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Friday, February 24, 2012


Gopher and I are putting together some submissions for contests. The following are the entries, in no particular order, that we selected as candidates but can't decide. Please leave a comment, you can do so anonymously, as to which one you like best!

You can always nominate another entry that we might have missed.

Thank you,
Chad and Gopher

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


About three years ago when Gopher was just an itty bitty puppy.

He already loved to meet and greet all people.

When he was that little Carla picked up the book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.

Gopher occupied my chest and or lap sleeping while I read the book.

We knew that we were going to train him to be a therapy dog at the time, and one part of the book stuck with me. Enzo, our narrator and a dog, loved pancakes. He just wished he could stop to enjoy them, but being a dog he was unable to do that. As I read I decided that as a special treat Gopher would get pancakes following therapy visits.

Being a well trained pup he can sit mannerly at the table, but being a dogs he is unable to stop and enjoy the pancakes. We have photographed this before, but some of my peers have shown disbelief that we do this. Well here is the video evidence.

Don't worry little brother Squirrel who tries to stick his nose in gets a portion of the treat as well. 

Hope this makes you smile today, Happy Hump Day.

Chad and Gopher

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Gopher and I went on are first R.E.A.D. visit, this is a program, where kids can come and read to the dogs and has been proven to sharpen reading skills. I learned two things on this visit. First is that although Gopher is amazingly intuitive on a therapy visit, he has some work to do to be a great R.E.A.D. dog, but that will come later.


The other thing I learned about was my false perception of what I would witness on our visit. We signed up for a library that I knew was densely populated, has a higher population of impoverished persons,a slightly higher crime rate than other neighborhoods, and an adult population that if was able to find work they are often overworked and underpaid. My false perception was not based on individual ethnicity or race, but rather on the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood as a whole.Given the current climate in America, it is typically the poorest among us who are left behind. I went into this session with the thought these kids will need us most, through no fault of their own, they have had less educational opportunities due to overcrowded classrooms, allocation of educational funding that often overlook these areas, and a lower property tax base to support public education.

What happened was quite the opposite. The kids who came to read to Gopher varied from good to exceptional, including a four year old who read a picture book in its entirety. Not only did this little boy read the words, but he understood what he was reading when I asked comprehension type questions. For example he read "Boomer's Big Surprise", and I asked, "Gopher is a little confused, what was Boomer's surprise?" He quickly answered, "A new brother I have a new brother I didn't like him at first. He's bigger now and I like him better."

It was amazing to see the kids I saw and how well they were thriving, not to say the publications of persons who look at society trends are false in their reporting of the need for educational improvement in impoverished regions. It is still needed and I feel strongly that it is the basic foundation of our mutual success as a nation to give all kids an equal opportunity to learn. It is just wonderful to see that my perception was wrong, and there are glimmers of hope for our future.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Behind the Scenes

We have been so pleased to share some of the wonderful stories of our visits. However Gopher has to do a lot of work in order to meet his adoring public, his beauty and perfection is natural, but he does need a spit shine from time to time.

First thing to get ready is his pawticure. About every two weeks we trim toe fur as needed and grind nails so they are nice and smooth. To sweeten the pot we use a wooden spoon that was dipped in a peanut butter jar and then frozen. First we warm him up with the taste of peanut butter. 

Then he is ready to submit to nail grinding and paw trimming.

Once the nails are ground down then it is time for a good brush to get ready for this bath. 

As you can see it is very difficult for him. He gets into such a deep relaxation while being brushed this is a time when he can startle easily so be ready for the barks at the end of the video. He is brushed before and after every bath, and immediately before each visit.

After he is brushed it is time to brush his teeth. I try to make sure I brush his teeth three to four times a week. He seems to like the taste of the canine toothpaste.

Finally once that portion of grooming is complete it is time to take a bath. Gopher has been exposed to regular bathing since he was a pup to prepare him for the frequent bathing he would require once he was a therapy dog.

Despite our preparation for this when he was only 10 months old Gopher decided to roll in a skunk carcass and required frequent baths with a shampoo that had to sit in his fur for sometime. He won;t fight us during a bath, but does do his best hang down work during shampooing.

By the time we get to his conditioning, necessary to keep his skin from drying out, he gives us the seriously aren't we done yet looks.

After his conditioner has set in for a few minutes, he is rinsed thoroughly and towel dried. After every bath Gopher has to roll and he gives me three choices where to roll, since our home is hardwood floors with no carpeting his selection is limited.

