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Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

On behalf of Gopher and his family we want to thank all of our fans and readers for their support.

We hope that 2013 allows you the comfort and support to be all that you can be no matter how ridiculous it may look!

Finally we want to share Chad's favorite holiday song, sung by Gopher's favorite vocalist, Luciano Pavarotti. We are not joking, Gopher pays close attention when Pavarotti is singing, and in our travels if/when we hit the evil rumble strips only playing of his music seems to soothe Gopher.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Why......

I spend a lot of time visiting with Gopher. Taking time away from my own home and family, sometimes becoming more emotionally involved than I should. It is hard not to become attached, I had the pleasure of having lunch with a friend and peer of mine who after her first year of visiting one location has grown to love the children her and her partner are working with. I understand this feeling all too well. Just the other day I was visiting a patient who had a conversation with Gopher stating, "I am very tired Gopher, not sure how much longer I can go on. You are a good dog, will you please come back and visit my (partner) when I am gone. I want to see our next anniversary, but not sure if I can." It took every last bit of strength I had to keep my composure until I was safely in my car, I have been visiting the patient for 8 months and have seen the decline as well as reminders of my own family, I know that I have begun to lose my professional objectivity.

Why do Gopher and I do this? The reasons are numerous. The moments I have shared with patient and family. The tears that Gopher's fur has dried, the sheer joy he has brought to persons in some of the most difficult situations in life. These have had a profound impact on me, shaped the way I think and see the world. Not too mention the excitement and pleasure Gopher has in his own work.  One thing about me that hasn't changed is that I believe strongly that my day is wasted if I do not spend at least one part of it help another person (human or animal).

Why do I think it has such impact? This question was posed to me recently by a reporter for a college paper who was taking images and writing a story on the therapy animals visiting campus for finals week. I quoted the typical studies on blood pressure, endorphin release these are concrete easy to explain. My science education draws me to them. It is more difficult to explain the impact I have seen Gopher have these last three years of working. The stories sometimes too numerous, too emotional to get across in a sentence or two. It is one of the reasons I began writing about my experiences here, and also to hopefully get a few more people to join Gopher and I as there is more work than teams available. This week a few of our peers went to Connecticut to help the way a therapy animal can, to provide moments of comfort. Their mission is simple, be present, keep your partner safe. They will and have spent time in groups, and also one on one with grief counselors and their patients. It is just one of those impacts that are hard to describe, a person will begin a dialogue with an animal present more willingly and easily than on their own. I have seen Gopher do this, the person sits seeming to search for words, you can feel the tension in them and then Gopher leans into them. They give a weak smile and a laugh and begin petting and in a few moments they begin talking.

These animals will not give more than comfort, but they will allow a dialogue to begin between patient and therapist. The dialogue that is started allows them to work through their difficult emotions and start examining how they may heal. Time and realization are the only things that can heal deep wounds, a therapy animal helps start the conversation.  The why? It is due to endorphin release and decreased blood pressure, but the HOW, is far more interesting than the why and much more difficult to explain.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Test Time

Test time!! Well not for Gopher or I but for the students. Oh, how well do I remember the times though, the high stress, the anxiety, followed by the exhaustion. It is becoming more recognized the calming effects a single therapy visit from a well trained dog can do for students during their final preparations. A healthy and more effective way to neutralize stress.

This week Gopher and I were able to spend time with students both at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota and at Hamline University. The response at both locations we well received and the students were excited. Gopher did not fail to delight. At both visits he sought out the largest crowds and sat down in the middle of them, lifting his paw to remind them that the best therapy comes from his chest. The students laughed and were delighted by Gopher and the other therapy animals who were visiting. Easy to say a good time was had by all.

The University of Minnesota newspaper The Minnesota Daily even did a nice write up, with a photo of Gopher and the hosting organization set up a Flickr account and local news responded as well, but no Gopher. Links to both are below!

Minnesota Daily Article

Flickr Images

CBS Coverage

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I have always enjoyed transitions. The transition could be daily during dawn or dusk when both the night sky and rays of sunlight are both visible or that moment when a new concept goes from concept to understanding. I seek out transitions and have always been fascinated by them, the fuzzy gray between shadow and light. The time a leaf is showing a decline in chlorophyll and an increase in tannins making it go from green to red and then brown. Transition fascinates me, and over the last few months the transitions in my own life have fascinated me and given me pause. This last weekend the transitions I witnessed were almost overwhelming.

First was the transition of the landscape, with our first winter storm we moved from browns and yellows of decay and dormancy to layers of wet snow we have not seen here since 2011. Although it seemed like this storm did not want to end, I was still enveloped by our first ‘real’ snow of the season. The mud, dirt, dormant grass and leftover leaves were no longer visible. Gopher led Squirrel and Bert out into the fresh snow with such excitement, all three of them burying their noses, and coming up shaking ears and sneezing.

