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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Worst Fear Realized

Gopher is such a sweet and loving boy that I have never for one moment had a fear of him hurting anyone. I have had one fear though, but got over it relatively quickly in therapy dog class as he seemed to never notice those tennis balls mocking him from the tips of a walker. Despite his good performance in class it always remained a fear of mine and I have always tried to be attentive to any medical equipment using tennis balls.  My fear abated itself as we continued training and working with Gopher. Only to have me reminded of it in the Pixar film 'Up'.

Remember Dug?

Shortly after this scene while sneaking around the ship, you find this cute lovable Golden chewing on the tennis balls of Carl Fredricksen's cane.

My fear was only a little more irrational and it was Gopher seeing the balls on a walker or cane, pulling away from me, grabbing the ball, and taking off down the hall with man or woman in tow. The manifestation of my fear came through today on our visit, fortunately not as severely as imagined.

Gopher and I began our visit with the patient and he received a lot of pets and compliments on his gentle nature and beauty. All things he knows but still loves hearing. After a few minutes the patient stopped petting and Gopher laid at his feet as we visited for a few more moments and set up our next visit. Then it happened out of the corner of my eye I noticed the walker move. The patient was sitting and not in contact with the walker, so I looked down, and saw Gopher take the ball in his mouth again, this time giving the walker a vicious shake attempting to have it surrender the prize. No hiding it now as I corrected Gopher. The patient laughed hysterically and petted Gopher again, telling him he was a good boy, and the walker was mean for keeping the tennis ball from him. Glad he had a sense of humor and I cannot wait to get to know him better when we visit again later this week, this time with a clean tennis ball in the therapy bag to distract Gopher if needed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Final Visits: First Visit

A few months ago I made you aware that there would be upcoming postings on what I have titled Final Visits with patients in a hospice program. Today was Gopher’s first final visit.

Gopher and I were both excited to get started, Gopher perhaps a little too excited. The person, who shadowed me today to ensure we were a good team for this work, did compliment me on the control I had of Gopher in spite of his enthusiasm.

The person we visited was older and her mind had begun to drift in her later years. There was very little communication and our conversation was one-sided. She was able to smile though, and oh boy did she smile when she saw Gopher. She had been just helped into bed our visit was going to be short, but no less worthwhile. Assisted by the experienced handler in the room we moved a stool closer to the bed so that Gopher could be more readily visible. Being a little too anxious to help and being the intrepid pup he is, with a strong desire to cuddle thought at first this was an invitation into the bed. Fortunately I caught him in time and was able to keep her from getting an unwanted Golden blanket.

Her hand was frail, but with her permission I assisted in putting her hand on Gopher’s arm so she could feel his fur. Ever so slightly her small hand made movements as she tried to use what strength she had to pet him. Gopher knew this was the special moment and remained perfectly still why she attempted to run her fingers over his golden fur. Her respiration began to slow, and she began to drift off to sleep. We said our good byes, and went on our way, telling her we would be back which left a smile on her face. It was a great way to spend a cold Saturday morning. Thank you Gopher.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Always ready……#4


I was fortunate growing up in many ways, one of those being that I had five surviving, relatively healthy, independent grandparents, both maternal and paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandmother. This would begin to change over Mother’s Day weekend 1999, the year I graduated high school. My maternal grandmother suffered her first stroke, and over the course of the next 12 years we would bury my great-grandmother, my paternal grandparents, and my maternal grandmother would suffer a second stroke which she would not recover from as well as she did the first.

My maternal grandmother has limited communication, and is unable to do most things unassisted; she still lives at home under the care of my aging grandfather with the help of my uncle. My grandparents are not dog people, and in previous times together Gopher had disregarded them and spent time with the rest of the family. The holiday season of 2011 was a little different.

Before we dive to deep into this there is something you should know about Gopher, that he is extremely sensitive almost too sensitive at times. He does something we don't approve like bark at a passerby he will immediately put himself in a timeout which is the staircase to our bedroom. We have never 'punished' him in this way or really anyway, it is just something he does. He is so sensitive about wrong doing that he will do this when his little brother or foster brother are doing something they are not supposed to be doing he will put himself in a time out. Often times Gopher will give them away when he gets up and goes to his 'time out' place, we know someone is being naughty. I do appreciate how obedient and caring Gopher can be but I also get concerned about this sensitivity. 

