, and some grain free treats. He was able to go out and enjoy some chuck it in unseasonably warm weather as well as play with his human cousins. It was a wonderful weekend overall and Gopher and his little family look forward to the next time they get to be with the rest of the family.

After the day itself had passed Gopher had to rush home so he could return to work, there is nothing like capping off the holiday like spending some time giving therapy.  We got home and Mom and I were boring tending to things around the house, checking on the cats, and unloading the vehicle. I grabbed the mail and sorted through the various junk mail and bills, tossing aside most of it to be recycled. Then I came across a red envelope that caused me to pause, it was obviously a card, but it was addressed as such:
Gopher (The Dog)
Saint Paul MN 55108
Very amused I called Gopher over thinking it was a Christmas card from one of our friends or a dog friend, for Gopher. I opened the envelope to find a card with a picture of a snow covered Golden Retriever, inside the card was a gift card, and the inscription read, “Thinking of you this holiday season.” It was then signed by the senders, I was very puzzled as I did not recognize the names at first, and then it hit me I did know these lovely girls, they are two people Gopher and I had been visiting with the last few weeks. I showed it to Gopher and Carla and we both got a little teary eyed.

I have said before many times in these entries, that there is no thank you needed for visits. Gopher not only loves to work, but seems to be naturally inclined to this work. Many peers have even commented on how ‘special’ Gopher is as a therapy dog. Both Carla and I have also found the effect this work has on us and Gopher so far outweighs what some people say is an inconvenient volunteering schedule has never once seemed like a burden or intrusion on our lives. Actually it has been quite the opposite, and we find ourselves wanting to go on more visits, and with the permission of the facility and Gopher are always happy to spend a little more time than scheduled with a family.

A card like this has never been on our radar, or even remotely considered an expectation. We were taken aback by the thought and the generosity. A family who is going through so much wanting to take the time to send Gopher a card for the holidays was truly the greatest gift. Carla, Gopher and I will treasure this for many years. Gopher and I thanked the family when we saw them on our visit, but it was impossible to convey how much it truly meant to our family. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hope you have a 'Golden' Holiday!

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2012!

As 2011 comes to a close Gopher would like to thank everyone who has read about our adventures. He also wanted  to thank all of our friends and family for their amazing support, love, friendship and a few special people of note.

The amazing grandparents, who their grandpuppies love very much.

Aunt Carla (not to be confused with Mom Carla) for her friendship support, and amazing blanket so that I can R.E.A.D., and for always being willing to 'get lost' for Squirrel.

Aunt Joan, not only because the boys love you so very much, but for the support you have given our whole family this year.

Aunt Lisa your support and kindness to Gopher and I has been overwhelming, and more appreciated than either of us can ever say.

Uncles Duck, Todd, Greg, Drew, Darnell, and Aunts Annie, Tracy, Mindy for your friendship, support and hiding for little brother Squirrel as he trains for SAR.

Thank you all so very much, those mentioned and unmentioned, for a year with some dark times you have been the light for our family.

Gopher and I also want to pass on wishes to the families we have visited this year. You have made our lives amazing and cannot thank you enough for letting Gopher and I come in, we hope the comfort Gopher provided many of you helped through the darker days. I hope the families who have been able to go home with their loved ones enjoy the holiday and best wishes for future health.

For those who are spending their first holiday season without their loved one, I hope you have the love and support you need to celebrate in their memory. They are with Gopher and I every day and have changed our lives in profound ways, and will continue to be with us as we try to help comfort others.

I hope everyone is able to celebrate the holidays to their hearts content, and remember the best gifts are the ones that can be shared. Even if it is a delicious bone with your obnoxious little brother.

Love and Joy to all....

Chad, Carla, Gopher, Squirrel, Graham, Perry and Bear

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December Adventures and Winter Safety

Happy Holidays everyone from Gopher and family. Gopher does not work all the time and one part of this blog is to talk about his adventures in addition to his experiences. In addition to typical walks and chuck-it play Gopher is also having some big adventures in December.

His first big adventure was to go to the Holidazzle Parade in downtown Minneapolis. (Quick Disclaimer: Gopher and his brother Squirrel have been gradually exposed to bigger and more complex environments since they were puppies.  Don’t just walk out the door and take your pup to an event like this, it can be very scary and could have bad consequences. Please consult with an experienced trainer before seeking attending complex events with your friend.)  Gopher and Squirrel went with Mom, Dad, Aunt Tracy, and two cousins to see co-worker’s of Mom’s march in the parade. It was a lot of fun with floats and people lit up in their various costumes. Gopher knew he was there to see the parade, but obviously the crowd was there to see him and he greeted every friendly smile, pat on the head with a wag of the tail. 

Gopher and Squirrel loved the young families who were in the viewing area with them and at one point before the parade, Gopher must have believed he was at work as he laid down in the gutter next to a little boy to let him pet him, and raised his paw, because as we know the best therapy comes from Gopher’s chest. 