Next was the transition with Gopher. Unable to not make use of fresh snow and wanting to play with him it was time to head out to a place where he can run. We were off like a snail due to the poor road conditions and made it to the park some 20 minutes a way in a record one hour! In this period Gopher transitioned many times, from a regal, mature dog of 4 years, to an excited puppy ready to go play at the mention of park and chuck it. Then to the annoyed kid on the long drive, his huffs easily translating to, “Dad are we there yet?” Then lastly to a pup who seemed to have no idea of the extensive training he has had bouncing around the back of the car whimpering in anticipation at our arrival and then pulling on the leash and barking impatiently to have the ball thrown.

Although all of those transitions were fun it was the next one that never ceases to amaze me. The travel time and my inability to still handle Minnesota winter caused us to have a shorter time playing than anticipated. Gopher was still eager to have the ball thrown as we worked our way out of the park. When we arrived at the gate I leaned over and asked him if he was ready to go to work, immediately his disposition changed from that of overly excited needing more tennis ball puppy to the mature trained dog I knew was in there somewhere. He has a job, he loves doing it, and the mere mention of work and sliding the gentle leader into place, putting on the short leash and he had transitioned into an entirely different dog than what I had a few moments earlier.

We were off again, well sort of for the remainder of the journey to our patient’s home. Gopher was calm, and not frustrated with our travel but observant. As we neared the intersection of our final turn he whimpered with excitement again, but it is a different whimper from his about to play whimper. I was pleased when he did this as the snow had obscured the street sign so if he hadn’t let out the whimper I would have missed our turn.

We park and the pup that only a moment ago had forgotten his leash training was the perfect gentleman. He eagerly went to his patient and ‘assumed’ his position by sitting as close to her as possible allowing her to rub her face in his fur and to be stroked and touched everywhere. The transition from the pup in the park to the dog in front of me was rapid, he went from full throttle and hammer down, to calm, relaxed, confident and perfectly composed. As he took in the gentle love and pets of his patient, we visited the patient, partner, gopher and me. We discussed the weather, and the change in coaching at Wisconsin (this patient is a Badger, but we can’t all be perfect) and whatever comes to mind. Gopher leans into the patient more and the petting gets more intense as they are nose to nose.

Thinking of the transition with Gopher from the park dog to the working dog, made me think about where we were now and the transition I have seen. Our patient is in hospice care and has since we have been visiting to truly accept the inevitable future and was living the remaining time to its fullest. The partner I had noticed in conversation was not at the same place. However in the many months I had been visiting I had seen the coming to terms and acceptance come forward in his speech and discussions. From what I have seen the transition has gone well and better than I would be doing if I was in the same shoes. I have only been with my partner for a single decade and not many. It is amazing to think about these transitions, from hyper puppy to observant working dog, a person transitioning to acceptance to the inevitable loss of a partner, the browns to whites, and strangers to friends it appears we are all in transition. They both pet Gopher for some time, the conversation dwindles and here we are the four of us once strangers transitioned to friends, now sharing precious moments petting a dog, albeit a pretty amazing one.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Letter Sent to Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society)

I have so many stories about Gopher and I that sometimes I struggle to find the right words. Most of the time when I do get them written up and posted on here or talk to people I only here wonderful comments, and most of the time they are thankful to me when in reality it is Gopher who should be thanked as I am just the chauffeur. This last week a family member of a patient took my hand firmly and said, "God bless you, God bless you so much for your kindness, and thank your wife for sharing you and Gopher with us." I smiled and turned away quickly holding back tears as the thank you was so emphatic you knew it came from the deepest recesses of the soul. Occasionally I am greeted by rolled eyes, a skeptic who says I put too much emphasis on the dog or I am anthropomorphising Gopher too much. It is one of the many reasons I have begun sharing my stories. I can tell you that I absolutely do not reach too far into what Gopher has done, not only the effect he has had on people but his motivation and response to numerous different situations is beyond my grasp to understand fully. It has caused me to look deep within myself, search my own soul and intellect and even question my personal views on faith. If you have not had the opportunity to be in the presence of a working dog, or more effectively teach, live, and work with a dog that has a job you will find it hard to understand, however Gopher is open for appointments if you are open to seeing a different side of life.

All this goes through my head and this morning I read a lovely note that was sent to Pet Partners formerly Delta Society and I cannot help but sharing as it gives an unrelated to myself or Gopher viewpoint that I have experienced so many times. It also happens to be another Golden....

"As we walked in, we immediately turned into the nurse's station and met with some of the staff. At the same time there was a young girl who was asking to use the phone outside the nurses station. While Maddie and I continued to talk to the staff, I could hear the young lady crying and talking to her mother about wanting to commit suicide. Maddie 'told' me that she REALLY needed to 'talk' to that girl, so I made sure that we were available for her as soon as she got off the phone.

I asked (the girl) if she would like to talk to Madison for a while and I introduced the two of them. She told me that, "Madison can't talk." I told her, 'Maddie talks in a very unique way, but more importantly she listens. I'm going to be right over here talking with the other kids and the nurse. You just sit here and pet Maddie. If at any time you feel like talking, just talk to her, she'll listen.' I did retain the other end of the leash, but by turning my back, I excluded myself from their conversation.

