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Friday, March 27, 2015

Squirrel!!

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


Squirrels turn.  The glass of the room Carla and Squirrel were assigned allowed them to see the family and staff in the room as they approached. The illness was not known but given the location of the room and familiarity with the facility it was known that the patient had been on a difficult road.
When Squirrel and Carla came to the room the small figure in the bed seemed to be encapsulated by the equipment that was helping him. He was small frail and seemed oblivious to his surroundings. Mom, dad and nurse surrounded him attempting to get him to acknowledge them.  The patient remained still and would have been seen as lifeless had it not been for the ECG that told a different story.
“Joey, there’s a dog here to see you.”

There was still no response.


The excited family showed Carla into the room. “Joey, there’s a dog here to see you.”
This time, the news of dog seemed to pierce its way through the fog of pain, medication and illness.
The motionless limbs a moment before now attempted to move as his face turned. A huge smile filled his face as his half opened eyes tried to take in the dog that was before him. The muscles seemed to betray him in his efforts to reach Squirrel and despite being motionless a few moments before his parents had to struggle a bit to keep him in bed.

Carla had to find a way to make it easier, with his size and the amount of equipment there was little space. She knelt down on the floor on a single knee and gave Squirrel the ‘Up” command to get him to place his paws on her knees so he could get within reach of the patient in the bed.  She had trained this, but this was the first time she had attempted in a visit. Despite being in relatively good shape from years of Search and Rescue training it became obvious that with the weight of a 65 lb Golden Retriever resting on her thigh additional lunges would need to be added to her fitness repertoire.

The family that was present was astounded by Joey’s response. Moments before they had been struggling to breakthrough, and now a smiling patient laid in the bed attempting to pet Squirrel.
Carla and Squirrel bid their farewells, his job done and an overly grateful family left behind.


A few weeks later Squirrel and Carla would get the opportunity to see Joey, this time with Gopher and myself. He had left the bed behind and was walking the hall with equipment still attached and the aid of a walker. More mobile, but his face showed a look of sheer determination. Once he saw the boys though a smile filled his face, his eyes danced with joy and he came over to be near them and pet them. It is not often the boys visit the same patient at the same time in the hospital, but there in the middle of the hall they would go through their “Who is the better therapy dog competition.” Squirrel clearly won, this time, claiming Joey as his very own patient.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What is a therapy visit?

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

Volunteers who work as a team for Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities spend a great deal of time training themselves and their animal partners. When done correctly it is the perfect representation of the human-non human animal bond. Furthermore it has a tremendous effect on the patients in need, this has been proved time and again in academic literature.

Here are a few examples of the scientific work that has proven the benefits.





The proven benefits are often missed by the public, health care administrators and even the team themselves. They just see it as something fun to do, and a nice way to give back which is also true.

What is a therapy visit though?

It is simply the only two gifts you can truly give someone, time and love.

I would also argue that the return benefit for the handler, is equal to or even greater than the team to the patient.

This last week has been difficult professionally for this handler, add into this the typical stresses of a lower income middle class family when the dollar does not seem to stretch far enough, I was at the end of my proverbial rope. I would say I was also just barely hanging on to the last fiber of hemp in that rope.

Monday night arrived with a special request. Visit a long term patient. Time to go, get up, be with my boy, my wife and her partner, and spend some of my favorite family time.

When we arrived we found not only our long term patient, but another patient we had seen several times before. Both showed the obvious signs of prolonged illness and prolonged treatment. Some are discomforted by this, but after so many years as a working team and not being a father of human children I find interacting with ‘normal’ kids more difficult.

The room descended quickly into laughter. Hugs and countless pets for each of the boys, both of whom were in rare form with the excitement of seeing a patient whom they love visiting.
The evening passed, and despite appearances, signs of prolonged illness, the beeping of medical equipment and kids attached to hardware, the room was only filled with joy and love in those moments.

Our time together had come to an end for now and we left. Each of us feeling a little more energetic, a much needed refill of joy and love. The boys as you can see in the pictures below, a little ‘brighter’ as well, at least their nails were.


 


So do yourself a favor, love your dog, cat, rabbit or gerbil……..train them.....it will only make your bond with them stronger. Take a therapy animal training class…..learn all you can….become a team. It is hard work, it is emotional, it is the best feeling you can have. It allows you to give the only true gift you can give, time and love. The benefits to the patients has been proved by scientists, the benefits it will give to you…..well you will just have to take me at my word.