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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. 

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