This same little boy also spent the entire parade with his arm around Squirrel as both of them watched in wonderment.  A lot of fun was had by all, but Gopher still feels we missed out by skipping the street vendor’s popcorn stand.

Occasionally Gopher gets to go for walks in ‘special places’, this month we went to Summit Hill to see the decorations, or as Gopher considers it shopping for a more appropriate palace.  Although the decorations were lack luster this year Gopher thoroughly enjoyed his special walk with Squirrel, Simon, Aunt Annie, Uncle Greg, Mom and Dad. None of the mansions seemed to meet his desire so he was happy to go home and cuddle on his familiar couch.

Gopher’s biggest adventure is getting to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s for the Christmas holiday. The mere mention of Grandma and Grandpa causes pricked ears, a pinwheel tail and a whimper of excitement. Their house brings so many opportunities for exploration and times to paly chuck it in their massive yard. Not to mention so many people come to their house to see him and give him pets, it is sheer puppy ecstasy.

Gopher’s visits as a therapy dog weekly and we have many experiences to discuss in upcoming entries. Since today is the Winter Solstice we wanted to pass on some advice for winter safety for you and your best friend.

As Gopher reminds me often that even though it is cold outside your pet still needs exercise. Make sure you clothe yourself and if necessary your friend appropriately for the cold temperatures.  Also consider shorter but more frequent outdoor exercise and play to keep you both safe. 

Paws, and their little pads on your friend are especially susceptible to injury this time of year in cold climates. Frost bite can occur quickly to the exposed skin; the pads can also become dry and crack in the cold and from the salt on roads and sidewalks. Frequently check paws and wipe with warm moist cloth to clear off salt. Trim fur in the paw, or have this done by a professional groomer, the fur is a great insulator, but too much can cause the accumulation of ice and snow around the pads creating frostbite. You may also use products such as Musher’s secret or booties to help protect paws.

Happy Holidays to everyone and have fun; keep you and your pup safe, and all of your training and experiences positive.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Coming Soon: December Adventures and Winter Safety Tips

The holiday seasons bring many fun adventures for Gopher, and the dead of winter reminds us of some safety tips to keep you and your pup safe. Stay tuned.

You can also follow Gopher and our Adventures and Experiences at:
Facebook: HRH King Gopher
Twitter: Chad Burgess@HRHKingGopher

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Symbol of Support and Love, Becomes a Moment of Embarrassment

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

Gopher decided to commit his first faux pas as a therapy dog with a family we had been visiting for about a month. This mother who we will call Rebecca is young, intelligent and proud mother of two daughters that Gopher and I have had the fortune to get to meet as well. The youngest, who I will call Sabrina, is a mere toddler, nervous and excited by everything around her at the same time. She was intimidated by Gopher at first, but it did not take long for our gentle boy to reassure him that he was a lot of fun.  Gopher is fabulous with her as he has been with all children, and shows such patience with her even when she unknowingly stands on his tail Gopher just looks up at me and then back to his tail, making it known he would like this behavior to stop. True mark of a therapy dog not to go after the offender who is making them uncomfortable, but look to the handler to make it stop.

Rebecca’s older daughter, Katherine, is being treated for cancer, and I have only had the opportunity to meet once due to her treatment schedule, but she met and loved both Gopher and his co-worker well on her visit.
Rebecca and Sabrina visit with us nearly every time we are at the facility. Little Sabrina playing, visiting with the dogs, and the humans, while Rebecca strokes the dogs and talks to their respective handlers. The conversation is always lighthearted and typically centers around the dogs, as it should giving her a much needed break from the illness that has been consuming her days.

The visits had been typical visits and Gopher performed admirably and exceedingly well every time. Then came the day where it changed, fortunately only for a moment, and I think only noted by me and anyone who might have noticed how flushed my face became. Rebecca came down one day and I did not notice anything different at first as I was keeping an eye on Gopher who was a little extra bouncy that day. We settled into the room and Rebecca and Sabrina got down on the floor to pet Gopher and the other team that was there. Rebecca removed the hood covering her head and that was when I noticed the change. She had shaved her head. An act of pure love and support for her daughter who had lost her hair in the treatment and a showing of support that she was not alone. I had witnessed this before of mothers, fathers and families of cancer patients to show support, but this was a first for Gopher. I never suspected this would be difficult, alarming or even odd to him. Then is happened, fortunately for me I was paying attention to Gopher.

As Rebecca moved the hood from her head she fortunately turned at the same time to visit with the other therapy dog so did not witness what happened next.  Gopher dropped his paw that had been up to remind people that his best therapy came from a pleasant chest rub and lifted his head up, clearly looking at something with great interest. As I, moved over attempting to discover what had drawn his interest so acutely so I could address it appropriately Gopher stood up. I started looking around attempting to see what had grabbed his attention when he told me himself, by gently sniffing the air behind Rebecca’s head and then sitting down and coking his head to one side. I was so shocked by what I had seen that I almost didn’t stop him as he went to raise his paw and nose toward her head to get a better sniff. Fortunately I diverted his attention in time. 