After about 15 minutes, I heard a lot of talking, but it was relaxed, calm talking and talking that allowed her to work some things out. After about 1/2 hour, I turned to sit with them and she starting asking about Madison, what her job was in the hospital, how she got (registered), etc. She then asked me what kinds of animals could be pet therapy animals. I told her about Pet Partners and all of the various animals that they certify. I even told her about the horse who has special tennis shoes so that he can visit patients in (a) Colorado (hospital).

All this time she continued to pet Madison and talk to her too. Finally after about an hour, the break-through. She said, "When I grow up, I think this is something that I want to do."

I almost cried right there; in about an hour, she had gone from wanting to take her own life, to formulating a plan for the future. "

She also taught me something that night. That this is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. Thank you for doing all that you do to make our work this meaningful."


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gopher Provides Therapy for Bert Our Newest Foster

Gopher, Squirrel, Carla and I  recently took in a foster. Bert the 5 month old Golden Retriever. Bert is in our care for hospice, his kidneys failed to develop. We could not help but see the reflections from the past. 

Reflections of The Past

Graham with Gopher and Squirrel, Graham was also a foster, he was a senior with Chronic Kidney Failure. Squirrel and him were the best of friends. When he grew weak as his time approached Gopher provided therapy for his little brother and it was chronicled here: Gopher Therapy Dog to More than Just Humans: The Story of Squirrel and Graham and Me

Bert with Gopher and Squirrel, Bert is our new hospice foster. Much like with Graham he has no certain expiration date, much like Graham, Squirrel and him became fast friends. Gopher who is typically not much for pups is even actively playing with him, seems to know there is something wrong and is overlooking the fact he is a puppy. Unlike Graham he is in hospice care before his first year of life. Bert is a happy going eager puppy, and we will care for him providing the highest quality of life possible until his time comes.

We do need the help of the public. 
If you would like to contribute to Bert's Hospice Care Please go to:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When a Visit Goes Bad

Sometimes, despite all your preparation a visit can go bad. This could be a result of an action your partner takes, an off day or in the case of Gopher and I a child throwing a toy at him.

It was a beautiful day outside and a weekend given it was a group visit setting I was expecting a quiet day, but still wanted to keep our scheduled visit in case someone needed a little Gopher time. We arrived at the facility and were surprised to find a lack of adult presence, there were two kids running around and having a good time. They were not doing anything particularly wrong, just being a bit overly exuberant.

We went and signed in, and retired to the room where our visits take place. The two kids came by, quickly petted Gopher and then returned to their play time activities. When visiting the handler portion of the therapy dog teams first and foremost responsibility is to keep your partner safe.

As the kids played, they began to run through the room, and that was fine, Gopher is used to this at the facility. However they then decided it was time to take turns running up to Gopher and screaming in his face. I was taken aback by this, but Gopher maintained his composure and training and merely looked at me. When they returned to do it again, I stopped them immediately.

"Stop, it is not nice to scream in anyone's face, Gopher is here to visit you and if you want to visit with him nicely you are welcome to do so, but do not scream at him." I told them in a controlled, but stern voice.

They walked away obviously annoyed at the adult who spoiled their fun. They began playing again in the next room. As the time passed it became obvious that they were to be our only visitors. We were determined to spend the hour in the event there was a family in need of the visit, then it of the children came flying through the room and I am still not sure if it was by accident or with intent threw a toy at Gopher. He let out a light whimper.

I jump to my feet.

"STOP. You do not throw a toy or anything at my partner. He is here to comfort people, and you hurt him, did you hear him whimper? You need to leave this area now. Throwing something like that at any dog is wrong, throwing things at a therapy dog will make them not want to work anymore, you could ruin them for everyone else."

Admittedly, I was much more stern, but still composed when I reprimanded the child. I reported the incident to the manager on site and let them know I was leaving to remove Gopher from the situation.

The facility contacted me multiple times expressing their apologies, I told them it was handled and I merely needed to remove Gopher that day so that any negative feelings toward the area did not effect his future performance. I did see the child a few more times, each time giving Gopher, myself and the other therapy teams a wide berth. I do not regret my actions and need to remove Gopher as I always need to be his advocate. my only wish is that the child's parent would have been present to prevent it from happening in the first place, or to help the child understand his actions were wrong, but he could still visit if he wanted, but with respect.

Oh well it was a bad day. Gopher and I went for a drive, a little chuck it to get the negativity out of his mind and did the only thing you can do with a bad day. Slept it off......

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad,  Squirrel and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

If you read the schedule today's article was going to be about a negative experience and how Gopher and I handled the situation. It will still happen as the hope is to be informative for those seeking to do the same work. However I had an experience yesterday that I felt needed to be shared given that Henrietta passed away peacefully this morning.

Gopher and I were out visiting many of our patients on Monday. The end of the day had come and he had been working for over 4 hours when I called to make my reports of the days activities.