When my grandparents arrived we had attempted to tire the boys out with some vigorous exercise to avoid any potential issues. After a little excitement at the new arrivals the boys quickly settled down and my grandparents settled in to chairs in the family room of my parents. We all talked and visited for a little bit, then we took the boys out to play some more. 

While my parents were preparing the meal for everyone, Gopher walked up to my grandmother sat on her left side and placed his head on the arm rest, and looked up at her. Gopher knew he needed to approach her carefully and respectfully which I expect given his age, training and maturity. One element I did not expect was that he intuitively went to her left side. Her right side is inhibited and suffers paralysis as a result of the two strokes. Many times in our settings I have had to direct him to the appropriate side of a patient. This time he did it on his own despite that when I sit in a recliner he will place himself on my right side. My grandmother went to pat him on the head and smiled at him, it was a lovely moment. It was then broken up by my grandfather, and I cannot blame him either. He has been her primary caretaker for many years, and although an animal lover, is not a dog person, he also does not fully understand what Gopher does week in and week out. I wish I could have explained it all to him, but it was too late, and after the interruption of the moment, my grandmother did not care to have the dogs there as well.

So Gopher retreated, but tested the waters many times only to be turned away by my grandfather, uncle or by me to keep things as positive as possible. We also began playing more frequently as a result of this interaction, as it had two surprises,  the first being his intuition on placing himself on his own accord on her left side, the other was the pouting self punishment of time outs that happened after the interaction. Although I feel strongly that the benefits of having Gopher being petted by my grandmother would have been great, it cannot work, and should not be done if the person is not receptive. I equally hated and enjoyed seeing how much it upset Gopher to not be able to do his work. By retreating the way he did, and his self punishment I knew my boy felt like he did something wrong, I diverted this by rewarding him with chuck-it, his continued nervousness, and desire to approach, and watching my grandmother carefully was not a fear of her or her awkward stagger, knowing him as I have as his partner in this work I could tell he wanted to help. 

In the last year he has been asked and responded very well to being with and near people who are ill, sometimes suffering in ways that make them look very different from the average person. He has exhibited not only a desire, but a knowledge of knowing what a person might need beyond my own understanding, and impossible for one to train. He saw my grandmother as one of these people, and when he couldn't work, it bothered him. I hated to see him hurt, but am thankful and amazed that he not only had the knowledge but the desire. This desire combined with patients who are receptive, interested which are the majority we encounter will ensure many years of service for Gopher. You can just see how much he loves to work, his maturity, and awareness outside of what he was trained is astonishing. I am not a person who believes in fate, but going back to how he acted on our first day, Back to the Beginning , and how he has come about as a Therapy Dog does give one pause.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Always ready…….#3

Missing her pup

For over a year I helped out a local rescue by planning and managing their public education booths. The rescue focused on Golden Retrievers and our events served to educate the public as well as allow people to meet some of our dogs. Personally I preferred to work the events without a dog at my side, however we had to get our own foster out there, and to top it off he hated car rides in the beginning. If he was alone in a car he would shake uncontrollably, while standing stiffly in the backseat. It would take him an hour or so to calm down, and was not in any state to go into a busy store and be surrounded by strangers. He still didn’t like the car but was not as stressed if there was another dog in the car with him, so Gopher went with him to offer support.

So that was the case this day. My foster would rotate between myself and another volunteer as it was easier to circulate and assist with a more obedient pup like Gopher. We were circulating when I noticed a woman sitting a short distance from the booth. I approached her and asked if I could help her with anything, if she had any questions, and let her know she was more than welcome to see the dogs. She thanked me and said she was just watching for a moment. I turned to leave and my so called obedient dog insisted on going to say hello. He walked up to her and gently placed his head on her leg accompanied with a single paw and looked up at her. She snickered began petting and then began to cry, but kept petting him.

Not wanting to embarrass her or be intrusive we started talking about Gopher. “He is just such a wonderful dog.” I thanked her and explained that he was my boy and was here to support our foster that was not fond of the car. Forty-five minutes passed of small talk and Gopher getting petted not moving and he just kept looking up at her. She then explained to me that she came down there today as she heard we were going to be there and she wanted to see if she could even be around a Golden yet. She had to put down her own Golden six months ago and anytime she just saw any other golden retriever she would start sobbing. She still wasn’t ready to get another one, but she could be around them now. Then after Gopher came over and he came up, she realized it was just what she needed and that he was such a great boy, made her think that a new golden would be a good idea someday soon. It was then time for her to go and she thanked me, took a card for the rescue, and gave Gopher a hug.

