Follow by Email

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gopher Therapy Dog to More than Just Humans: The Story of Squirrel and Graham and Me

Not very long after getting Gopher we started volunteering for a local rescue as a foster home for Golden Retrievers and mixes. Gopher being a young pup was eager to love each one of them, but confused when they left. His favorite foster, fast friend and closest companion was Ramsey (The Story of Ramsey). After Ramsey was Barney (The Story of Barney). As a result of his love of Ramsey and his depression when he left we decided it was time to have another permanent resident and arranged for Squirrel. In the meantime we filled our home with a new foster Barney, and although he was lovable in his own way, Barney needed help, which we gave him. Gopher still mourning the absence of Ramsey was excited by the new companion, but became jaded quickly when Barney reacted to him in a negative way. Since that time Gopher, has always been more aloof to new dogs and slow to become companions with them, including Squirrel his little ‘brother’ who would be arriving in a few months.

Gopher bonded with Barney, and eventually Graham, and other new dogs, but not as much as he did in the time before Ramsey and with Ramsey.  Squirrel being a young pup, loved the peculiar antics of Barney, and did as much to help him in overcoming issues as Gopher, Carla and I. Once Barney had settled into a wonderful and loving forever home we intended to take a break, but quickly changed our minds and took on a litter of puppies so that they could remain with their litter mates until old enough to be placed in individual homes. We did not intend to foster any of the pups for the long term as we were still exhausted from and in the middle of all the training Squirrel needed in his first year of life. Once they were all handed out to other loving foster homes we once again intended to take a break, and we did, but not for as long as intended.
Graham was introduced on the plea as an 11 year old pure bred Golden Retriever. He was said to be gentle, loving, and well-mannered. He was also diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. We said yes knowing that he might not get adopted and might not even be with us long. The original prognosis was grim and 6 months was considered optimistic. He would go on to live with us for 15 months, until last night when we were in the position to do the last humane act and help him die. There are many tales I can tell you about his time with us, and who he was, but the purpose of this blog is about Gopher and his therapy work. Gopher and Graham were friends, but not like Squirrel and Graham who loved nothing more than playing with one another, especially in the morning while we were getting ready for our days. They were buds, the old man and the young pup, frequently found cuddling one another. In  the last week of Graham’s life Gopher started doing his thing and giving therapy not to Graham, but to his little brother Squirrel, and eventually once again to me his most consistent patient.

Graham’s decline could be represented graphically as an exponential regression. After over a year of no change to even some improvement in blood values, he deteriorated quickly.  During the year leading up to this with little to no interest of applicants wanting to adopt Graham we settled into a routine of a three dog house. Gopher playing sometimes, never really initiating, but rather being prodded into it, but his little brother, Graham being a happy content, albeit stubborn old man watching and many times joining in to the play. Graham and Squirrel cuddling and playing with each other without Gopher quite often, they became the best of pals.

Then last week, Grahams decline became obvious, that is when Gopher stepped in to do a little therapy for his little brother.  Gopher, who rarely initiated play, became incessant wanting trying to get Squirrel to play constantly. He became more insistent whenever Squirrel attempted to initiate play with Graham. Gopher seemed to know that Graham could no longer play and that his little brother was losing his best pal and needed him.

This last week, Carla and I cleared our calendars in order to be near Graham if he needed us. We were not overly active since Graham could not be, both Squirrel and Gopher were growing restless, but Gopher did his best to keep Squirrel engaged with him and not focused on Graham. Our somber week was lightened by the time we got to spend with Graham and the antics Gopher was doing to keep little brother distracted.
On the last day of his life, Graham indicated to us that it was time, his personality had faded and despite the aid of medication, he was not interested in food. Thankfully he was not experiencing any pain. The change was obvious, but Carla and I hadn’t talked about it yet. Then right before we were to leave for the day, Squirrel stopped in the middle of the floor looked to Graham, and back up at Carla, his eyes, his demeanor appeared as if he was pleading with Carla to fix Graham. What Carla did not notice was Gopher, standing a little farther away, toy in mouth taunting Squirrel. The distraction was not enough this time though no matter how much Gopher tried.

