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Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

On behalf of Gopher and his family we want to thank all of our fans and readers for their support.

We hope that 2013 allows you the comfort and support to be all that you can be no matter how ridiculous it may look!

Finally we want to share Chad's favorite holiday song, sung by Gopher's favorite vocalist, Luciano Pavarotti. We are not joking, Gopher pays close attention when Pavarotti is singing, and in our travels if/when we hit the evil rumble strips only playing of his music seems to soothe Gopher.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Why......

I spend a lot of time visiting with Gopher. Taking time away from my own home and family, sometimes becoming more emotionally involved than I should. It is hard not to become attached, I had the pleasure of having lunch with a friend and peer of mine who after her first year of visiting one location has grown to love the children her and her partner are working with. I understand this feeling all too well. Just the other day I was visiting a patient who had a conversation with Gopher stating, "I am very tired Gopher, not sure how much longer I can go on. You are a good dog, will you please come back and visit my (partner) when I am gone. I want to see our next anniversary, but not sure if I can." It took every last bit of strength I had to keep my composure until I was safely in my car, I have been visiting the patient for 8 months and have seen the decline as well as reminders of my own family, I know that I have begun to lose my professional objectivity.

Why do Gopher and I do this? The reasons are numerous. The moments I have shared with patient and family. The tears that Gopher's fur has dried, the sheer joy he has brought to persons in some of the most difficult situations in life. These have had a profound impact on me, shaped the way I think and see the world. Not too mention the excitement and pleasure Gopher has in his own work.  One thing about me that hasn't changed is that I believe strongly that my day is wasted if I do not spend at least one part of it help another person (human or animal).

Why do I think it has such impact? This question was posed to me recently by a reporter for a college paper who was taking images and writing a story on the therapy animals visiting campus for finals week. I quoted the typical studies on blood pressure, endorphin release these are concrete easy to explain. My science education draws me to them. It is more difficult to explain the impact I have seen Gopher have these last three years of working. The stories sometimes too numerous, too emotional to get across in a sentence or two. It is one of the reasons I began writing about my experiences here, and also to hopefully get a few more people to join Gopher and I as there is more work than teams available. This week a few of our peers went to Connecticut to help the way a therapy animal can, to provide moments of comfort. Their mission is simple, be present, keep your partner safe. They will and have spent time in groups, and also one on one with grief counselors and their patients. It is just one of those impacts that are hard to describe, a person will begin a dialogue with an animal present more willingly and easily than on their own. I have seen Gopher do this, the person sits seeming to search for words, you can feel the tension in them and then Gopher leans into them. They give a weak smile and a laugh and begin petting and in a few moments they begin talking.

These animals will not give more than comfort, but they will allow a dialogue to begin between patient and therapist. The dialogue that is started allows them to work through their difficult emotions and start examining how they may heal. Time and realization are the only things that can heal deep wounds, a therapy animal helps start the conversation.  The why? It is due to endorphin release and decreased blood pressure, but the HOW, is far more interesting than the why and much more difficult to explain.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Test Time

Test time!! Well not for Gopher or I but for the students. Oh, how well do I remember the times though, the high stress, the anxiety, followed by the exhaustion. It is becoming more recognized the calming effects a single therapy visit from a well trained dog can do for students during their final preparations. A healthy and more effective way to neutralize stress.

This week Gopher and I were able to spend time with students both at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota and at Hamline University. The response at both locations we well received and the students were excited. Gopher did not fail to delight. At both visits he sought out the largest crowds and sat down in the middle of them, lifting his paw to remind them that the best therapy comes from his chest. The students laughed and were delighted by Gopher and the other therapy animals who were visiting. Easy to say a good time was had by all.

The University of Minnesota newspaper The Minnesota Daily even did a nice write up, with a photo of Gopher and the hosting organization set up a Flickr account and local news responded as well, but no Gopher. Links to both are below!

Minnesota Daily Article

Flickr Images

CBS Coverage

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I have always enjoyed transitions. The transition could be daily during dawn or dusk when both the night sky and rays of sunlight are both visible or that moment when a new concept goes from concept to understanding. I seek out transitions and have always been fascinated by them, the fuzzy gray between shadow and light. The time a leaf is showing a decline in chlorophyll and an increase in tannins making it go from green to red and then brown. Transition fascinates me, and over the last few months the transitions in my own life have fascinated me and given me pause. This last weekend the transitions I witnessed were almost overwhelming.

First was the transition of the landscape, with our first winter storm we moved from browns and yellows of decay and dormancy to layers of wet snow we have not seen here since 2011. Although it seemed like this storm did not want to end, I was still enveloped by our first ‘real’ snow of the season. The mud, dirt, dormant grass and leftover leaves were no longer visible. Gopher led Squirrel and Bert out into the fresh snow with such excitement, all three of them burying their noses, and coming up shaking ears and sneezing.

Next was the transition with Gopher. Unable to not make use of fresh snow and wanting to play with him it was time to head out to a place where he can run. We were off like a snail due to the poor road conditions and made it to the park some 20 minutes a way in a record one hour! In this period Gopher transitioned many times, from a regal, mature dog of 4 years, to an excited puppy ready to go play at the mention of park and chuck it. Then to the annoyed kid on the long drive, his huffs easily translating to, “Dad are we there yet?” Then lastly to a pup who seemed to have no idea of the extensive training he has had bouncing around the back of the car whimpering in anticipation at our arrival and then pulling on the leash and barking impatiently to have the ball thrown.