1. Preferred by Gopher is in the yard.
2. The leather couch.
3. A bed.

Since the yard will make him dirty as he is still a little damp, and I don't want water to damage the leather he gets to roll in bed. 

Gopher is usually completely dry within an hour and ready to visit. In the video below you will see Gopher getting 'dressed' and leaving for work. What we did not capture on video was Gopher cocking his head at the mention of work, dancing, pin-wheel tail, and running toward the door.

What we were also did not capture was in the car as we approach a facility or home he will begin bouncing from side to side in the car and whimpering in excitement. This is a dog who loves his job.

Depending on what type of visit we do that day when we are done we sometimes have to follow up with a phone call reporting our visit.

Once the phone call is complete we also have to fill out and mail in a report on our visit as well.

Once the visits are complete, and paper work filed. Gopher is often treated to pancakes and/or his favorite activity. 


Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day

Gopher and I wanted to share a few moments of unconditional love with you. Neither video are of Gopher but his peers throughout the United States that give love, and their interactions with people. My favorite moments in the first video are the way the eyes light up in patients, we get the honor of seeing this on our visits.


Now a video from Dallas showcasing the work with humor.

Happy Valentines Day

Monday, February 13, 2012

Final Visits: Big Day

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

For those who know me personally, you know I have been at a difficult point in my life professionally whereas personally I could not ask for more, except perhaps more financial security. Days spent at the computer seeking new professional opportunities in the limited market are difficult on their best days, but even worse on a Monday. Gopher being my ever present therapist and I thought it would be a good day to do some visits instead, so we lined up three for a dreary Monday morning.

Gopher anxiously hopped in the car to take Mom to work only to return to the house for a quick brush out and so I could clean up to head out on our visits. An hour later after doing some quick e-mails and looking at opportunities online and making myself look pretty we were off.

Gopher was wagging wildly as we climbed back into the car with therapy bag in tow ready to go off to work. Today he insisted on sitting in the front and watched as the cars and city of Minneapolis flew by the window.

We arrived at our destination and Gopher knew it was time. He hopped back to the back seat next to the bag and waited for the final quick brush, followed by putting on his gentle leader it was time to go to work. Slip on his bandanna and ID Badge and we were off. It was quiet and I just walked directly from the parking lot across the street to the facility door, but Gopher stopped me sitting at the curb and pausing reminding me that we should use caution when crossing the street.

We were finally in the facility and signed in; Gopher had been here before and led me to the elevators. He knew the people that needed him had to be up a few floors. I pressed the button and the elevator opened and up we went. Upon arriving on the floor of our first patient we were greeted with the same feeling of despair that unfortunately seems to linger, despite the upbeat staff, and well cared for facility it was still there.

Press a special button to open the door as our floor housed persons whose memory wasn’t the best and were confused easily. Then punch in a code to another door and we were on our wing.

We arrived at the room of our patient, but he was not there to be found. We found him in the common room sitting, watching television with a book in his lap. I gestured Gopher to go with me toward him and the wag of the tail signaled he knew it was time and who to go see first. We asked if he would like to visit, but only received a nod. I took the chair next to him and positioned it in such a way as to see the man and allow Gopher to get in close. The book in his lap was nothing other than a picture album of dogs. His hands firmly wrapped around the book. Gopher, having never modeled before, wanted to show him how much better looking he was and came in close, placing his head on the man’s knee.

Immediately the man lit up, leaned over Gopher and began scratching and talking incoherently to Gopher. Gopher’s tail got to wagging showing how much he liked this man and his wonderful scratches. Too soon though this seemed to tire him out and he leaned back in his chair and began to doze off. Gopher knew the visit time was up and he had done his job. There is no set needed time for this work, and even five minutes is enough to brighten one mans day. Gopher backed away and we said our goodbyes. Then off to the nurses’ station to chart our visit. The nurse on duty told me that was the most she had seen the man interact in weeks. Gopher wagged and I smiled at this, put our notes in the chart had the nurse sign off on it and we left to go to our next patient.

