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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Importance of the Chair

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.

Chairs come in all shapes and sizes and most people I know have a favorite chair. I never rally thought much about chairs I either liked the one I was using or did not.  What seems like a lifetime ago though when I was taking therapy classes with Gopher I had my first in depth discussion regarding chairs. Now that I teach a class, I am leading the discussion of chairs, never thought growing up, or throughout school I would spend any amount of time talking about furnishings, but here I am.

Chairs have come to the forefront of my mind when entering a facility, a new home or anywhere we may be visiting. All of the furnishings, equipment and more are important and I look at all of them , but nothing has the importance of the chair.

When Carol, my instructor brought up doing chair work, teaching Gopher to get up into a variety of different chairs slowly and comfortably I scoffed.  Gopher is a Golden Retriever, he weighs 65 lbs and is 2 ft at the withers he will never need a chair for someone to reach him. Being a diligent student and also it was a bit to see Gopher get into a chair and sit regally as if he was on a throne.

So we worked, padded chairs at first, then the more difficult slippery unpadded chairs, and folding chairs that required me to brace them before giving him the indication to get up.

I am glad we spent so much time working on it as it has utilized on countless occasions. Our patients have been able to get just a little bit closer, and get the pleasure of the golden lean despite the wires and equipment.

Our chair work has come in handy, but more so on a recent visit. Gopher and I have been visiting a patient for some time who is in end of life care. We visit every other week, and she absolutely loves her time with Gopher. I have even written about our visits with this patient in Marge.

Over the months since I recorded that visit with Marge she has grown weaker and in our last few visits I have had to bring a wooden folding chair to facilitate our visits. I get Gopher in position and Marge buries her head in his golden fur taking in his warm smell. She strokes him all over and Gopher sits in his chair, patient and regally. Adding the chair has allowed us to stick with the 30 minute visits as it is not as exhausting for her to visit with him.

On our most recent visit Marge immediately told Gopher how tired she was that day. I put Gopher in his chair, and Marge leaned in buried her face and wrapped her arms around him. Gopher leaned in and wrapped his head around her neck, hugging her back. There they stayed for the entirety of the visit. Neither of them moved a muscle and no more words were spoken.

It was a beautiful moment and reminded me of the importance of a chair.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


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 have spent a large amount of time interacting with patients that are at the end of their lives. I personally enjoy working with hospice patients, and have a lot of fun doing it. This may sound surprising that one would say it is fun working with the the dying, but it is, the honesty, the joy they share and the clarity one can have at the end of their life is something to be experienced.

The Showtime series "The Big C" in its final season "The Big C: Hereafter" explained this experience beautifully via the Hospice nurse when Cathy asked her if it got to her working with all of these dying people and she responded with, "When people are close to death they open up like flowers, they teach me so much and that I can provide a little comfort it sure makes me feel good."

With all of our visits whether in hospice or otherwise I get so much out of it, I get to work with my dog and that is amazing. I have the unique opportunity to see the human-animal bond in its most splendid form, and I almost always learn something from our patients.

Recently I was able to learn first hand about forgiveness.

We had been visiting a patient for some time, in his life he had served America in an armed conflict. He was proud of his service, and had been a prisoner of war. In our visits he spoke about many things, his family, his marriage, his children. It was a visit when he was laying in bed and had Gopher cuddling when we spoke about his service.

He told me he had enlisted and was excited to serve his country. He was not on the front very long when he and a fellow soldier were cut off, captured and became prisoners.

He spoke to Gopher and I about the tremendous horrors he saw while he was held, how he witnessed his fellow soldier die as a result of his captors neglecting to administer medical care. He never said how long he was a prisoner of war, but the atrocities he described to us were nearly beyond comprehension. He witnessed suffering, torture and the deaths of fellow prisoners.

He himself had been beaten, would only be given mere scraps once a day. Conditions were deplorable and he wasn't sure how he survived a fever he experienced during his captivity.

He audibly sighed and kept stroking Gopher. He looked at me and said, "It was awful, and I hope if it was different and I was guarding them I would have done better, but I don't know if I would have I was young and they were the enemy. I hope I would have done better. If I had time to do one more thing I wish I could find the men who held me and tell them it was okay. I forgive them. It might not mean much, it might make a difference for them, but I do forgive them. I would also thank them, for each day since I have never taken my freedom for granted."

The sentiment was so sincere, and so powerful. It was a great lesson for me as well, and I only hope in my life I can be half as forgiving as he was, and I am so thankful that Gopher and I were able to provide him with a little comfort.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thank You!

