Monday, December 26, 2016

Bryn Mawr College

“Maggie’s Back” is something I expect to hear when I visit an elementary school, but as I entered the library at Bryn Mawr College I was surprised (and pleased) to hear this. Libraries and dogs-my two favorite things, and as I entered the library and looked around at all the books I was in heaven but my focus was pulled away to the dogs and the students sitting on the floor (I did notice a cat as well). After parking my car and walking through the campus in search of the library I couldn’t help but notice the large stately buildings. The scurrying students brought me back to my youth. I felt the pull of the classrooms calling my name and a pang of jealousy as I observe the students moving about in groups of three and four. Do they realize how lucky they are? I think of the saying “youth is wasted on the young”. When I think back to my college days at the University of Maryland I do remember some key classes I enjoyed, but mostly I remember the feeling of “I can’t wait to finish and get out in the real world”. Now I would love to trade places with the college kids Maggie and I are visiting. As always I promised myself I wouldn’t ask the students what they are studying or how the semester is going. Just the fact that they show up to de-stress with the dogs (and 1 cat) is an indication of how they are doing. There are streams of students coming and going. Sometimes it slows to a trickle but in the hour that Maggie and I are stationed in the library it’s pretty steady. I did manage to glance up once and look around the library (It appears to be three stories tall, oh so many books to look at!) Many of the students inquire about Maggie and I ask if they have a dog at home. This usually opens the door to a conversation-what breed, how old, tell me something funny about your dog etc. I do hear bits of conversation between the students about their professors and their upcoming exams. I usually just sit there quietly and let them talk and pet Maggie. When I think about my visits there are usually one or two people that stand out during the hour. During this particular visit there were two students I kept thinking about long after we left. The first student arrived with a group of friends and sat with us right away. She jumped right in and started petting Maggie (of course Maggie really enjoyed this!). She turned to her friend and started talking about her classes, her schedule and her exams. Her stress level seemed rather high and the more she talked the stronger her hand motion seemed while she was petting Maggie. When her group of friends left she remained. Another group of students took their place and this student continued the conversation without even taking a breath in between.(although at this point I realized it was one sided) and I don’t even believe she realized the switch had occurred. This happened a couple of times. After about twenty minutes she did get up and move on. On a totally opposite extreme another student came by and sat petting Maggie for most of the session. She didn’t really talk except to answer a few questions I asked her. I found out her family has two dogs and she can’t wait to go home and see them. I watched her watching the other students coming and going but she stayed in the same spot the whole time. At one point Maggie put the head on her lap. I pointed this out to her and managed to get a smile out of her. I felt her stress (and sadness) and was so happy that Maggie and I could be there for her. Although I have no idea what is really going on in her life my hope is that our therapy session was able to give her a little reprieve. I always find it fascinating that people (students) exhibit their stress in different manners. The first student I observed couldn’t stop talking and didn’t even care who she was talking to. The second student didn’t even want to talk. I go back to my life and these students continue theirs. Do they think about us? From our initial entrance to the words “Maggie’s back” I can only assume a few of them do!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Training Video

I was so thrilled when Maggie and I were asked to be a part of a training video for my organization “Pals For Life”. We were not told too many details ahead of time, just asked to show up at noon at the Haverford Estates where Maggie and I had been before for visits at the wonderful nursing home. I made sure to feed her a little early that day so she wouldn’t be hungry and distracted. When we arrived we were joined by a Golden retriever, Uno, whom we had never met before and a Collie, Caleb whom we had done some visits prior at the center. All the dogs hit it off and before we started filming seemed to enjoy each other’s company by doing what dogs love to do, smelling each other.. The purpose of the training video is to show the right and wrong way for therapy dogs to behave while on a visit. (The video will be viewed by all new candidates of the organization). Here are a few examples of the scenes we filmed. We first filmed the correct way for two dogs to approach each other while entering a building. Dogs are allowed to greet each other before a visit, but while they are “working” they are trained to ignore each other and focus their attention on the humans they are visiting. So the incorrect way we filmed this was to let the dogs interact and even get a little “rowdy” while they were in a social situation. We had to get them a little excited for this and at times they seemed a little confused as if to say-I thought you want us calm and now you want us hyper, “what gives? But it was only for a few minutes. Another scenario we filmed was the correct and incorrect way to approach an individual. The correct way is in a calm manner, no jumping. The incorrect way we filmed was with a dog jumping on an individual and the individual appearing taken aback and stunned. Some of the dogs would not even jump on an individual that’s how well trained they are. We next filmed the correct way to walk our dogs on a leash. This is with your dog beside you and the leash somewhat slack. A well trained dog does not have to have the leash pulled tight against your body. The incorrect way we filmed this is with the dog pulling at the leash and you following behind. The way we filmed this is rather interesting. Off to the side so it wouldn’t be caught on camera we had a person holding a treat so the dog would be tempted to lunge for it (and let me say it worked!) This video when completed should be amazing! A big shout out to the film crew who were patient with the amateur actors, humans and canines alike. I got a glimpse of the time and effort it must take to film a true movie or documentary. This was a lot of fun ! Maggie went home with a belly full of treats (even thought I had fed her earlier) and slept the afternoon away Can’t wait to see the final cut!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jefferson University School of Nursing