We discussed it on our drive, and decided it was time. When we came home Gopher was still initiating play as much as possible as we let them outside, and then loaded them all into the car.  The trip seemed extra-long coupled by traffic and dread. We pulled in and unloaded Gopher and Squirrel, who would get a private room, while Carla and I sat with Graham for the procedure. Graham being a golden went in, noticeably weak, but still wagging at the excitement of seeing strangers. The looks on our faces made it obvious what we were there for, and the looks of compassion from strangers were a bit too much. Graham went in laid down comfortably and was fully relaxed, in a matter of moments that seemed all too short he was gone.

The drive home wasn’t much better, and the absence of Graham overbearing. As soon as we got home, Gopher was at it again, initiating play with his little brother. Throughout the night Gopher would take turns playing with Squirrel, resting and loving up two friends who came to toast and remember Graham. The entire time he kept an eye on his little brother. After several stories had been told our friends left and it was time for bed. Gopher and Squirrel clambered in taking their usual spots, I went to pull Gopher in closer, he resisted, settled in for a while then left. As the house quieted and Carla and I settled in a bit more, I pulled him up near me again, this time he settled in, this time he knew it was I who needed him. I fell asleep cuddled into him, tears being taken up by his coat.

Today, marks the first day of healing, the mood in our home is somber. We will move on, though it is still raw right now. Either way in this last week Gopher once again amazes me in his empathy, and instinct. He took it upon himself to initiate play with Squirrel, to provide that distraction and comfort. I am sure in the coming weeks we will settle into a new routine, without Graham. How long Gopher will help his little brother mourn for his friend I do not know.  I am just thankful that Squirrel has Gopher to help him through this transition, and only wish I could turn back the clock and be able to help the young Gopher when his friend Ramsey went to his adoptive family.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sidewalk Dog

An abridged version of a story previously featured this blog was featured on Sidewalk Dog today!

For the unabridged story and more peruse the lisings on your right.

Thank you,
Chad and Gopher

Friday, March 16, 2012

Great Article at NPR

I have had the opportunity to share many warm stories regarding the work Gopher has done. Some are heart breaking all are joyful. This great article from NPR discusses the positive and not as visible signs of the interactions of Gopher and his peers. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A NOT So Gentle Reminder

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.

Gopher and I were on our way to work this week and we, meaning me, were challenged at first. The weather has taken an early turn to be both warm and beautiful.  It was difficult to think about leaving home for a car ride to be locked indoors among the first days of beautiful weather.  It was however our night to be at the hospital, so time to smile and be enthusiastic.  No problem, we both love this work.
On the way to the hospital the fair weather was encouraging people to go out and grill, and as a person who loves BBQ ribs I couldn’t help but notice some delicious smelling ribs being grilled in a front yard on our short drive. I also couldn’t help but notice how much Gopher and I are alike. He will sniff in the direction of any food, but this was the first time I saw his eyes as big as saucers, nose twitching excitedly, and drool coming out of his mouth in a manner that would make Niagara Falls jealous of its volume and ferocity.  We thought about stopping and offering them therapy, but decided it would be best to make our scheduled appointment.
When we arrived at the hospital it was still a few minutes before we would begin and I met with my fellow therapy teams of the evening. Then it started and despite the distraction of beautiful weather and ribs, Gopher and I could not be any happier with our decision to keep our appointment and visit with the teams. The place was packed with patients and families easily well over 50 in number. We visited with as many as we could make it to and then it was time for the ‘Dog Show’ a sort of exhibition of our dogs where we tell them about our partners, do tricks, and then the next team goes. Gopher and I were up first as we were asked to do the individual room visits that night. We did our portion and were off.
The individual visits are set up in advance and were for kids who are unable to make it to the large group gathering. Our first a young girl limited to our bed who was probably more excited than a Golden Retriever to see Gopher. We spent several minutes with her and her face lit up as soon as we entered the room, and I am guessing her smile didn’t fade until long after we left. We followed that up with another young girl, and two young boys who due to recent procedure were only able to manage the slightest smile, and pats for Gopher. Then we headed up to another floor where we met with two more young men who enthusiastically pet Gopher, the final one telling us eagerly about his upcoming Service Dog.
Finally we made it back to the main room just as the show was ending and visited individually with those we missed on the first pass. The smiles of the kids, as contagious and wonderful as with all of our visits, seemed especially bright that night. It was incredibly busy, much busier than ever before when I have visited this facility. Once it all settled I smiled at the not so gentle reminder of one of the many reasons I do this work.  None of these kids were able to go out and enjoy the weather; they needed the sunlight brought to them, in this case, in the form of Gopher. He made them smile, so despite the urge to ‘play hooky’ I was reminded how much we were needed and tonight on an equally beautiful day Gopher and I will take the time to enjoy the weather, satisfied that on the previous night we did the right thing and were reminded of our importance.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Puppy Gopher