Back through the secured doors and out to the elevator lobby to go up another floor. This time with less secured entries, we entered the new wing. We headed right to the room to find our patient sleeping. I knew the lunch hour was approaching so she would be woken up soon by the staff so we went outside her room to sit and wait. Gopher is always the therapy animals as I have said and demonstrated before and once we obtained the permission of the staff we visited with some patients not listed in the common area adjacent to the room. We met a German woman whose family had raised Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, but she was always partial Golden Retrievers. A man who told me about the night his beagle went out and did not come back right away. The man spent the night looking for him and smoked an entire pack of cigarettes only to find that he had climbed up on the porch swing to sleep for the night after walking out the backyard gate. Closing with, “Damn dog anyway.” A woman whose son had an older Golden, and another woman who had always wanted a dog but never had the chance. The last woman we visited with told us both many times she wanted to go home. She pet Gopher for several minutes, and then said “I know I can’t go home, even though I want to, petting him makes me want to go home less.” I couldn't help but notice the ever present despair had seemed to lift for a bit as we did our 'unofficial' rounds in the common area.

The time had arrived for our assigned patient to be sat up for her meal. We went in and she did not see Gopher or appear to understand me at first. Then as we approached her bedside she looked down, and her face just beamed with pleasure. She began stroking Gopher and talking to him eliciting pinwheel tail. Shortly after this began the extra stimulation was too much and she began to sleep again. Just like before short but powerful. We said our goodbyes and left the room, walked through the common area bidding our farewells. To the nurses’ station to note our visit in the patients chart, back in the elevator to go down to the first floor sign out and back to the car.

Gopher hopped right in and I removed the leash for the drive. I called the social worker of the two patients visited, filled out and put in the envelope the additional paperwork recording our visits to send back to the office. After twenty minutes and three huffs from Gopher reminding me we had more to do we were off again. Flying past cars and downtown Minneapolis as we weaved our way to the final patient of the day.

We arrived signed in once again and headed to her room. We found her resting and gently woke her. She looked at me confused and then down out Gopher, her face lightened and a big smile appeared but only for a moment. Then she drifted off again staring into space, before falling back to sleep. Gopher looked up at me, gave me a Golden smile and turned toward the door, sat and looked back at me smiling like only a golden can really do. Once again our moment was brief this time only a few seconds, but Gopher seemed to know the work was done, and his smile reminded me that no matter how short the visit was, we, more specifically he helped his patients more than can be summed up in my limited writing skills. Now off to the nurses’ station to note the chart, sign out, and back into the car for the drive home. This time Gopher hopped in the back curled up in a ball and smiled at me in the rearview as he drifted off for his own nap. It was a busy day, and the nap was well deserved. Good boy, Gopher. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Final Visits: Tennis Balls Don’t Distract on Return Visits

Gopher and I began visiting with hospice about six weeks ago now. In that time we were able to visit with the six patients. Our first patient passed shortly after our first visit and we were so pleased to provide him a moment of comfort in his final days.

One of our next patients immediately grabbed our attention and I looked forward to our scheduled visits. Fortunately neither age nor disease had reached his mind. Our first visit with him, was also the most disastrous as mentioned in Worst Fear Realized, his response was wonderful. “That’s okay; the walker is mean to keep the tennis ball away from him.” His quick wit in my moment of embarrassment made me excited to continue our visits.

We would visit with him again in just a few days. He requested a date and time and we came back and visited with him while he ate his dinner. He shared with me moments from his life, his pride and his accomplishments. Gopher did not respond to the tennis balls on the walker this visit and laid down on the floor giving the man his full attention appearing to hang on every word. Dinner was cleared and Gopher knew it was time for the full visit and approached him, placed his head gently on his knee and looked up as he continued to share stories of his life with us. He would pet Gopher’s head, and Gopher would keep looking up at him listening intently. Our visit ended, and we left, I know Gopher was nice company for him, as was I, but felt more enriched by this shared moment than I can justify with words.

Our next visit with him was much the same. Gopher behaved around the tennis balls. He weaved some stories of his life. We shared some jokes about our respective spouses, nothing disrespectful as you could tell he still adored his wife as much as I adore mine. Dinner would be cleared, and Gopher moved in and performed just as he had done the week before. This time when I left he shook my hand as he had the week before, and said, “Thank you for coming, I look forward to your visit.” As I drove home, I laughed again about some of the stories he told during our visit.

I added the next visit to my calendar when I got home that night, thanked Gopher again, and spent the rest of the evening with all of our ‘kids’ and Carla. On Saturday while getting ready to go out with some friends to celebrates Carla’s 31st birthday I missed a call and saw a voicemail waiting on my phone, so I checked it to discover that our next visit would never come as he had passed away peacefully.

Our visits with him were few, but after what would be his last words to me, I cannot help but be thankful of their impact. I also cannot help but be thankful of their impact on me as well. I was nervous about these visits, would I be able to handle these interactions and would Gopher? I still not know how it will go as we continue on this path. I am pleased though we had the opportunity to spend time with this patient, the stories he told are his and I will not share them, but I am glad he shared them with me. I am saddened that we will not have the chance to visit with him again, but pleased to know we were able to provide him some moments of comfort and he is now at peace.