Mother Teresa once said, "It's not about how much we give but how much love we put into giving."

Over the last six weeks, since we announced "The Brother's Rodent Cuddle Caps" this quote has kept coming to my head. We have been overwhelmed by the response so far, and although the hats may seem small the investment of time, the creativity captures the spirit of this quote, for this could not be done without a large amount of love. 

Here are some of the items that have been completed and shared with us so far, we are so excited for the future of this project and hope to share with you images of the patients enjoying your wonderful contributions soon!

Thank you all so much again!! These are all amazing! 

The boys are ready to hand them out and cannot wait to see the smiles you are helping put on so many faces!

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help with this project please go to: Brother's Rodent Cuddle Caps

If you are not creative and would like to help with the purchase of supplies and postage go here.

If you need a kit, please send e-mail us at

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

100th Entry: Thankful for 'Just a Dog'

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.

Working with rescue and in therapy work I have often seen and heard the comment, he or she is 'just a dog'. There are poems and countless blog entries on how people reflect on this seemingly cold comment of being 'just  a dog', and I share their sentiments, but today the day before Thanksgiving I am thankful to have 'just a dog'.

Not too long ago, Gopher and I were doing our rounds after completing one ward we paused to give Gopher a drink of water before proceeding on to our next ward. As we paused a family member came to get some water and asked about Gopher and what he was doing there. I explained he was a therapy dog and making visits to patients and family. That she could certainly pet him.

She asked if I could come back to the ward we just left to see her family member who was being treated. I said yes and returned. 

We had skipped this room on our rounds as the door was closed, curtains draw and the lights were low. As as a therapy team in these situations you move on and do not wake a resting patient.

The room itself was a typical hospital room, with the low lighting it took a moment for our eyes to adjust. The stress, fear and anxiety that hung in the room was palatable. The room was full of family that had been there in the uncomfortable silence typical of hospital rooms where conversation is often difficult, and on the bed our patient. 

A man not too old and also not too young. His hair was nearly gone and he was frail, a mere shadow of the man he had been when healthy, a sign of his prolonged illness and toxic treatments. His respiration was harsh and the well known button to deliver pain medication was clutched tightly in his hand. He was steadily pressing it to no avail as the soothing drugs are delivered intermittently no matter how many times it is pressed.

"Phillip, look what we have for you, there is a dog here like yours."

The patient opened his eyes, and a smile graced his face. "Can he lay up here with me."

"Absolutely, let me grab a cloth." I grabbed some linen and placed in on the bed at his side. Gopher without cue placed one front paw then the other and slowly scooted forward bringing up his hind limbs one at a time, never standing on the bed he placed himself laying down next to the man. He leaned into him and placed his head in the center of his chest and looked him right in the face. 

Our patient smiled, and put his arms around Gopher. He began petting and scratching all over. His respiration slowed and he released the pain medication delivery button and replaced it with a mound of golden fur. 

The awkward silence in the room broke.

"Hey Dad, remember when....."

"Yes, I remember that, he is so much like our dog, but much calmer."

Hey Dad, when you get home we should..."

"Yes, Phillip I know he will be happy to see you and then you and the boys can..."

"That would be great, this guy is so calm, has he always been this way"

"No", I replied, "When he is at home he is a typical active Golden, he is only calm here because he knows his job and likes it so much."

The conversation between the patient, family and myself continued but only for a few moments. I noted that Phillip began to fall asleep, after the second head nod and startle. I thanked him for letting us visit he and the family that was now surrounding the bed petting and jovially talking about their dog, what was going on at school and more said their goodbyes. Gopher got a big hug from the patient and gently left the bed. I grabbed the linen and tossed it in the hamper and left.

I had closed the door and was a few feet down the hall when it reopened and one of the family came to me, "Thank you and Gopher so very much for stopping and the work you do, we haven't had that much fun in weeks, bless you both."

So this Thanksgiving as I gather with my 'extended' family and reflect on the many blessings I am thankful for, I will remain thankful for my 'just a dog'. As in those few moments my 'just a dog' transformed Phillip from 'just another suffering patient', to a dad, a husband, an uncle, a son and allowed this family to be 'just a family' and not that family with the ill son, ill father, with an uncertain future. 

Thank you Gopher, even though you are 'just a dog'. 

Many blessings to you and your families, and I hope that Thanksgiving Day will allow you to be 'just a family' and the time to be thankful to be just that.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Brothers Rodent Cuddle Caps and Scarves Update!

Gopher, Squirrel, Carla and I are so happy how big the response has been so far. 