We went through the list and let them know about the day. Two of the patients I would no longer be visiting. One had declined pet therapy, and the other needed another type of volunteer and not a pet therapy team. The conversation ended, and then came the request, "Chad, I hate to add another patient as you have so many right, now, but would you mind filling one more request?" I looked over at Gopher, he had perked up in the back seat, moved his ears towards me, and had a big golden smile on his face. "Sure, I think Gopher is still ready to go, we can do our initial visit today." The volunteer coordinator was pleased by this and dispensed the information.

The room was hot when we arrived, and the Henrietta's daughter was there sitting with her mother. It was obvious that there was not much time left. Henrietta was non-responsive and per her daughter and nurse had not been responsive for a few days. 

Her respiration's were heavy and her eyes were mostly closed but what you could see of her eyes showed me that my presence did not register. 

"Henrietta, my name is Chad and I am from the hospice service. I have Gopher with me and he is a therapy dog that wanted to see you today. I am going to put him in a chair next to your bed."

I gestured to Gopher to get up in the chair, and he did so, turned sat and leaned towards the bedside of the chair.

"She loves dogs and all animals, when I put in the request she was more alert, I don't think she will respond, but thank you so much for coming and trying" the daughter said to me.

I gestured towards Henrietta's hand and her daughter gave me an affirmative nod.

"Henrietta, I am going to take your hand and place it on Gopher's head, he wanted to see you and your daughter told me you love animals and I would like to help you feel his fur."

I took her hand and placed it on his head. Almost immediately her respiration slowed, and became more relaxed. 

"Henrietta, your hand is on his head, he is a Golden Retriever and his fur is dark red, doesn't he feel soft?"

Then I felt as her fingers began to flex and move in a scratching motion a nearly innate response of a person who has known the pleasure of petting a loving dog their whole lives. Her drooped mouth curved into a smile, but her eyes were still non-responsive. It was a magical moment that lasted only a couple of minutes.

Once her fingers stopped scratching I moved her hand back next to her.

"Thank you for the pets Henrietta, you really made Gopher's tail wag, he really liked them. Thank you for letting us visit you today, we will leave now, but will return when we can."

I turned to find tears in her daughters eyes, "Thank you so much, she said to me, Mom has not been her for days, thank you for letting me see my mom again for a little bit." She leans over and pets Gopher, "Thank you Gopher, you are truly a special dog." We told her we could come back, and thanked her for letting us visit today.

We would not be given the opportunity, the body that had failed Henrietta let her go this morning, and she is at peace. The nurse who reported her death to me this morning, thanked me again, and told me that she was there with her daughter when she passed away. The daughter had told her about the experience with Gopher. Told the nurse how thankful she was, her mom had not responded to her voice or touch for days. She appeared to be struggling and her breathing had begun to bother her. She did not respond again after Gopher left, her scratching was the last sign that her mom was still in there that she saw. She was also thankful that the more relaxed respiration during Gopher's visit continued until her final moments. Although she did not rest for the night wanting to make sure her mom knew she was there and it was okay to go, she was comforted by Gopher's visit, and the effect it appeared to have on her breathing.

It was our first time meeting Henrietta, and I was not sure how the visit would go when I entered the room. The interaction I observed just confirmed the power of Gopher's work, and the strength of human-animal bond. Thank you Henrietta for letting me see this, I hope you have found peace.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gopher Cards

Therapy teams throughout the world are known to leave mementos of their visits with patients whether they are long term or short term. This can be just about anything, educational items, photos, but never food. One popular item to leave is trading cards.

It is so much fun when entering a patients room to discover they have posted the various trading cards of the animals who visit with them, even better when they say, "These are my doggies, they live with someone else, but they are mine." They then in turn tell you the story about each of the teams they see.

Gopher is now on series 2 of his trading card, and Squirrel is on series 1.

Gopher Series One:

This first card was the gift of our dear friends and fellow therapy team Lisa and Kodi. They came to us at a special time and was such a generous gesture that we hold both this card and Lisa and Kodi in high esteem. This also introduced me to Dave at After flying through these rather quickly with only a very few remaining one to be sent to our contest winner Finn Howard, it was time to order more. There are multiple companies and people that do this work. I was extremely impressed with Dave and company due to the sturdiness of the card, and his ability to take a non-creative persons idea and make an incredible card. So we had to use him again. This is an extra to therapy work, but for those of you considering this path, include in your planning an idea for a memento as it goes a long way in the patient getting to reflect on the experience when you and your partner cannot be there. We used Dave for Gopher Series 2 and Squirrel series 1 and have had great luck with Custom Sports Cards, should you choose to use them.

Gopher Series 2

Squirrel Series One:


Good Morning!

It has been a little while since you have heard from Gopher and I here at Gopher sessions. It's okay, Gopher and I are doing great, still visiting, and still having fun. So where have we been??? After two years of contract work in late July, professional opportunities poured in for me. After careful consideration, discussion with Carla, Gopher, our families and even Squirrel, I chose an opportunity that although fiscally low, came with immense personal satisfaction and began working for Midwest Animal Rescue & Services (MARS). So now my life has truly gone to the dogs, and I get to spend my days helping a wonderful organization help animals find their road home. If you live in the Twin Cities metro and looking for a way to help MARS, go to If you do not live in the Twin Cities, or do but unable to help you still can as our fundraiser is coming up go to

Now on to other news!!