Wonderful News

When Carla, Gopher and I started this blog we presumed it might reach a few people, mostly our families. It has been over a year and we are amazed that we have 100's of readers a week, over a hundred twitter followers. Now we are pleased to report in the coming weeks a local business will be publishing an abridged version of Always Ready.....Man on the Bench on their website. It will be a part of their series 'A Boy and His Dog'. Once we have a publication date and link we will be sure to update.

Thank you for reading.

Gopher, Chad and Carla

Sunday, February 5, 2012

You shall not pass.....

Gopher loves his stuffed animals. He will carry them, cuddle with them, and give them light chews once in a while. His little brother is the same in this and even has a special stuffed Orca that he has been keeping around for some time.

There are a few exceptions to this love of stuffed animals, that changes our typically sweet, fun loving Gopher into a master of death.

If a stuffed toy has the audacity to squeak or make a noise of any kind it will perish in a cloud of stuffing.

If a stuffed toy does not have a squeaker, but shows the tiniest of weakness and a mere tear, or small hole appears in its hide. It will be vanquished from his kingdom as if it has the plague.

This was the case with this Panda, how dare it bring weakness into the kingdom of Gopher. Due to its size, his little brother the Earl of Squirrel was called upon to help the King.

Let the carnage begin!!!

With the treacherous Panda dispatched there was but one thing left to do. Servants (AKA Mom and Dad), please clean the disemboweled creature from my palace while I take a nap.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Our Rita Hayworth


Names 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 confidentiality of those we visit.

This morning Gopher and I visited with a patient for the third time, for the purpose of the story we will refer to the patient as Rita in honor of the celebrity who suffered from the same terrible illness. Rita is suffering in a way that is personally my worst fear, her mind is not as strong, and takes her places due to a terrible unforgiving disease.

Rita sits alone in her room with staff and family checking in on her often, she stares into space not truly looking at anything or anyone, either lost in thought or lost trying to find her thoughts. She is disconnected from the world around her, and is troubled occasionally by thoughts of losing someone.

Today when we entered she was looking for her mother, and asked if I was her. I told her know and I had not seen her mother, but if she would like Gopher and I could stay and visit for awhile. She agreed and Gopher and I took a seat near her chair, and we began to visit. She smiled at Gopher, a smile she has never given me, but always gives him. That smile is one of the best images I have ever seen on a human face. Especially given the distress she visibly felt by her missing mother a few moments before. Then she began to sob, and I asked her if there was something I could do for her, or if she needed something.

After a mere moment she had transitioned from her mother to asking about her child, she had seen him for weeks and was awfully worried since he traveled. I apologized again for not having seen her child and noted the note on her calendar where they had been there only an hour before. I attempted to calm her, and asked if she wanted to call, and Gopher and I could help. Refocusing her to Gopher brought lucidity. She said no, he had just left and it was time for her to pet the dog. The tears left her eyes and she began petting and smiling, told me about her dog she had once, and how much she loved the feel of their coats.

We carried on for a few minutes and our visit had come to an end. We said our goodbyes and she thanked us for coming. We entered and she was distressed, when we left she was smiling and engaged, I do not know what happened after we left, where her mind took her next thanks to the disease. I do know that for a few moments, Gopher became an anchor to reality, and he made her smile and even laugh a bit. That is our purpose, to provide a moment or two of comfort. In a week when we return, she will assuredly not know us, we will have to reintroduce ourselves and that is fine. I just hope that we can give her a few more moments of comfort as we did this morning. 


Happy Birthday MOM!!

I love you so much, 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Musing on fate......

A point of some minor contention in my marriage is our direct disagreement on fate. I have never been a person who gives much credence to the idea of fate. I have always believed that life is more chance, whereas Carla truly believes in fate. She believes that things happen for a reason. We have never argued on the subject, but have had many a discussion on the thought of fate.

Now I consider fate to be more often a mere happenstance or coincidence. Never in my life have I had a moment where I thought the idea of fate was realized. Now I find myself questioning this. Coincidence is common, and open to interpretation, but in getting to know my dog Gopher and the circumstances surrounding him. The examples of coincidence have been almost overwhelming.  It has brought to a point where I consider the possibility of fate. I know this might make some of our readers laugh, as some will think, he is just a dog, to that I provide you a quote courtesy George Graham Vest, a fellow Missourian and trail attorney fighting for a dog in 1870.

“Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.
Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.
If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.”
Obviously though if my readers thought any dog was just a dog they would not have read this blog so far, and I am probably preaching to the choir. Yes, I am his master, although I despise that term, and even Gopher’s owner, another term which I despise, even if I understand the legal necessity. Gopher is also my partner and registered as such in the Delta Society. I like this idea much better; he is also my best friend. The lessons he has taught me, the compassion he has increased in me, may have been prospered by another animal or human, but some oddities about Gopher call me to question my ideas on fate. Probably to the delight of Carla as she loves to prove me wrong and that rarely happens.
So how does Gopher make me question my ideas of fate? Simply by example and coincidences, after three years they seem too large to ignore. Our goal was to make Gopher into a therapy dog prior to his birth, we taught him the obedience and confidence he needed, but he taught us about therapy, and he happened to be our boy, and that is where fate entered my life. The majority of my samples you have heard me discuss some times more than once, and I will highlight them with the link to the original story for those who may be new to this blog.
My favorite instance of this was mere weeks before our first therapy visit, when Gopher behaved in a manner he had not done so before and brought comfort to a stranger and recent widower.Always ready... Gopher did not know the man, nor did I, he was not visibly upset, he was just sitting on a bench. Gopher needed to go be near him, and spend time with the man who had just lost his wife, why he desired this so strongly I will never know.
The next time I would see how much of a therapy dog Gopher would be was on his first visit.First Visit The patient was less interested in visiting with the dogs and had paid attention to very few of them. Nervous as I was doing this for the first time, I instructed Gopher to approach, and he ignored me. I was embarrassed until I saw what he did next and how he got this young girl to become engaged, smile and laugh.
Finally another fine example of his skills is what he has done for me. The above instances could not be trained and were merely part of his own personal character; another part of his character is his loyalty to me and what he has done for me. Nearly two years after Gopher came into our lives, I entered one of the darkest portions of my life, a struggle that is still ongoing, and a continuing fear that to say it is crippling would be an understatement. Many days I want to do nothing more than shut off all the lights, lock the doors, and keep the world out. Gopher does not let this happen, his desire to work reminds me I cannot succumb to fear, he cries and dances at the mere mention of ‘Work’, he loves his job. It also gives me a sense of purpose, and contribution to society.
While working before entering a room of a new patient when the fear comes in, the feelings of inadequacy, fear of my own voice, Gopher without command pauses. He sits down by my side, leans in, nudges my hand with his nose, and places his paw in my hand. He does not push me at this point as he has a tendency to do when he wants to play, or we need to go, this is a pause, he knows without command that I need him at that moment. I have little to complain about in life with a loving family, wife, and friends. The fa├žade of confidence I put on for these people in my life, though is merely a mask, and occasionally I let them in to see my vulnerabilities. I always let Gopher see this side of me. After the nudge, we enter the room, introduce ourselves, and proceed with the visit. Not all the visits are remarkable, although some are.
The most remarkable portion of every visit is the change in me personally. After those moments where I might pause, I always enter. With Gopher by my side and the work ahead of us, he has not only given my life in society purpose, he has given me confidence I have never realized. He makes me not scared of my own voice, no one, human or animal has done that for me.Gopher's Biggest Fan
So all of these are just examples of how truly amazing Gopher is, something that has been noted by peers who have many years more experience than me in giving animal assisted therapy. Gopher is one of those unique dogs, who seems to be made to do this work. Our other boy Squirrel, and other therapy animals perform admirably and do no less great work, but Gopher truly is a savant of therapy work. How does this tie into fate? As I said before, prior to Gopher being born we were going to try and train a therapy dog. A desire I had to fulfill this role. In 2008 we tried to see if our landlord would let us get a dog, he said no, but the desire was set in us and we bought a house. We were impatient to get a dog and placed a deposit on a litter we found prior to closing. Despite delays we closed in time and did not have to wait for a later litter. All the cards were falling in place for that September morning when we would travel north, to meet Gopher and begin this journey.
We had the choice of two males and I leaned one way, Carla leaned another and we both could be easily persuaded either way. It may have come down to a coin toss. Back to the Beginning We set our respective pups we were holding to go play with the litter and watch to maybe help us make a difficult decision. People will tell you time and again that they selected a pup, or adult dog, based on a feeling, or the dog showed them more attention then another. I am too hard-headed or dense for such things, and both pups were affectionate, loving and playful. Gopher would then without room for misinterpretation make the decision for us. Despite all of the wonders of fall before him, a lush garden, litter mates whom had been his whole world until that moment. He as an easily distracted puppy would do something inexplicable. Gopher walked five to ten feet from us as we watched heading toward the wonders before him, turned, returned to my side, sat down in perfect heel position and looked up. This was an amusing story for us for a long time, but now after what I have seen him do that I could not train, the lessons he taught me that I could not have imagined, has become even more magical. Was it fate? Did all the events leading up to this moment go beyond mere coincidence? Three years ago if I had read this, I would has said yes it is coincidence, but now having a front row seat to these events, I feel for the first time that fate could be real. It came to me in the form of a Golden Retriever, who was our Gopher, before we even knew he would be Gopher. Where he has taken me has been amazing, and where we will go is uncertain. I live in constant fear of what tomorrow will or will not bring. No one knows what my future or their future holds, but due to fate that brought Gopher into my life, I feel more prepared that I can handle the tomorrows with him by my side.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Little Allegories