I saw her again a few months later, this time Gopher approached her as he did any person, and did not behave as differently as her did that day. She had recently submitted an application and felt it was time. We briefly discussed the process and she spent most of her time on the floor with the foster dogs, no tears, just laughter this time.

These stories the last few days are what amaze me the most about Gopher. His natural desire to comfort is startling at times, he does great work both while working and not working and has comforted so many people. Tomorrow though you will hear about a situation that amazed me the most of all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Always ready……..#2

A Friend in Need

As promised here is the 2nd story of Gopher doing therapy when not officially working. For privacy the names of our friends have been omitted.

Just over a year ago Carla and I were out spending a wonderful evening with a group of friends celebrating the birthday of one of our oldest and closest friends. The night was great, good food, drink, and many moments of laughter that are commonly shared with groups of friends. Probably more than most as we are outliers in this group as all of them are artists and more creative than Carla and I. The evening passed, we said our goodbyes to the group the birthday boy and his fiancée another wonderful friend of ours. Carla and I went home and she went right to bed, while I sat up for a little while. I am not sure how much time had passed when my phone rang, the screen showing the incoming call was from the birthday boy, and I picked right up.

In my life I have received a few phone calls that make my heart drop, this was one such call. While we were out enjoying our evening together their home was invaded, many possessions were stolen, but worst of all their new pup a rescue puppy mill poodle was gone. Insurance will take care of the possessions, but nothing could replace the pup, and she had only been in the home a few days and had to be frightened. In the course of our short conversation I was already grabbing boots, coats, car keys, and leashing up my own dogs. I hung up and yelled up the stairs for Carla to get dressed and downstairs, that our friends needed help now.

We were loaded in moments and on our way driving as fast as we reasonably could, blood boiling, because if you know me personally you know that my friends are counted as family, and this was an attack against my family. I am also rational so Carla and I discussed method to conduct an efficient search to find the little poodle. We had the dogs because as we knew via work with rescue, that if you want to find a shy scared dog bring a friendly pup. When we arrived at the house the police were still on the scene and we could not enter the house so we began the external search for the pup. Gopher was annoyed as he did not want to go for a walk as he wanted to be with his Auntie and Uncle. For what happened next, I will have Gopher’s auntie tell the story.

“I remember that by the time you guys got to our house I was no longer screaming and crying, but not by much. You and Carla and I took Gopher out to walk up and down the block and the alley, calling for my poodle. Gopher would walk around and sniff a little, but he kept coming back to me, nudging my hand while we walked, standing by me when we were still, nudging some more if I stopped petting. He would get very concerned when my voice broke, and once the Crime Scene folks were gone and we could go inside, he sat and let me pet him for a bit before you guys went home to get some sleep. Gopher’s Concern Face is a huge comfort – it looks like he’s saying, I know something’s wrong, why not tell doggy all about it?”

Gopher was good to his auntie, but not so helpful in the search as I had to try to keep him going he wanted to be with Auntie the entire time. We did not have any luck that night, but there were some flyers ordered with a color image. The plan was for me to pick them up in the morning and return to help canvass the neighborhood. Fortunately when I arrived I saw a man walking down the street with a miniature poodle. He had seen her running down the street the night before and picked her up and was looking for her owners. The biggest loss of the night before was home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pet Blogger Challenge

1. When did you begin your blog?

January 23, 2011

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

While training Gopher for therapy work I was frustrated about the minimal stories on what actually goes on during visits. I wanted to get something out there so people who might be interested in this kind of volunteering would know what happens in the room.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Yes and no.

If not, what’s different?

I have broadened a bit due to Gopher giving us material that is amazing and shows how inclined he is to the work. I have also posted in response to readers questions as well.

If so, how do you feel you’ve met your goals?

Feels like we are just getting started still.

4. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

Yes once every 7-10 days.

5. Are you generating income from your blog?


6. What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?

Sharing the experiences, hopefully getting others interested.

7. What do you like least?

Limitations in my own ability to describe some of what I have seen.

8. How do you see your blog changing/growing in 2012?

Continuing to grow, and hoping to get more public questions that could expand into a discussion panel.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Always Ready….