Thanks to our first benefactor we have started making and handing out kits, here is a bit of the yarn we purchased. The postage, shipping boxes, and return shipping boxes are not as interesting.

Thanks to Mary B. we have also started receiving some beautiful hats!

Also check out these two great blogs who have shared our little mission!

We have also been working hard ourselves. Experienced knitters please note that we just learned how to knit in the last couple of months.

First scarf blocked, looking forward to handing this out! 

Carla ( the knitting expert, not the wife) was also over this weekend and showed me how to make a hat and it is also well on its way!

Thank you to everyone for the support. We hope to share images of the first distribution soon!

If you are seeing this for the first time go here to learn more about Brothers Rodent Cuddle Caps: Calling all knitters and crocheters!

If you do not have the ability, but want to help those who do have the skills but lack the resources go here: Cuddle Caps Kits!

If you need a kit, please contact me at

Thank you ALL!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Calling all Knitters and Crocheters: The Brothers Rodent Cuddle Caps

Special Announcement: 
Calling all Knitters and Crocheters: 
The Brothers Rodent Cuddle Caps and Scarves

Gopher and his little brother Squirrel are spending more and more time working with kids who have lost their hair due to various medical treatments for their medical conditions. The kids are an inspiration to all us and we wanted to give back to them just a little more but will need the help of our knitting community. We will be giving these gifts to kids as we visit them as therapy animal teams while they are undergoing treatment.

Thank you to the boys, Aunt Carla who is an expert knitter and took us shopping to find exactly what we are looking for in order to get this ongoing mission of helping to these wonderful kids keep their heads warm. She is also going to be teaching us how to make these caps, so fingers crossed. Thank you also to the boys Aunt Emily for her support and information, I know we will be seeing several caps from Ohio and she will also be helping share our mission.

What are we looking for?

·      Chemo caps or Skull Caps in a range of sizes from youth to adult.

      Example patterns (feel free to be creative these are just guidelines to get you started) Thank you Carla for finding the patterns.

·      The Brothers Rodents Cuddle Caps should be both soft and durable. We have selected Caron Simply Soft as our preferential yarn, but welcome knitters to use a brand they may like better the key is to be soft and easily washable.

·      Colors!! This is key, we want each of the caps to use two colors and only two colors. Once again our preference is the Caron Simply Soft Colors Dark Sage (9707) and Iris (9747). We welcome knitters to use their preference. Please keep to similar to these two colors a deep green and a royal purple. These are the boy’s puppy collars and we use their colors while working and are keeping with this theme. There are no specifications on how the two colors are used on the caps so please be as creative as you desire.

·      Tags!! Do you personalize your work with a tag? Please feel free to do this as well. Please sew the tags to the outside of the caps.

·      Where? Please mail all completed caps to:
                              The Brothers Rodent Cuddle Caps
c/o Midwest Animal Rescue & Services           
4080 83rd Ave N
Brooklyn Park MN 55443

·      When? This will be on-going, we will begin handing out the caps as soon as we get some made ourselves.

·      What else to do? Share this with your knitting groups and friends, and share some more. We will keep handing them out to the kids!

A little inspiration, Gopher with one of his kids. 

To get some practice as a new person to knitting I made this scarf for Gopher to wear when we hand these out. Not too bad and Gopher looks pretty handsome if I do say so myself.

Thank you so much for your time and considering this project. We will be keeping you updated and hope to have images of samples up soon.

If you are an administrator at a hospital that offers Children's Oncology in the Twin Cities Metro, Des Moines, Iowa, Aberdeen or Watertown, South Dakota and would like the Brothers Rodent to come for a visit. Please contact

UPDATE 11/4/2013:
Just spoke with the mom of one of our patients. Scarves are also something desired. So we are expanding beyond caps to scarves. Preferential yarn still the same, two colors remain the same as well!

UPDATE 11/7/2013:
Due to multiple requests we have set up the following page. Contributions collected here will be used to purchase kits which will include yarn, postage, and return postage for completed projects. This is to help those who have the desire to donate their talents but lack the resources currently.

In lieu of funds you can also send materials directly to the address listed above.

Thank you!!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: 100th Visit

A couple of weeks ago I had to acquire the hours I have worked in order to complete paperwork to become an evaluator for PetPartners. The number of hours in total was a surprise, but what was interesting we the discovery that Gopher was on the verge of his 100th hour at one of his favorite facilities to visit. This caused us to plan a celebration.

We announced his 100th visit on his facebook page (HRH King Gopher, THD) and shared a meme created from an image of his first visit. 