Names 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 confidentiality of those we visit.

It has been amazing getting to work with Gopher to say the least, the support we get from our friends, family, and new friends is amazing and I cannot be more thankful.

Gopher is becoming more and more popular all the time, not just here on this blog, but in the community. Currently we are averaging three or more visits per week, and Gopher is excited at the mere mention of going to work. We are visiting kids in a wide variety of circumstances and their families, as well as patients who are in hospice. To date we have had 5 hospice patients, with one passing shortly after our first visit.

Visiting a hospice patient so far has been an experience unlike any other we have faced in our therapy work. I already have a favorite who I will dedicate future entries too as we progress in our relationship. There are a few items though I had heard about, but have now experienced first hand. I also had another unique experience with a child patient I had been visiting as well, all of these

1.     A patient close to death will tend to stare off in the distance and have moments of lucidity, often these moments may be prompted by a wide variety of circumstances, a touch, mentioning a name. In our case it was Gopher. We entered the room which was quite warm, it was our second visit and our first visit with the patient and my nerves combined with the heat of the room created a sweaty brow. Gopher on the other hand was all business he knew what he was there for, and what he needed to do. The patient was lying in the bed and did not notice our entrance or introduction, Gopher went to the bed, sat, placed his back to the bed and looked over his shoulder at the person lying in the bed. A moment or two passed in which I visited with the family member in the room, then like a flash of lightning the person lying in the bed was with us again, in the room, rolled over and petting Gopher, smiling and laughing at the enthusiastic retriever wagging as his bedside. We visited for just a few more minutes until it was obvious this extra exertion had tired the patient, we said out good byes and left. A few days later I would receive word that the patient had passed peacefully with family by his side. How wonderful it was to be able to provide a few moments of joy and laughter in their final days.

2.     A patient whose mind has wandered and is non-communicative will still noticeably enjoy a visit from a therapy team. I spoke about this in an entry a few weeks ago. Gopher and I went to our first visit where this was just the case. The patient smiled and laughed at the mere sight of Gopher and attempted to pet him as much as her weakened limbs would allow. Not a word was spoken, but the smile was obvious, Gopher had made it through the fog of the patients mind and returned it to the present moment. Something the staff member told me on our next visit had not occurred in weeks.

3.     I have said many times that I feel like Gopher is not really my dog that he belongs to the wider community due to our work. Last night Gopher showed me just how much. We had spent our typical hour visiting with a wide variety of children including a special toddler who was about to head home. Our time had passed, and I said it was time to go, our special toddler still excitingly petting Gopher. I told Gopher it was time to go and he stood and looked around the room doing his goodbye looks. As I was grabbing my coat the toddler yelled, “No, Opher, you stay.”, hitting the floor with the palms of his hands. Just as if I had delivered a command, Gopher dropped to the floor laid on his side and leaned into the toddler. The little guy enjoyed every moment of this as did Gopher, five minutes later, Gopher allowed us to end our visit and leave for the night.

Gopher has shown and taught me much in these adventures and I could not be more proud of him, even in the times he makes mistakes. Over the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to read stories about some of our more specific experiences with patients. One of our facilities is undergoing another phase of turnover where families I have been visiting for months will depart, to be replaced with new introductions and hopefully more moments of comfort. Our patient repertoire is expanding daily and we will be visiting our first library this month. In the next few days, if you choose to entertain it, I will be writing a musing regarding fate that have caused self reflection due to my experiences and coincidences I have had with Gopher.