1. Congratulations Finn and Marianne Howard!!! They won our photo contest!!! They were our only participants, but it does not make them any less winners! 

Their entry:

Finn and Marianne, keep it up! This trick evolved out of a quintessential command for therapy work, the leave it command. Finn is so beautiful and if you two ever have the inclination, Gopher and I would love to count you among our therapy peers.

2. Meeting a celebrity golden and his human. Carla and I recently had the opportunity to meet Fmr. Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog Tuesday! Luis and his story chronicled in Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him is a true American hero. In his book he discusses the recent Iraq conflict, his service, and the service of others. He commends his brothers and sisters in arms and acts as an advocate for veterans and service animals. At the same time he respectfully sheds light on the institutions, its flaws with the hope they will do better. Most notably is his brave discussion of his own trauma a TBI combined with PTSD and other physical afflictions, and how his appropriately trained service animal has allowed him to function in his post war life. It is a must read, and will be chronicled in a movie in 2013 as well.

Chad, Carla, Fmr. Capt. Montalavan, and Tuesday:

In his book he gave me the term 'Intelligent Disobedience' which explains some of Gophers actions in our therapy work. I thanked him for this, his service, and the bravery he showed in telling his story, and his help for all of our veterans while he signed a book for a friend who has recently enlisted and then wrote the following inscription in my book.

3. HRH King Gopher, THD! Gopher has received his first title (Therapy and Helping Dog), he had actually completed the needs for this title (50 visiting hours) some time ago. I just finally sent it in to the AKC. When it came in the mail I was surprised by how proud this little patch made me, brought tears to my eyes. I am always proud of Gopher and his work, and although I am his driver and handler he is truly the reason the work gets done. His excitement and desire to work, and his annoyance when we miss working for a week is almost inconsolable. We (Carla and I) are lucky with how exceptionally he has been able to do the job we selected for him. Congratualtions Gopher, we are so proud of you!


Gopher and his Patch:

4. Coming Up! With our short break, Gopher and I have several articles to write and share. They will begin this evening, and there will be a new one posted each morning this week!

List and synopsis:

Evening 9/24/2012, Gopher Cards, we will be thanking Gopher card creators, and show you the digital images of the cards. Tell you how we use them, and how you can order them for your working dog.

Morning 9/25/2012, Not Always Positive, we will discuss a negative experience, how it was handled, and highlight that although our intent is always good you must always be an advocate for your partner first.

Morning 9/26/2012, Cruising, Images and highlights of summer driving with Gopher.

Morning 9/27/2012, Gopher Amazes Me Yet again, an interaction with a patient that transcends reason, and highlights Gopher's uncanny ability to relate to a patient and situation.

Morning 9/28/2012, How did I get here?, with the closing of September our first registration expires and we will have had Gopher for four years, I will reflect on the last two years of work and four years with Gopher. The effect it has had on me, and how my relationship with Gopher and our work has changed my perspective on the world.

It is good to be back and we look forward to reading your comments and e-mails!

Best Wishes,
Chad and Gopher

Thursday, June 28, 2012

If you can help please do....

Gopher and I send our best wishes out to the families effected by the wildfires in Colorado. 

If you are able to help please contact the Pikes Peak Chapter of The American Red Cross to make a donation. ( 

Please also do not forget our non human animal friends are dislocated as well.

To help contact:
Larimer Humane Society
Also to our peers, the therapy animal teams, who are responding to provide comfort to the victims who have been dislocated, the fire and emergency personnel who are working long hot, danger hours, and the other volunteers via Animal Assisted Crisis Response. Be safe, do good, give comfort.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad,  Squirrel and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.
Marge is coming to the end of her life, she is fortunate in that her care can still be administered at home and she is able to stay with her husband, and spend her final time in a familiar place. Upon first appearance she would remind most of their grandmother older, somewhat frail, but still full of life. Her body has begun to betray her and she has lost her sight, and now is also losing her breath. We have been visiting with her for a month at the time of this entry and she quickly rose to one of Gopher’s favorite patients, and he now whimpers in excitement as we approach her home.

We always arrive to big smiles and find Marge in the living room anticipating the visit, often with a treat already in hand (might be a reason Gopher has elevated her to a favorite).  He takes the treat and immediately turns and sits in front of her. She pets him all over on the head, chest, rubs his ears and scratches his butt. During the petting she visits with me and talks to Gopher often about what a good boy he is, and how nice, calm and gentle he is. She will bury her face in the fur on his back and draw in a deep breath; she places her ear to his side, and holds it there for a minute, seeming to take him in with three of her remaining four senses.

She will then sits up for a few minutes and ask about my week, and how many people we would be seeing that day. Gopher performing his job admirably provides some therapy to her husband and or her son during this moment of rest. He then returns to her and the process starts over again, and continues until it is time to leave and then she gives him a final treat and thanks him for letting her pet him, and thanks me, as it is welcome to have this life in her house since she is not of good age or health to have a dog of her own anymore.