Unfortunately he didn't get his request here is the image taken on his 100th visit.

Don't despair though. Gopher had a great visit, and it was a busy night! He was able to hang out with Holly and Giaco who always brings the most delicious treats. There were a lot of kids and families and he once again helped at the craft table. 

When he got home we celebrated with blueberry pancakes and bacon!

After impatiently posing for his photo opportunity with drool running to the floor. He was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Congratulations Gopher on your 100th visit, looking forward to our next 100. Just maybe Ronald will pet you sometime......

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Perfect Moments

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.

The last couple of weeks have given me several moments to reflect due to some perfect moments in time. Carla and Squirrel have joined Gopher and I on a large number of visits lately, and although I love working with the many talented animals and handlers there is just something about getting to work as a family that makes me especially happy. Thanks to our friends Liz, Annie and Greg, and their pups, Pond, Josey and Mjolnir, Bert our third golden has had ample entertainment allowing us to work together without feeling as guilty leaving Bert.  

We have been visiting a local hospital as family and have had some amazing experiences. One night in particular it seemed as if all of the start were aligned. Carla and Squirrel take half of the floors approved for animal assisted interactions (AAI) and Gopher and I take the other half. It is very efficient and as two teams we are able to cover the entire AAI floors in about 90 minutes visiting with every patient that wishes to have a therapy visit.

Although therapy animals have been around for many years now and our becoming a commonly known part of our society, we are still met by surprise of the patients when we come. Every night is a little different sometimes patient population is low, sometimes the patients do not wish to take part in a visit, which is also fine. This one night in particular it seemed as if every door we were greeted with an,"Oh, yes" we would love to have a visit. Each of these rooms were also a 'quality visit' where every patient was deeply involved with seeing the dogs, telling stories, smiling and thanking us for our time. The appreciation for this simple gesture was overwhelming and one of the first time Carla and Squirrel had an opportunity to receive it. I always give the standard reply, "No thanks needed, I am just the chauffeur, Gopher does all the work and loves his job." I don't tell them the little secret but the visits are as much for me as they are for them, see 'Facing Myself' or 'Gopher's Biggest Fan' for more information as to why I truly feel that it is more for me than anyone else.

It was a great night and a lot of fun. I think it also served as drawing to a perfect moment that would happen the following evening.

Carla, Squirrel, Gopher and I arrived at the facility the next day and went in, within moments we were surrounded by a large number of kids. Both boys laid down and stretched next to one another and the kids made a circle. The room, much like a living room was homey and warm. It was at this moment that I looked out on the scene. Carla across from me, and couldn't help but notice the beauty of what was before me. The kids were all different ages, ethnicities. Some were perfectly healthy the siblings at the facility whose brother or sister was needing extra care. Others were bald or balding from treatments. There were tubes going to different devices strapped to some of their sides. Some bore scars and some were developmentally challenged. 

Their differences were clear, but in that moment petting both Gopher and Squirrel the tubes, scars, and other differences disappeared. In that moment they were just a group of kids, not different, just kids, laughing, petting dogs and telling stories. The boys, both of them, perfectly calm as a result of training. I looked over at Carla and she noted a small tear in my eye. This was it the Perfect Moment, the product of the training and time invested. It had dawned on me more in that moment how special our two boys were not just for the training, but their nature to handle the complexity around them, and even just for a moment allowing the kids to be kids.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Craft Time

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.

(Special Thanks to Elizabeth Lamae for helping with the images)

Gopher, Squirrel, Carla and I began visiting with a new patient about eight weeks ago. The young lady was terribly shy and when she did speak it was barely audible, she mostly communicated with head nods. It was clear that she truly loved being with the boys and anxiously awaited their arrival. The staff and parents of the young lady were attempting to get her to take part in crafts and other activities of the facility. Her shyness interfered, she would just want to stay with the dogs and sit there quietly petting them. 

After a couple weeks of sitting there and hearing the attempts to get her to participate with the other children of the facility I spoke with the staff. I told them that Gopher will happily sit in chairs as he has to in the hospital all the time so that patients can reach them. I asked them if they would allow Gopher to do crafts with her. They like the idea and we asked her if she wanted to do crafts with Gopher. She smiled and shook her head yes. 

We went over to the tables and gopher got into place.

Not only did our patient complete the project, having Gopher with her she began talking. In our short time doing crafts I heard her speak more than I had in all the previous weeks. She was talking to the staff, to Gopher, myself and most importantly the fellow kids in the facility. It was great to see this turn around. The following week I was told how she started playing more with the kids who were also at the table that night from her mother. She hadn't done this since her arrival. Now that Gopher is known to do crafts he has been invited back to the table on three more occasions. 