More than a few times in these passages I have mentioned how Gopher seems to be made for this work, and has an innate sense to be a therapy dog.  In our actual ‘work’ time, I am extremely grateful and in awe of his own sense of putting himself in a place or behaving in just the right way for the situation. Whether it was a special boy as in 'The ‘Tail’ of Steve', or a girl who needed some extra encouragement at our ‘First Visit’, or sadly as he handled himself with an impending death of a patient in ‘Trust the Dog’.  These experiences only serve as an affirmation that although we trained, and prepared Gopher for this work, that he truly enjoys this work and seem to be meant for the work. All of these experiences have been in a clinical setting but for those who have gotten to know Gopher, there are a few that have commented on him being a special dog. He has proved this time and again, in the work. He has also amazed me in that he does it again and again when we are not officially working, with strangers, friends and family alike. Gopher seems to be always ready to comfort those in need.

Over this week I will be posting four such stories, starting with the one below. I invite you to share any similar experiences and observations you have had in your own life with your own pet, or one you knew.  As always the conversations are the same, names have been changed to protect privacy.

Always ready…..#1

The Man on the Bench

In the fall of 2010, Gopher and I went for a good long walk to clear my head, and spend some time playing. Gopher was awaiting his Delta paperwork so we had not gone on a visit yet, but I knew he was ready, and this was a walk for me to clear my head so we did not focus on training a specific skill, we just went out so I could enjoy his company. I was not sure where I was going to end up, or how long I would be gone so I left Squirrel at home, who was only 4 months old at the time, as well as Barney our foster who could be reactive. This was just a walk to relax, and not think too hard about the environment ro distance as I would have with the pup and reactive dog. I knew what I needed and even though I felt bad I put Gopher’s fellow dogs in crates, so we could go on a walk free of worry.

With leash in hand Gopher and I took off. The leaves had just started falling and I love kicking them up and watching Gopher snap at the falling leaves in the air. We turned this way and that and eventually ended up on the trail that circles the lake. As it is a park there are several benches along the trail, and under the shade of a conifer I noticed an old man sitting on a bench.  As we approached, Gopher who most of the time only acknowledges strangers on a walk with no more than a twitch of the eyebrow and a wag of the tail, pulled hard on me to approach the man on the bench. Being lost in thought at the time and not expecting this behavior from him he caught me by surprise and before I knew we were nearly on top of this poor man, where Gopher promptly sat at his feet, wagging his tail and looking up at a the man on the bench. Fortunately the man laughed and began to pet him as Gopher placed his paw around his arm.

“I am so sorry; typically he doesn’t act like this.” I said to the man
“Oh, that’s fine, sometimes a dog just has to say Hi, and he is well behaved looks how he is just sitting here.” The man replied.

We exchanged pleasantries for a moment, how we both lived in the area, him in a home to the south, Gopher and I to the north. Not to over stay are welcome, I told him to have a nice day and instructed Gopher to come. He wouldn’t budge. The man chuckled again, and said, “Looks like I got a new friend here, I haven’t had a dog in many years, and would love to pet him for a bit, if you have time.” I smiled and said, “Sure”.

Gopher always the observant listener, then decided to jump up on the bench and slide in as close to the man as possible. My fault as for months we had been using the benches around the lake to teach him, ‘Up’.  “Gopher, get down, I am so sorry”, the man just chuckled and said, “Oh he is just fine, had a setter once who liked to sit beside me, and it is easier to pet him.” He slumped his arm around Gopher and began stroking his chest. I sat down on the bench, and noted the people who smiled as they walked by at the three of us on the bench. We visited some more, told him about my wife, Irene, and our other dogs at home. He told me about how he and his wife bought their first home near the park as well. Throughout the years though they had moved around leaving the area, state, but always seemed drawn to this spot. They had the opportunity to return and bought a house 10 years before they retired in 1997 and have been here ever since. He told me how his kids were in town and he had to get out of the house for a bit and walked over.  The conversation trailed off, and the man, Gopher and I sat there, looking over the lake and the ever smiling passerby. The silence was broken when the man started talking to Gopher, in a hushed voice.

“You are a good boy, just like my old setter, Betsy, was quite the girl; she would follow me anywhere, and took me on a few great hunts. Drove Irene crazy, but I caught her hugging and ogling that old dog more than once. She would tell friends that stopped by when I was away that, “I was out with my girlfriend Betsy.” She was a good dog, used to walk around the lake with us too, and Irene and I kept walking around the lake after Betsy was gone. Walked here almost every day since Betsy with Irene until she got sick, haven’t been here for a few months. Had to come today needed to get out of that house for a bit. Sure glad I met you; perhaps if I see you again we can walk together, not sure when I will be back and, well, Irene left me yesterday, and don’t know how long I will stay here since she is gone. I have to go now before my daughter starts to worry, thanks for sitting with me, you are a good dog.”