In her conversations with Gopher, the ones not meant for me, she lovingly tells him, “I wish I could see you, I am sure you are beautiful. They tell me you are red and not blonde. I like redder Goldens. How I wish I could see you.” The words are not for me but for Gopher. It is one of the many times in my experience, where is best to let the patient speak, and not engage in a conversation. After several weeks of hearing her say this though it takes strength not to reply, and here is where I get a bit cheesy.

I want to tell her that Gopher’s coat shines in the sun, reflecting the light and showing off many colors from dark red to very light blond, that he almost has a sparkle to him indicative of the term Golden in his breeds name. That although she might not see the sparkle she can feel it in his gentleness the need to lean into her so she knows she is not alone and the warmth of his body. That he has a big smile like many Goldens, and that he has one right now as she talks to him, a smile and stare that in that moment she is the only person in the world. That his eyes are so brown and expressive that even I can feel their gaze upon me if my eyes are closed or he is behind me and it brings me relief when I am scared or hurt and if she takes a moment I am sure she can ‘feel’ his gaze as well. That through her touch, the feel of his fur on her face and breath on her hand that she is ‘seeing’ Gopher in ways not many of his even closest friends have been able to see him. That in her moments with him she sees him as I do.

It is not my place to say such things to her, and it would take from the moment. I look forward to our visits with Marge as well, her stories of a life well lived and I am thankful to her that in her final time she has allowed Gopher and I to share this time with her.

Reminder, a note, and COMING ATTRACTIONS:

Challenge: We only have one entry so far we hope to have more please get your entry in by the end of the week for consideration. Details

Gopher and I have also been given an honor by our friend Garth Riley, and we are so happy, but it requires some thought so we will be writing about it soon.

Coming Soon:

Gopher gets toys thrown at him while visiting.

A thank you and information on getting your very own trading cards from CustomSportsCards.


How did I get here?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gopher's Limo

Gopher doesn't work all the time. His favorite activities include chuck-it, seeing some of his favorite people and cruising in his limo. Well it isn't a limo, but it is my 1966 Chevrolet Bel Air, like many dogs, Gopher never misses a chance to go for a ride, but is especially exuberant when we go in the sixty-six. Don't know if it is the increased visibility or the fact it makes Dad so happy when we drive it.

Come on Dad it's time to go.

Yes, he does sit with me in the front seat, but is always buckled in with his special harness seat belt. He is not a fan when I buckle him in and don't hop in right away.

We're going cruising.
As soon as I hop in though it is nothing but smiles.


I have had my 66 (Roxanne) for nine years, and no matter where we went she always would catch someone's eye. Add Gopher to the mix and we catch people's eyes and give them a laugh. Most of the time we cruise just like this, but sometimes we both need to let our heads hang out the window to feel the breeze through our hair.

When we go for a cruise we tell Carla we're going out to pick up chicks.

"Alright Dad, drive real slow, and don't tell Luna, Kodi or the others, but here comes that Irish Setter I was telling you about."
Time for the dignified, poised look. "Dad do you think she noticed me?"

Sometimes after cruising for a while, Gopher tires of the window and has to come in real close.

This position, which is leaned into me and difficult to take a picture of, always gets me to humming the Cake song, "Stickshifts and Safetybelts"

Happy Friday everyone, have a great weekend and don't forget about the Challenge, all entries due by June 30th.

We're outta here!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Another two years, Gopher are you ready?

"Gopher, are you ready to go work?"

His ears pull back, his eyes widen, and his tail wags as he stomps his front paws in anticipation. I slip on the gentle lead and the four foot leash reserved for visiting. He doesn't have time for pats and kisses from Mom as he is ready to spring out the door for the car. At the curb the dancing continues until I open the door and he bolts inside. Away we go, and once we are within a few blocks of arriving to the facility, or home, or hospital he begins to bounce from side to side in the backseat letting out whimpers and whines of excitement in anticipation of the visit. We park and I open the door, he does not jump out as he knows not to get out of the car until I have grabbed his leash or instructed him to do so, "Gopher, are you ready for work?" a gentle wag and lick on my cheek. I grab his leash and say, "Alright lets go to work.", his paws hit the pavement, the grass, the gravel and his demeanor changes. He is focused, reserved and ready. I have seen this change in temperament over 800 times in the last 21 months, and not once has it ceased to amaze me. My boy loves his job.

In the last 21 months we have visited 1,789 patients, families and medical staff. He has consumed over fifty pounds of treats.He has visited for over 480 hours.We have attended over 250 hours of continuing education and training. He has loved every single person he has come in contact with, and has shown me and taught me more than I would have thought possible. I have had the opportunity with patients, family, staff to hear stories about members of our community I would have not had the opportunity to hear otherwise, and share in moments so endearing, captivating, and sometimes tearful that I was driven to share some of them with you.

Today, however, we were at risk of it coming to an end.

