Now in its seventh year of operation, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. held its first Volunteer Appreciation Event at the Florence Civic Center in Florence, Massachusetts today. The event was well attended – and everyone had a great time chatting with other fellow volunteers about their dogs and where they visit. The program included a slideshow of our Bright Spots in action, a special ceremony to honor volunteers who have given 5+ years of service to Bright Spot, and an informative talk on First Aid for Dogs given by Steven M. Ellis, DVM, owner of Sunderland Animal Hospital. The event ended with our fabulous dog-related door prizes being handed out to the lucky winners. As always, it’s great to be in the company of a group of dog owners!
James lay at her side every Wednesday for two years and two months. In the beginning, she was able to open her eyes, smile, try to speak a word or two, and hold his leash in her hand. When we started to visit Jane in March 2009, she had advanced Alzheimer’s disease and was bedridden. Every Wednesday, with the grace of a ballerina, James gently positioned his 68 pound body along side Jane in her bed and placed his head across her chest. As the weeks, months, and years advanced, Jane no longer opened her eyes, had long since ceased to utter a word, and was unable to move her hand to hold his leash. He just lay there against her frail body that was covered by blankets to keep her warm. She felt his presence, for sure. Her rigid form seemed to relax with him there.
Every Wednesday, for these twenty-six months, Jane’s daughter, Noreen, planned her visit to coincide with James’ visiting time. She had been visiting her mother here at the nursing home for many years. Coming while James was there brought a calming feeling to her. In the last twelve months of our visits, Noreen said that James’ visits had really helped her. She was an only child and had been very close to her mother all her life. It was very hard to watch her mother decline. It helped to sit by her mother’s bedside and pet James’ soft fur.
Last week, Jane passed away at the age of 97… The beautiful obituary written by Noreen described the wonderful life her mother had had – at the end of the obituary was written: A special thank you to James, the therapy dog that visited Jane every week.
This past Sunday, I conducted an Advanced Therapy Dog Training Workshop at The Collared Scholar in Northampton, MA. The folks in attendance had taken the Beginners Workshop last month and were back to enhance their skill levels in preparation for taking their therapy dog evaluations and commencing visits.
This was a model group. I have been offering therapy dog instruction for over two years now in response to the growing number of people interested in doing therapy dog work and seeking training to get started. These folks were highly motivated – they want to do this work and they’re willing to put in the time to learn what is needed – and to practice, practice, practice. It was evident that all had been practicing between the two sessions and will continue to do so. Training your dog is an on-going process, part of your daily routine. The more you work with your dog, the more time you spend with your dog, the better relationship you build – very necessary for doing therapy dog work together as a team.
Yesterday, I received the call: There’s a new hospice patient that loves dogs… would I bring James in to visit with her? So, today, off we went. This will be the start of another six-month (plus or minus) journey.
We’ve travelled down this road now five times. Each journey very different, but the end, the same. I have been visiting hospice patients now for over two years. The loss of my first patient was something I had difficulty handling. We had been visiting her every week for three months and the last time I saw her, she had been sitting up in a chair, petting James and chatting away to me. I fully expected that we’d be seeing her the following week. But, two days later, she was gone… I think it jolted me into the reality of the situation. Subsequent patients have been very different; their time visited by us ranging from three weekly visits to weekly visits extending way beyond the six-month life expectancy. I have come to realize that for as long as they have, I can help provide comfort and companionship in their lives by bringing my therapy dog James in to spend time with them.
I always keep the first new patient visit brief, perhaps 10-15 minutes. So, today I introduced myself to Marie and asked her if she’d like to visit a few minutes with my therapy dog James. Marie was sitting up in a chair, surrounded by 3 neighbors who had stopped in for a visit. They were all dog lovers – so all 4 welcomed us in with smiles ready to pet James. Marie told me that she had had many dogs – but of course, now, she couldn’t have one. James sat right by her side and she pet his ears and head while she talked. Each of her friends told stories about their dogs through the years. This was a nice opening for our first introductory visit. Not wanting to interrupt the visit from her friends any longer, I asked Marie if she’d like to have a visit from James next week…. explaining that he comes to visit folks every Wednesday afternoon. Oh, yes, she said, I’d like that. And so, another journey begins… James will be there providing comfort for as long as he can be of help.
Woolite Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner, pet stain & odor remover + oxygen… I have come to really appreciate this product – especially at this time of year. This is when the earth is finally exposed after being blanketed by snow all winter. Ah, mud season! Soft, mushy, exposed earth…. just what the dogs love. This combined with sunshine, blue skies, and warmer temperatures. They’ll stay out for hours… hours exploring the ground up onto the wooded hillside; discovering any number of things that have been rotting for months underneath the snow. Very tasty things – which, once consumed, often result in some messy diarrhea, and occasionally a large amount of revolting vomit! This, they always save for inside the house – of course, not depositing on easy to clean vinyl flooring. Oh no, they head right for the carpet! That’s when I run for that great spray bottle of Woolite. It works miracles – no odor, no stain. Annie even provided a true stress test for the product just the other day. No problem – out it came! Take it from someone who has tried many products and homemade concoctions (the club soda/white vinegar/detergent/water solution definitely works – but you’ll be living with that vinegar smell for days!) – this one really handles the job!
Keeping it fun and positive is key… we spend no more then 10 minutes a session; two or three times a day; then end with her favorite game of Chicky!
Annie’s favorite plaything is a round furry chick. She’s had it since she was six months old. Other toys, she has destroyed over time. Some don’t interest her at all. At an early age, we started to play our Chicky! game. I taught her to retrieve her chick after I tossed it… she had to sit, stay, and get it on command; then, bring it over and drop it on command. She is crazy about this game. She plays it with a huge grin on her face – honestly! Thus, this is how we end her lesson. Fun and upbeat.
What progress Annie has made! Wonderful decision to move ahead with private lessons with an experienced professional dog trainer. She offers a wealth of knowledge and great support.
About an hour before our lesson was to take place, our trainer called me suggesting that we move today‘s lesson to the park. It was a beautiful sunny day – and by mid-morning, it had already reached 50 degrees. By going to the park, we were leaving the controlled environment of the training center – which by week two had become familiar territory to Annie; no longer a strange, fearful place.
Our trainer brought along her husband and one of their dogs – two new, strange, possibly fearful, things. No problem with her husband – we stood chatting and introducing ourselves. Annie was right there, wagging her tail. He was able to pet her and she received him happily. It took Annie a few minutes to check out their dog… curving around the dog, going to his rear to sniff. All was well – and suddenly Annie started to wag her tail and wiggle all over. She had a new friend!
We encountered three small-breed dogs as we walked around the park. Annie displayed only slight hesitation as we approached each of the oncoming dogs; either greeted the dog with a wagging tail or kept right on going – as we humans exchanged hellos. Toward the end of our walk, we came upon two larger dogs. The elderly Lab didn’t pay any attention to Annie and just kept on going. As did we. The young German Sheperd was curious to meet Annie… we passed, curving around the dog and its owner – and Annie just kept right on walking ahead.
By the end of our walk, our trainer concluded two things: Annie felt security in walking with her pack… three humans and her new dog friend, and I am feeling more relaxed now that I’ve got the support of the trainer. (The tension humans feel passes right down the leash to the dog.)
Our trainer suggested that we move our next lesson from Monday to Sunday. The park is full of people walking their dogs on Sunday. The park is a good, safe environment to practice with Annie. All dogs must be on leash and owners are being very careful with their dogs.
Annie seemed very happy as we drove home… and completely tired out!