He has even done his own crafts during craft time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gopher Disappointed

Gopher, as I have said many times, is a bit odd and very good at his job. Even when he is sans equipment he is often on the job as I have discussed in "Always Ready" series in January of 2012. He is also persistent about his schedule, in all things, when he is supposed to visit and hasn't left he will go to the door, cry, and grab his special leash. When it is time for dinner he will sit in the middle of the living room or simply as Carla's feet and look at her as if she is forgetting something. His hospice patients he recognizes names and will get extra excited for those he likes best. This is the same with friends and similar to his recognition of the name Emily in the video below.

Just this morning we were off to see his favorite patient, the mention of her name gets him to the door looking for me to put on his equipment so he can go to work. Even though he had to have his nails ground this morning he was still ready to go and anxious to see her.

We hopped in the car and he stretched out in the backseat for the commute. As soon as we exited he was sitting up and as we made the final turn onto her street he started whimpering and massaging the seat with his front paws.We pulled up and I hopped out, despite leaving the door open Gopher stayed in his place until I grabbed the leash but uttered his impatience with me audibly. I grab the leash and walk towards the door, Gopher impatiently at my side.

We arrived at the door, where our patients son was there to meet us. Gopher was prancing on all four paws ready to go in and see his patient. Unfortunately, when we were met at the door we were told she wasn't doing well today and was resting. As if on queue Gopher hung his head and stopped wagging. I thanked her son and went back to the car. Gopher hopped back into the seat and sat with a loud huff, and gave me a nasty look as if it way my fault. Gophers attitude and perception of situations never ceases to amaze me, and I know it is unlikely I will ever have another therapy partner like him. I am thankful to have him now as he changes my perception of life itself. I did make it up to him as we split a two cheeseburger meal from McDonalds (without onions, for his safety despite the fact I love them) and he seemed to get over his anger.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Family Time

Gopher and I had the best time last night. We completed our shadowing for a new facility with our favorite fellow team Carla and Squirrel. Yes, it appears as if this is becoming the 'family business' and we could not be happier. Since Squirrel registered we have had several opportunities to work in a group setting, but now we are moving on to the next adventure and will be dividing a hospital and visiting as many patients who want to see our respective partners as is possible.

It is so much fun to have the run to help as many people as possible in a metro hospital, and this particular facility is lacking in teams, we literally tripled the number of teams coming here. It was a fun night, new lessons, new uniforms and an abundance of smiles.

It was also probably the last time that I will have the pleasure of shadowing Dave and Sasha since I am not interested in expanding into any additional facilities. Dave is a great role model in the local pet therapy community, his work with Sasha made him a 'pioneer of sorts' for Animal Assisted Interactions in the Twin Cities metro. His time and persistence has opened many doors and helped to establish a solid reliable method of volunteering as a therapy animal team. It is always an honor to work alongside him, and spend some time talking to him. Thank you Dave and Sasha for all that you have done for so many. Pardon the lower video quality, but this is a great story about Sasha and Dave.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Lesser Adventure....

"A Song for Dog People"
-Chad Burgess

Oh great winter, how I thank your blustery cold January.
You are both my enemy and friend.
For your chill has invited laziness, and the grace of your snow has hidden it from the world.

Now you have had your January thaw, a tease of the spring to come,
and with it the revelation of months of sloth on the part of the humans of this house.
For months your blanket has hidden the gluttony of three beasts within,
their devouring of food and the process of life has resurfaced turning our yard from white to shades of earth.

So now I confront you, with hoe and shovel in hand. 
My chest burns from the chill of the air;
but I am thankful for this same chill has reduced the olfactory power of the duty before me.

With hoe, an instrument use to turn the soil and produce food for centuries;
now a toll for the end of life of said food.
I chisel, I kick, and free the scars from the frozen turf.

Now with rake I pile, and shovel I load into the bag. 
The job is complete, your frozen surface once again white.
With a quick prayer to the gods of plastic.

"May your polymers hold true, 
for I know your load is great.
If you be too chilled, and weak 
a great calamity will ensue.
May our bulk buying;
and savings seek not betray me now."

I heave and lift, cautious to not tear bag on fence.
One final shove and you are away;
may the temperature hold their frosty state;
so the contents will not leak until the men of refuse cleanse us of our sins.

I return to the cold lawn, 
and look upon its landscape.
White and inviting for play it is once again;
but gaiety is not recommended.
For playing in this yard may bring on diphtheria.