Our national group that carries our liability insurance is Pet Partners, formerly Delta Society, has a requirement that all animals be reevaluated every two years. Although this can be somewhat stress inducing I enjoy this requirement as it makes sure our handlers and their partners keep up on their skill sets keeping their partners, the patients and themselves safe.

The renewal process involves a questionnaire and a practical exam. The practical exam is the same for a renewal as it is for a first timer. Your partner and you are evaluated individually on how you perform in 21 different excercise, encompassing basic obedience, being bumped into, loud noises, crowded clumsy petting, shouting etc. Gopher was evaluated on how he responded, how he interacted with these elements. I was evaluated on how I handled him, cared for his safety, and interacted with our mock patients.

Here are some photos from today's evaluation.

It only took a half hour for the exam. Gopher seemed to do well, and my anxiety was quickly purged when the evaluator told us we had passed. She would need a few minutes to tabulate our scores and make final notes. In the 21 areas you can are scored either a NR (Not Ready), a 1 or a 2. One NR and you will not pass, an average score of 1, you pass and are able to visit in 'Predictable' environments, an average score of 2 and being tested in an environment where you did not train and you are able to visit in a 'Complex' environment. 2 is the highest score you are able to receive. In 20 out of the 21 exercises Gopher scored a 2 and in 21 out of the 21 exercises I scored a 2. So we were given a 'Complex' Rating for the second time, and nearly had a perfect score, more importantly we have been approved to continue visiting for another two years. Our comments included, "Great handling skills, very attuned to animal." and "Great obedience skills, 'people' skills. Work together very well as a team." Had we not passed today we would have had to cease visits immediately until we were evaluated again, and passed. I did not expect to score so highly again as perhaps a bit of arrogance did not have me do a lot of brush up work.

So two more years, more stories and experiences to come.

"How about it Gopher, are you ready to go to work?"


Please don't forget to check out, the Challenge!! All entries due to by June 30th!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Not Always Dogs

Gopher and I both love all of our fellow therapy peers. Many times people think therapy is limited to dogs, but cats, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits are all therapy animals as well. We wanted to share this story about a horse who recently visited a facility here in Minneapolis that we visit regularly as well. Unfortunately Gopher, his little brother, Carla and I were there a couple days before so we did hear about Dusty coming, but did not get a chance to see him live.

Don't forget the Challenge! You have until June 30th, and we are looking forward to seeing all of your entries.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Not so long ago I did a post with some images of Gopher having his body out lined in treats. I was flattered when our good friends at Finn Howard gave it a shot.

In the original image Gopher has his head up, but I hoped to be able to do this with him laying flat. Well another slower visit night offered us the opportunity to attempt this trick. The few visitors we had that night assisted me in placing all of the treats so that his body was out lined completely. 

Here are the results.....

 Complete body outline.

See how close they are to his nose. (They do blend in a bit, but look closely and you will see them.)

The tail even stayed still.

Even along his back.

Gopher stayed in position for several minutes, and when released very gently went after each treat reminding us of Pac-Man.

He stayed sitting rotating on his butt, leaving the outline nearly perfectly intact. (See the tail section on the right side of image?)

The home stretch.

It is a fun trick an extension of his "wait" command which provided a foundation for "leave it" command, both necessary for his safety in some medical environments.

So here is the challenge!!

1. Do this with your own pooch.
2. Take a picture and send it directly to us at: by June 30th, 2012
3. We will post the images in a July entry for readers to vote on. 

The picture with the most vote wins. Well actually everyone wins because they get to teach or show off a trick their dog can do.

The winner will be sent two Gopher Trading Cards (Series 1 and the yet to be released Series 2) and a brand new fleece tug toy!

Tell your friends!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Sitting Vigil

Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad,  Squirrel and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

Gopher and I recently answered a plea for a late comer to hospice. The patient had been admitted that day, but was at the point of hours not days, weeks or even months. Death was eminent, and the service I volunteer with offers vigil, so a patient need not be alone in their final hours. The patient and his family did not require or even request this service. The patient however wanted to see a dog again, and so the request was sent out and Gopher and I answered the call.

I was somewhat concerned for Gopher, this would be the first time that we would visit a patient this close to death. I was not as concerned with myself as I am comfortable around death due to my extended exposure as a child. There was no reason to be concerned as Gopher handled himself beautifully. The room was full of family and quite warm when we arrived.  Gopher and I were welcomed and I pulled us a chair so that Gopher could sit on it and be visible to the patient. There Gopher sat looking toward the patient, the patient took a few moments to locate Gopher and then his eyes locked and he smiled. He no longer had the strength to pet Gopher, so they just sat there looking at one another smiling, while I fielded questions about Gopher from the family.  Nearly half an hour passed that way, and then the patient dozed off with a smile on their face. Gopher knew it was time to work the room so he dismounted the chair and approached each of the eager family members.

He approached each one of them with a solid look into their eyes and a very gentle tail wag, not too much excitement or exuberance, nice and gentle, a comforting presence. Gopher knew it was not a time to play or for tricks, he knew they needed a moment of comfort like only petting can bring. Once he approached all of the adults he went to the group of children who had been occupying a space in the far corner. All too young to truly understand what was going on in the room around them, all slightly afraid and upset, to see their respective parents in varying degrees of sadness.