It was so nice being a part of a visit to the nursing school at Jefferson University last week. Although the weather was rather dismal the mood of the college students was anything but. We were forced to meet indoors as the weather did not cooperate, but our numbers were significant. Maggie and I arrived along with one other dog, Izzy a Greyhound and two rabbits, Marble and Bubbles. The excitement could be heard in the voices of the students when they realized we had finally gotten there. Each of us was assigned a corner of the room to allow the students the ability to visit with each animal without disturbing one another. In some of my other visits to universities I have noticed many students stop by and spend a few minutes with Maggie. At this visit many of the students spent a large amount of time with us. If they got up to go visit either Izzy Marble or Bubbles, they found their way back to us. There were the bits of conversation I overheard about Maggie resembling their dog back home or how they miss their dog and couldn’t wait to see him/her. Lots of pictures were taken of Maggie (with my permission of course). As is my norm I never ask a student about what they are studying or how it is going in school, but I did overhear bits of conversation. A large percentage of these students are in their first year of nursing school and are feeling stressed out. Maybe this is the reason they stayed so long visiting with Maggie. This made me feel good to have been able to help de-stress them. Towards the end of the session a young man approached me and put his phone in front of me. I looked at the screen and saw a picture of Maggie-or at least what I thought was Maggie. When I asked who it was he told me it was his dog. Wow, definitely a strong resemblance. The coloring was the same and the size also very similar. He told me his parents got his dog from somewhere in Pennsylvania- really could be Maggie’s brother as they were the same age and Maggie was from a litter of eleven. I am always hoping one day to meet one of Maggie’s siblings. This young gentleman was in a hurry otherwise I would have had him contact his parents to find out the exact location of where his dog came from. Maybe the next time Maggie and I visit Jefferson University we will be able to continue the conversation. I’m always so curious where everyone’s Goldendoodles come from. So far I have heard Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Kohelet Yeshiva Lab School

I had the opportunity to visit my granddaughter’s school last week. I was invited to bring Maggie and talk about my book “Maggie the Therapy Dog”. The first thing I heard upon entering the building was the sound of children talking and playing. Maggie noticed it also and perked up right away! I saw coats lined up on hooks by the doorway and I thought back to the days when my kids attended school and wondered where did the time go? The children have been learning what it takes to write a book themselves and had prepared a list of questions for me. Some of the questions included: Why do you like to write? What do you write about? How do you feel at the end of the day after writing so much? Why do you write every day? Why do some authors write short stories and some write chapter books? Why are you an author? I thought these children in kindergarten and first grade had prepared mature thought out questions. I was more than happy to answer these questions (as well as more questions they thought of when Maggie and I came into their classroom). I enjoyed reading my book to them. The children seemed very receptive to the story which is told through Maggie’s eyes of how she became a therapy dog and how she enjoys helping people feel better. At the end of our visit each child had the opportunity to pet Maggie. I could tell right away which child came from a household where there is an animal present (and so could Maggie as she felt at ease with these children). They know how to approach Maggie and the correct way to pet her. All in all it was a good visit and I hope each child will remember our visit for a long time.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Current Events and Book Club

I found out at my latest visit to the VA hospital that they have a book club that meets every month. How wonderful for the residents. Someone actually comes in and discusses a book-great for the mind. How did I find this out? One of my regulars told me. I met him in the hallway as I was on my way to visit him in his room. He apologized for not waiting to see me and Maggie but when he explained where he was going I told him I wished I could go with him! He invited me to join him, but I had not finished my visits yet so I declined his offer and told him maybe next time. I also found out that every Tuesday at 9:15 in the morning there is a current events class. This keeps the residents up to date with what is going on in the world. This class is good for residents that are not able to read a newspaper, navigate a computer or have family members that visit them regularly. I will make sure to ask my regulars about what they learned in this class as my day to visit is Tuesday afternoon. On another note, I find it interesting that some residents prefer to talk about themselves and others prefer to talk about the world. This week I met a POW, and on the hospice floor I met an army officer that went through the Korean War. He seemed rather lonely and would have liked for me to pull up a chair and spend the afternoon listening to his wartime stories. I felt badly but after a short period of time I had to leave and visit with other residents. I promised to come back the next time I was at the hospital. The gentleman that was a POW wasn’t interested in talking about his army service he just wanted to spend some time with Maggie. Another gentleman chose to discuss the results of the elections. I felt he craved basic conversation so I stayed as long as I could before I felt compelled to visit with other residents. Another thing I find interesting is that with certain residents Maggie will choose to stand and wait until I am finished talking and with others, she will get comfortable and sprawl out on the floor. When she is comfortable on the floor I usually point this out each person I am talking to. I do this as a compliment to let them know how comfortable they make Maggie. This is usually followed by a big smile. I hope it will last them throughout their day!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Veterans Day

