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?"
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