All of the kids turned as Gopher approached and smiled as he took a spot in the center so all could pet him at one time. The kids all asked questions about Gopher and wanted to see a few tricks which Gopher obliged. This brought on some fits of laughter which brought smiles to every adult in the room. As the adults turned back to their various conversations the kids began to talk to Gopher about what was going on around them. “Grandpa is dying Gopher, which means he is going away and can’t come back.” “I think mom and dad are here to make sure he doesn’t forget us or anything for his trip. They always checked my bag whenever I go anywhere to make sure I don’t forget anything.” ”They told me that once Grandpa is gone we will go to a church where we can say goodbye.” “They told me not to be afraid, so you shouldn’t be scared either Gopher.” The conversation between the kids and Gopher continued. I did not  interrupt or correct, it was not my place, my place was to be on the other end of the leash, Gopher ‘s place was to listen so they could figure out how to talk about it and possibly ask their parents questions later as they rationalized what was happening in their young minds.

The session was broken by the adults in the family who had determined it was time to go home, one person returning after she put her children to bed to spend the night.  We bid are farewells and let them know Gopher and I would sit a little longer. After sitting alone with the patient for about forty-five minutes, Gopher let me know it was time to go home. We went to leave and I had presumed the patient was still resting when I heard a low rasp, “Thank you.” I told the patient it was my pleasure, and thanked him for visiting with Gopher, and we left. We would not see him again as the patient passed away the following morning. Gopher though did what he was supposed to do, let a dying man see a dog again, and went above my expectations in counseling the family and children in his own way. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Therapy Marathon

A couple of weeks ago Gopher and I went on a day that has since been described as the therapy marathon. The day started with our Sunday house cleaning, Gopher’s second least favorite thing we do, the first being going to our day jobs and leaving him sit. With the house work done, we did our immediately prior to visiting groom.

We took off for our first visit of the day, ninety minutes of R.E.A.D. The warm weather deterred many people from coming to the library that day, and Gopher only had one reader. A 4 year old who was able to take her time reading, Boomer’s Big Surprise, one of Gopher’s favorite books. At least he is most attentive when it is read. The book if you are not familiar is about a Golden Retriever named Boomer who has to make adjustments to a new Golden Retriever puppy coming into his home. 

Something Gopher had to go through not very long ago, damn puppies anyway. With few visitors Gopher and I were able to visit some with one of our favorite fellow teams to visit with and one of his many girlfriends Kodi.

The session came to an end and off across town we went to visit one of our hospice patients.  She was very happy to see Gopher, but was not having a good day. She apologized as she was not strong enough to pet Gopher that day. She told me to tell him he was such a good dog for her. I told her that he heard her and was wagging out of happiness.  This made her smile and laugh. We raised her head a bit with her permission so that she could see Gopher a little better. Since she was not able to pet him we went through the repertoire of Gopher tricks, she smiled brightly at each one. We visited for a few minutes more and bid our farewells.
Then we had to zip across town for our final visit of the day, a group visit with little brother Squirrel and Mom. Once again the weather made the visitors sparse while we were waiting for visitors Gopher and I worked on an expansion of a trick that is loved at this particular facility. The trick that is loved, and I often have visitors help me with is placing several treats on Gophers’ paws and forelimbs. He will then stay in position, staring intently at me and drooling a bit, until he is released to consume the treats. Now we have expanded this to doing ‘chalk outlines’ of Gopher.  He likes the end of this trick, but does grow impatient while I am doing the outline so several adjustments have to be made.

We even took the opportunity to pose for a picture together.

After a little bit we had our first visitor, Squirrel was beside himself with excitement, while Gopher stayed in his most regal position waiting for love. The little one went to Squirrel first and he did calm but not before lying down and stretching. When he did this he put his front paws against the patient, he did not hurt, her, but the pressure surprised her and being very young called out to him to stop. Gopher observing all of this looked at me, then at Squirrel and back at me, huffing at his displeasure in the behavior. Gopher does this often when he knows any animal, particularly Squirrel acts inappropriately. Squirrel and Carla visited with her as she readily fed both Gopher and Squirrel treats; she also needed to eat so Carla used her desire to feed the boys treats as motivation. She had to eat, then she got to give the boys a treat, then she had to eat another item, so on and so forth. Her mother appreciated the extra assistance. While they continued to visit Gopher and I visited with a visually impaired patient who we have visited with before. Being uncertain of his surroundings he seems to appreciate how calm Gopher is in letting him pet and inspect every inch of Gopher with his hands, calling out anatomy such as ears, nose, paws when he traces Gopher and finds them.
Once the visit was completed, Gopher took all of us out to Dairy Queen for ice cream cones thanks to a gift card he received for volunteer appreciation week. With the ice cream consumed it was time for a walk, and another photo op of Gopher and Squirrel.

It was a very busy and wonderful day. However with all that work done, the ice cream, and a walk there was but one thing left to do, and that was get four paws in the air.