Although all of those transitions were fun it was the next one that never ceases to amaze me. The travel time and my inability to still handle Minnesota winter caused us to have a shorter time playing than anticipated. Gopher was still eager to have the ball thrown as we worked our way out of the park. When we arrived at the gate I leaned over and asked him if he was ready to go to work, immediately his disposition changed from that of overly excited needing more tennis ball puppy to the mature trained dog I knew was in there somewhere. He has a job, he loves doing it, and the mere mention of work and sliding the gentle leader into place, putting on the short leash and he had transitioned into an entirely different dog than what I had a few moments earlier.

We were off again, well sort of for the remainder of the journey to our patient’s home. Gopher was calm, and not frustrated with our travel but observant. As we neared the intersection of our final turn he whimpered with excitement again, but it is a different whimper from his about to play whimper. I was pleased when he did this as the snow had obscured the street sign so if he hadn’t let out the whimper I would have missed our turn.

We park and the pup that only a moment ago had forgotten his leash training was the perfect gentleman. He eagerly went to his patient and ‘assumed’ his position by sitting as close to her as possible allowing her to rub her face in his fur and to be stroked and touched everywhere. The transition from the pup in the park to the dog in front of me was rapid, he went from full throttle and hammer down, to calm, relaxed, confident and perfectly composed. As he took in the gentle love and pets of his patient, we visited the patient, partner, gopher and me. We discussed the weather, and the change in coaching at Wisconsin (this patient is a Badger, but we can’t all be perfect) and whatever comes to mind. Gopher leans into the patient more and the petting gets more intense as they are nose to nose.

Thinking of the transition with Gopher from the park dog to the working dog, made me think about where we were now and the transition I have seen. Our patient is in hospice care and has since we have been visiting to truly accept the inevitable future and was living the remaining time to its fullest. The partner I had noticed in conversation was not at the same place. However in the many months I had been visiting I had seen the coming to terms and acceptance come forward in his speech and discussions. From what I have seen the transition has gone well and better than I would be doing if I was in the same shoes. I have only been with my partner for a single decade and not many. It is amazing to think about these transitions, from hyper puppy to observant working dog, a person transitioning to acceptance to the inevitable loss of a partner, the browns to whites, and strangers to friends it appears we are all in transition. They both pet Gopher for some time, the conversation dwindles and here we are the four of us once strangers transitioned to friends, now sharing precious moments petting a dog, albeit a pretty amazing one.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Letter Sent to Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society)

I have so many stories about Gopher and I that sometimes I struggle to find the right words. Most of the time when I do get them written up and posted on here or talk to people I only here wonderful comments, and most of the time they are thankful to me when in reality it is Gopher who should be thanked as I am just the chauffeur. This last week a family member of a patient took my hand firmly and said, "God bless you, God bless you so much for your kindness, and thank your wife for sharing you and Gopher with us." I smiled and turned away quickly holding back tears as the thank you was so emphatic you knew it came from the deepest recesses of the soul. Occasionally I am greeted by rolled eyes, a skeptic who says I put too much emphasis on the dog or I am anthropomorphising Gopher too much. It is one of the many reasons I have begun sharing my stories. I can tell you that I absolutely do not reach too far into what Gopher has done, not only the effect he has had on people but his motivation and response to numerous different situations is beyond my grasp to understand fully. It has caused me to look deep within myself, search my own soul and intellect and even question my personal views on faith. If you have not had the opportunity to be in the presence of a working dog, or more effectively teach, live, and work with a dog that has a job you will find it hard to understand, however Gopher is open for appointments if you are open to seeing a different side of life.

All this goes through my head and this morning I read a lovely note that was sent to Pet Partners formerly Delta Society and I cannot help but sharing as it gives an unrelated to myself or Gopher viewpoint that I have experienced so many times. It also happens to be another Golden....

"As we walked in, we immediately turned into the nurse's station and met with some of the staff. At the same time there was a young girl who was asking to use the phone outside the nurses station. While Maddie and I continued to talk to the staff, I could hear the young lady crying and talking to her mother about wanting to commit suicide. Maddie 'told' me that she REALLY needed to 'talk' to that girl, so I made sure that we were available for her as soon as she got off the phone.

I asked (the girl) if she would like to talk to Madison for a while and I introduced the two of them. She told me that, "Madison can't talk." I told her, 'Maddie talks in a very unique way, but more importantly she listens. I'm going to be right over here talking with the other kids and the nurse. You just sit here and pet Maddie. If at any time you feel like talking, just talk to her, she'll listen.' I did retain the other end of the leash, but by turning my back, I excluded myself from their conversation.

After about 15 minutes, I heard a lot of talking, but it was relaxed, calm talking and talking that allowed her to work some things out. After about 1/2 hour, I turned to sit with them and she starting asking about Madison, what her job was in the hospital, how she got (registered), etc. She then asked me what kinds of animals could be pet therapy animals. I told her about Pet Partners and all of the various animals that they certify. I even told her about the horse who has special tennis shoes so that he can visit patients in (a) Colorado (hospital).

All this time she continued to pet Madison and talk to her too. Finally after about an hour, the break-through. She said, "When I grow up, I think this is something that I want to do."

I almost cried right there; in about an hour, she had gone from wanting to take her own life, to formulating a plan for the future. "

She also taught me something that night. That this is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. Thank you for doing all that you do to make our work this meaningful."