Gopher is pretty amazing and is calm and attentive in almost any scenario, he had seen patients he visited lose their hair before, and obviously witnessed haircuts. I am not sure what he found so odd, interesting about Rebecca’s freshly shaved head, I was just glad I was attentive enough to him that it did not manage to become an even more embarrassing situation. Flushed and embarrassed I did some tricks with Gopher and he never attempted to observe Rebecca’s haircut any more that night or on any subsequent visits. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Over the last few weeks Gopher and I have said goodbye to a number of wonderful families who have come into our lives during visits with Gopher. It made me think about the goodbyes we have had our first year. Some were with us, only a short time and others nearly the entire year of our first visits we saw them. I cannot get over how much these families have meant to me. We always thank them for visiting with Gopher and wish them well, and their departures are bittersweet.

I cannot be happier for the families who are getting to go home, for a reprieve from the illnesses that have engulfed their lives for far too long and get an opportunity to return to normalcy. I have witnessed so much; from pain, to relief and joy. I have had been gifted with the opportunity to be in the presence of these families, met parents, grandparents, siblings, Aunts and friends.

I have taken joy in getting to see their ill or healthy child laugh for a few minutes while they petted Gopher, watched him do tricks, or helped me have him do tricks. I have seen the family and friends of an ill child sit down for a few minutes with Gopher and pet him, begin to smile and see the stress, fear and exhaustion in their faces fade for a few minutes. Sometimes we spoke and other times we let these moments pass in silence. I have seen Gopher comfort and ill child who was not having a good day, and even though the next day would be better, did not have the energy to laugh, but would sit and relax a few minutes petting Gopher. Other times it was more difficult while maintaining a caring but professional distance as they used Gophers fur to wipe away tears while hugging him. Exclamations of Gopher’s here from across a room followed by a child wearing a mask running over to him. Other times, a parent, or aunt, would just look at me and say, “I am so happy you are here today, I needed to see him.” They would sit with Gopher and just pet him, no other words being exchanged.

Other times there were bustling conversations, Gopher and I heard about their dogs, cats, birds and iguanas. Their hopes and dreams, always miraculously looking toward the future, and the possibilities, letting me see real strength, something I don’t think I would possess if the situation was reversed. I have also got to watch the wonderful staff and other volunteers who dedicate their lives or spend much more time than I do trying to make the best of bad circumstances, and am awestruck by their compassion and love and caring I have seen. I can only imagine the gratitude of the families who have gotten the opportunity to go home feel towards this wonderful staff.

The transition I have seen in the families has also been amazing and I am so happy that Gopher and I have been able to take part. Many times when I first meet a family they are somewhat apprehensive and unsure, which is to be expected, given that many of them were just living life a few short weeks, months, or days ago and were blindsided on a random day with a potentially devastating, illness, accident, or condition. Now they have to make the best of it, before they have a moment to deal with the blow. After a few weeks, they begin to relax and you can see that although they are not home, they are beginning to feel at home. Families watching others children while they run an errand or go to a treatment, or just need a nap, the community grow, and they all play their roles. Strangers not too long ago, but now friends with an irrevocable bond, it is human nature at its finest and a blessing to get to witness. Then the goodbyes, relief and joy combined with tears and sadness of leaving their new community.

I have seen many of these goodbyes, especially in the last few weeks when 6 families were finally able to take their children home again. They will never know the gifts they have given Gopher and I, nor the tears shed at their departure, the bittersweet mixture of joy and sadness. Most of them will never remember my name even and that is fine, as I am just the other end of the leash and I know they will never forget Gopher and their time with him. Few of them will never know, since they did not have the opportunity to observe him like I do the almost mystifying skills that seem innate in Gopher. Without provocation he seems to know when it is the time do tricks, play, or gently place his head in the lap of someone to let them know that he is there, that he cares. They also never see his excitement he has in going to work, sometimes crying and pacing the seat several blocks away as soon as he knows where he is going. They also will never see how he sometimes looks around the corner for them, maybe an old scent of a family who has left, or a noise hoping to get to see them again, but never upset when he doesn’t as he knows he seems to know there is more work to be done and more people to see.

The last few weeks we have watched the departure of many families, but always the continual introduction of new families, Gopher and I know that there is much more to do, and much more we will learn. I wish the departing families the best, and hope that if our paths are to ever cross again it will be under different circumstances. I also wish, despite the difficult situations that brought them into our lives, they know how much I appreciate having the opportunity to spend an hour or two a week with them, and I only hope Gopher and I were able to comfort them for even a few minutes.

Goodbye and Good Luck.