He gave Gopher a good squeeze and stood up, I acted as if I had not heard the conversation as I knew he was talking with Gopher and it was meant to be heard by me. He bid me farewell, told me to take good care of Gopher, patted him on the head and walked away. Carla and I have walked the lake many times since then, but I have not seen him since. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


On our latest visit I had and affirmation of something I knew to be true as well as marveled at such a simple concept, this was all given to me by the hands of those who were visiting Gopher. Sometimes as many as five pairs of hands were gathered in a circle on the floor gently rubbing, stroking and playing with Gopher’s golden locks.  This allowed me to marvel at the well-adjusted and confident boy Gopher is and how he once again seems to be made for this work. All the time while being surrounded on the floor in a warm room, with lots of noise and smells with five pairs of hands on him Gopher just leaned into it more, with a look of absolute ecstasy on his face. Gopher like many dogs loves to be petted, and like several dogs tolerates and even enjoys this kind of attention. However there are many more dogs who would feel confined, scared and not do well in this situation so that among many factors is another reason to train your dog, and test your dog with Delta or TDI to do this work. He was not only calm, but happy and loved every minute of his hour of pets by five people.

While I watched Gopher getting his full body massage and enjoying every minute of it, I could not help but notice all the hands and not the differences but the lack of differences. Some of the hands were smaller, some larger, and the skin tones varied, but there was one very important thing they were just hands. Looking at this close up, all you could see was hands petting a dog who was loving every minute of petting. You could not see anything else.

An observer would have to step back to see that the hands were attached to a wide array of people in different circumstances.

There was a mother and her young daughter. The mother was young as well, and was not distinguishable from other young mothers, you would never know that she spent countless hours worrying and supporting her daughter as she fights a disease. The young daughter whose hands looked like that of any child, but when you stepped back you would see a young girl wearing a mask, and hat to keep her head warm that was hairless from the toxins given to her to help her fight the disease.

Another young girl who when you backed away would notice a mask and scarring from recent surgery and a young woman who was wearing a mask and had some hair growing back after months of treatment. The hands of a grandmother, who looked fine until you stepped back far enough to see the signs of worry on her face that would lift every few moments as Gopher would raise his paw revealing his chest, where the best therapy comes from.

There are numerous studies that discuss the effects of AAA or AAT on patients in clinical settings. Anything from motivation and confidence to complete a task, to reduced heart rate blood pressure and dopamine release has been documented. There are consistently suggestions to why an animal might invoke such a response. There are more than likely several answers to why an animal create this response, probably as many as there are unique situations. My favorite reasoning, and the affirmation given to me by observing the hands of those petting Gopher is that there is no judgment, no questions, no sorrowful remarks, observational anecdotes or clichés there is simply a dog and people petting that is all nothing more.
Delta requires that animal teams don’t ask about a patient’s symptoms, illness or prognosis. The only question we ask is, “Would you like to visit with my dog, horse, guinea pig, cat…..?” We talk about the animal, and maybe demonstrate some tricks. They also require that in the case of dogs that we keep the animal on no more than a four foot lead. Finally emphasis is given to keeping a close eye on your animal, keeping them safe and watching for signs of stress. These are all self-explanatory rules and expectations, that protect privacy, keep our partner’s and those we visit safe.

The rules and expectations also have another side effect. When done properly, you are too close see the full picture, you are not asking them a question a trained medical professional has asked many times, you are so close that all you can see sometimes are hands petting your partner. Not a kid facing leukemia, or another cancer, a scared and worried parent or grandparent, but hands. By doing this it allows you to be more like Gopher, non-judgmental, living in the moment, and not showing a sense of worry, just being there. What a great place to be, in a moment where you can see the world like your dog, even if just for a moment and the gentle hands petting the golden locks, and not a sick person petting a dog. 

Thank you Gopher for showing this to me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Goodbye Farley

Our hearts go out Traci and her family of on losing Farley.

Farley was a wonderful example of all it is to be a Golden Retriever his sudden death is a loss to all of us who have enjoyed reading about him, and especially to his family.

Best wishes to you all in this difficult time.

Gopher and Family