From the archives.
The rarely seen video of Gopher as a puppy.
The day he became Gopher.
First Bath.
Playing in the House.
Training with family at 3 months.

Friday, March 2, 2012


For those of you who are regular readers you know I have eluded to the difficulties in my own life. I am blessed by many things in my life, a loving family, a wonderful wife, a community to friends and although it is a cliche are truly family as well.  Finally last but not least are the dogs in my life whose moments of comfort are irreplaceable. It is this relationship combined with past experiences that has made me focus so much on therapy work with Gopher, that and the personal reminders of strength I have the pleasure of seeing in others facing difficulties that pale my own in comparison. Unfortunately this week we had to lighten our therapy load, but are happily returning to the full load next week. 

This morning, I needed a good cry apparently and I had one, within seconds Gopher was there his fur drying my tears and lessening my anxiety. Then came the remorse that due to our personal situation I had to go on less visits this week, I know how much I needed him, and it reminded me how much our patients need those moments of comfort as well. Next week we will get to return to more visits, with the hope that we won't have to take time off for the same reason again. A good cry, with the comfort of Gopher, I was able to pick myself up and get going again. It also reminded me once again to be thankful of all the things in my own life, and I want to recognize these again.

Thank you to Carla, we have had good times and poor, but we have been blessed as none of these were in our marriage and partnership. Thank you.

Thank you to our loving family, we do not know when this chapter in our lives will pass, but I do not know how we would have made it this far without you. We are truly blessed.

Thank you to our friends. We can never say this enough, but you all can't imagine how much you mean to me, and I know Carla as well.

Thank you to Gopher, there are a lot of things we have taught you, but not nearly as much as you have taught me. 

Finally for those who read this and might be facing difficult times as well I leave you with another cliche, a song to help heal you, remind you that it will get better. I just hope for all of us it is soon. Hug your dog, your friends dog, or if possible a therapy dog, and smile.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Gopher in the Movies?

Living in the Twin Cities metro has offered Carla and I the opportunity to meet and become friends with a large array of wonderful people. One very important aspect of our diverse social group are the number of artists we have had the privilege to know, an opportunity that has been presented to us due to the areas rich theatrical presence. This is a shout out to our friends at Expensive Wino Productions, who gave Gopher a new adventure recently when he was cast along with his little brother Squirrel in their upcoming release "War of the Worlds?" We worked with both of them on the speak command so they could be filmed barking at an intruder for the film. Once on location the boys let their new star status go to their heads and did not perform as well as expected.

Gopher (Left) Squirrel (Right)
Screen shot from "War of the Worlds?"
Courtesy Expensive Wino Productions

We will let you know when Gopher will make his film debut in the release of "War of the Worlds?".

In the meantime Expensive Wino Productions has entered a short film festival with a comedy entitled "The World's Greatest Lover". For our readers whose use Facebook we would greatly appreciate it if you could join us in showing support by voting for their trailer on the Z-Fest Film Festival Facebook page at the link below.

Thank you so much for helping out our friends at Expensive Wino Productions. Once the trailer has you wanting more please take the time to check out their other films on youtube.