Friday, July 14, 2017

Dog, Cat, Rabbit Therapy

Dog Therapy, Cat Therapy or Rabbit Therapy, it doesn’t really matter what type of animal offers love and comfort one needs. And it doesn’t matter if it is alive or not… What?
Maggie and I were visiting at the Haverford nursing home. It happened to be a beautiful day so many of the residents were sitting in the garden. When we approached a group sitting in a circle we heard a “meow” and saw a cat on a gentleman’s shoulder. At first glance the cat looked real and Maggie pulled me over. But when she smelled the cat she became momentarily confused. The cat continued to meow but the smell it emitted was not the smell Maggie expected.
The gentleman that was holding this cat was petting it continually and as I watched him he sincerely cared for it. He talked to it every so often and in response it purred. The gentleman was coherent and took a turn petting Maggie as well. I conversed with him, even asked him the name of his cat, “Captain”.
He genuinely seemed happy holding his “therapy cat”. I made eye contact with the head of the unit and she smiled. Whatever works she commented.
So who is to judge if the cat is alive or not, as long as it offers someone the comfort an individual needs then go for it!

I continue to learn. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Whether or not your dog has been skunked is not a lesson you are given in puppy school, but when Maggie came in the house the other morning I knew something was wrong. The smell that came with her could only mean bad news. She looked at me with uncertain eyes as if to say I really don’t know what just happened to me.
I waited till the local pet shop opened and ran Maggie over, in hopes of being able to bathe her there. They confirmed my suspicions, sold me a bunch of product but turned me away saying the smell would permeate their store- thanks anyway L!!
Driving home with my smelly beloved and now smelly car I started to panic. How was I going to handle this 75 lb dog in a household bathtub by myself? By the time I got home I had formulated a plan. I emailed by groomer who usually comes to my house in her van (her van had just gone to the garage for service) so I called the local pet shops that have in house groomers until I found one with availability to take a smelly skunked dog. Shout out to Mindy’s Pet’tique for taking us on short notice. They did a good job but I was not prepared for the news that it might actually take 2-3 baths to get rid of the skunk smell. UGH!!
Meanwhile, I had to deal with the smell in my car, my house and my clothes (since I came into contact with Maggie) I asked my trusted friend Google who had lots of valuable advice and I spent the rest of the day spreading baking soda, Lysol and dawn liquid all over.
Next a phone call was placed to the Wild Life Removal Service to trap the critter(s) that are most probably living under my shed. My goal is to keep Maggie away from that location. I feel like a helicopter mom. Every time she goes out I hover over her so she doesn’t go near the shed. Maggie isn’t used to this behavior from me.

All because she’s a normal curious dog!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Off Duty?

I’ve commented before that when walking Maggie in the neighborhood she feels it is her duty to greet everyone. Sometimes it makes for a “quick” walk a rather long one.
Last week on a visit to the Jersey Shore we were out walking. Approaching us was a couple, the man was in a wheelchair. I noticed the man look at Maggie and smile. I never assume anyone likes dogs but it was clear this man did. As we got closer he asked if he could pet Maggie. I replied yes. Maggie is very used to wheelchairs and as this persons lap is just at her head level she laid her head on it. His smile turned into a laugh. He then noticed her tag that says she is a therapy dog and asked about it.  I explained that we visit hospitals and nursing homes to help cheer people up. I also explained that once Maggie saw his wheelchair approaching she had already changed from a dog out for a walk to a therapy dog out to do a job.
I’ve witnessed this one other time with Maggie. We were invited to a BBQ and decided to take Maggie with us. Someone was there in a wheelchair. Maggie made it her mission to pull me over to this person to make sure they received a visit by her. I’m not sure who benefited more the person in the wheelchair or Maggie.
Of course after we finish with a visit Maggie looks to me for praise (she gets lots!!) A treats helps as well. Usually I ask the person we are visiting if they want to give Maggie a treat and most of the time they do.
Maggie being on the large size (75lbs) has large teeth but you’d be surprised how gently she takes the treat from your hand.

So even when I’m in a hurry but I know Maggie needs her walk I’ve learned when she gets something in her head to just let her take care of her goal as opposed to changing her mind!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Does Color Really Matter?

I always say after 5 years of visits with Maggie I continue to learn.
This past week Maggie and I went to our last school visit of the year. I was telling a 12 year old boy the story of how Maggie got her name…Our family chose a few names and we narrowed it down to two names, Katie and Phoebe. We decided to wait to meet her to choose the final name. But when we met her we decided she looked more like a Maggie then a Katie or a Phoebe. The story continues with when I took Maggie to the Vet the technician that was helping had the name Heidi. I told her that was one of the names we had considered for Maggie. I told her this because I thought she would consider this an honor. But instead she turned to me with a nasty look on her face. The young boy I was talking to asked me if the tech was white or black. Not sure I heard his question properly I asked him to repeat it. When he asked me the question the same way I looked him in the eyes and asked him if it made a difference.
This got me thinking. As a white woman entering a school with a black student population I wonder what they think of me. I look around from time to time and notice a predominately black teacher population (this classroom had a white teacher) Uniforms are enforced and everyone must have an ID as well. Students as well as visitors are buzzed in and adults are monitoring the hallways.
Needless to say I do standout in this particular school, but I never feel threatened. They do love seeing Maggie and generally shout “dog in the hallway!” If anything I am encircled but only to be asked if they can pet Maggie.
But back to the 12 year old boy, at what age did this young boy learn to ask this question.
When I turned it around and asked him if it made a difference he got uncomfortable. He did not answer me and ultimately got up and walked away.

