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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 clich├ęs 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.

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