I get that we are a product of our environment. But who is responsible to teach these young minds to look at the world differently? Does it start at home or at the school? 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

For the Veterans at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center Memorial Day is not a holiday for sales or a trip to the shore. It is a time to reflect on past service and lost friends. It is a time for family members to visit and listen to stories from “the good old days!”
Wondering the halls of the VA I encounter many family members as they visit their loved ones. Many are regulars so they are used to seeing a therapy dog on the hospital grounds. But for the newly admitted patients and their family members it is definitely a head turner to see a dog in their vicinity. If they are an animal lover, a big smile will appear on their face.
This past week I learned of a passing of one of our regulars Maggie and I had visited for quite a number of years. Although somewhat of a shock we had not seen him in some time as he had fulfilled his wish and was discharged and spent his remaining time in the comfort of his home.
I view the VA hospital as a small city. Each room can be seen as an apartment or a condo so everyone has the opportunity to get to know one another. I’m sure when the residents see one of their neighbors being discharged they are happy for them. But when the news of their untimely death reaches them, this must be a blow. The next question that enters their minds must be when is it my turn?
My hope is that by bringing Maggie in for a visit I am able to distract them and even give them a little happiness now and again.

To all the Veterans- Thank you for your service!

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's All in the Eyes

As we walked into the Physical Therapy room at the VA hospital there were some of the regulars that we visit on a Tuesday afternoon. Maggie and I made our rounds spending a few minutes with each person. I kept feeling a funny sensation as I made my way through the room and as I finished I noticed a gentleman sitting by himself. I approached him and asked if he wanted to pet Maggie. He didn’t respond, just stared at me. I figured he didn’t hear me so I repeated myself. Again he didn’t respond just continued to stare. I assumed he didn’t want to pet Maggie so I told him to have a good day and steered Maggie away.
I was bothered by this encounter the rest of the visit. Why was he staring at me? Did he want to answer me but was unable to? (I have learned to never ask about people’s ailments as this is not my business) But in the back of my mind I felt he was trying to tell me something.
Maggie and I finished our visit and left.
The next time we went to the VA hospital I ran into this same individual. This time there was a birthday celebration for one of the residents. In a room full of people eating vanilla ice cream there were a lot of happy faces. I spotted him once again staring at me and Maggie, so we made our way over to him. I smiled and asked if he likes dogs. He took his time answering and when he finally did he said “no”. Caught off guard I said “Oh, I’m sorry I’ll take Maggie away, but before I could move he said “I LOVE dogs!” Again I was caught off guard, but this time in a good way. He sat with a straight face, but his eyes changed. I noticed a shine to them. I asked if he wanted to pet Maggie. There was a slight nod of his head. I gently lifted his hand and placed it on Maggie’s back. Again his eyes changed. Maggie understood to stand close to him. I asked if he was enjoying the party and the ice cream. He slowly told me chocolate was his favorite flavor ice cream but vanilla would do. I could tell we would become friends.

After finishing talking with everyone in the room I waved goodbye but made sure to lock eyes with this gentleman as I was leaving and say “See you soon.”

Monday, May 8, 2017

Two Different Worlds

Over the five years that Maggie and I have been providing therapy to others we have traveled to many hospitals, nursing homes, libraries and schools located in varying neighborhoods in the Philadelphia area.
While some of the neighborhoods are of the affluent persuasion others are at the opposite extreme. I never feel uncomfortable but I do notice a difference in the student body.
So why am I mentioning this? While at a school visit this past week I was sitting with some dynamic students. One of them was afraid of dogs but was beginning to show some interest in Maggie. At one point Maggie got up to stretch and then picked something up off the floor. I immediately said “No” and told her to “Drop it”. The student asked if I was going to hit Maggie. I looked at her and said of course not-we never hit dogs, just like we never hit children. She gave me a look like I lost my mind and replied “I get hit all the time!” It was then I realized we were from two different worlds.
I didn’t really know how to reply or if it warranted a response but I simply said “I’m sorry”
I realized the purpose of my visit that day was to bring Maggie into an environment where students might not have been exposed to a therapy dog. I am not and do not want to get into their business and solve their problems (or world problems) that precise moment. I do realize everyone comes to the table with their own unique set of problems that I am not equipped to handle-so I just focus on what I am trained to do (although my heart did go out to her).

At the end of the visit I complimented her on being able to pet Maggie and she did respond with a half a smile.