We celebrated Veterans Day last week (November 11th). Maggie and I are fortunate to be able to visit and meet many veterans at the VA hospital. Many of them are our regulars but every so often we meet new people who amaze us. This past week on the hospice floor we met a woman (while women at the VA hospital are not the norm I would not call this unusual) who heard about the “dogs” coming for a visit and put in a request for a visit. The minute I checked into the recreation department I was told of this individual and to please be sure to make my way to see her. When I got to her unit I was told again of her request and I assured them that I wouldn’t forget. I found her room and when I did I was not sure what to expect. But when I walked in I found a vibrant excited almost gitty woman that proclaimed “oh the dogs have finally arrived!” Obviously since she was on the hospice unit she belonged there but from an outsiders look you would never believe it. She was attached to an oxygen tank but otherwise she appeared healthy. She called Maggie over right away. Maggie has as ability to read a person’s aura and Maggie responded positively. The woman invited Maggie to join her on her bed (this is something that is frowned upon) but I did not protest as Maggie jumped right on her bed. I can say this woman was happy. At this point a nurse walked into the room and said “I don’t see that dog on your bed, but so nice to see that smile on your face!” There was not a lot of conversation needed in this room. I believe this woman just needed some time giving and receiving some love from a dog, and of course Maggie was happy to fulfill the need. I had a hard time leaving her room but the time eventually came to visit other residents. The rest of our visit went well. Many of the residents chose to talk about the elections (as our visit was on Tuesday-the results were not yet in). I listened as everyone voiced their opinion. I did inquire as to how they vote-absentee ballot is their mode. I can’t wait to go back and talk to them about their perception of the results. Should lead to a good discussion.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Is Maggie A Therapy Dog?

I love being part of the literacy program. What better way to encourage a child to read by having an understanding dog at your side. Especially one who isn’t judge-mental, one who is encouraging, and of course one who is nice and fluffy. Maggie and I visited a special needs elementary school this past week. This school has different levels of functioning students. The session started with some non-readers who were accompanied by their aides. They were a rather active group. When this happens my radar goes up and I go into protective mode. Protective mode that is for Maggie. Although we discuss with the kids the proper way to handle the animals the information doesn’t always sink in. But a shout out to the aides for doing a wonderful job! They maintained their students properly and the session went well. Towards the end of the hour we had a higher functioning group, one that reads books. Some of the students remembered Maggie from last year and I noticed that most of the kids had grown since last year. So, why am I commenting on this group? After one of the students finished reading his book, he was petting Maggie. He looked at her tags. Maggie has two tags attached to her collar. One is her name and contact info in case she gets lost, and the other tag is the name or our organization, “Pals For Life”. The other side says “I Am A Therapy Dog”. When this young student read this he looked at me and said “Maggie is a therapy dog?” I was taken aback for a quick second and then I responded, “Yes, I take her to hospitals and nursing homes to visit with sick people to help them feel better.” “Cool,” he said and continued to pet Maggie. I never stopped to think what goes through these kids minds when the dogs come to their school and I never stopped to think what the school tells the kids. But now when I think about it I assume the school tells them the dogs (and rabbit) are coming to hear you read. The kids take it at face value. But I can assure you the next time Maggie and I visit this school I will be sure to ask. And of course as usual since she is so chill, Maggie just goes with the flow and is happy to get some love!

Monday, October 31, 2016

College Days

The beginning of our college visits has started. We had a successful visit this past week at Bryn Mawr College. Despite the cold wet weather (we moved our visit into the gym) we had a good turnout from the students. A lot of them recognized Maggie from last year. Our visits usually go on for an hour but for the college visits we have two shifts (2 hours) to enable the students to work around their classes. In the hour that Maggie and I were there we must have spoken with at least 100 students and I’m sure the 2nd hour was just as busy (as when we were leaving the gym there were groups of students still coming in). After introducing Maggie and telling everyone about her age, breed, likes and dislikes I always engage the students to see if they have any pets at home. I find that the majority do and like to talk about them. Most like to take pictures of Maggie and in turn I ask to see pictures of their dogs. After a bit I give the students the space they need to just be with Maggie, petting her and admiring her. I do love listening to the conversations between the students. I can tell you I did not hear anything about any classes, obviously this was their time to decompress. (This is a stressful time of the year for them-mid terms!) Some of the interesting comments I heard were: -best day of my life -worth getting out of bed this morning -I feel so fulfilled -my batteries are recharged -I want to come back as a dog and spend my days being petted -so glad my professor let us out early for pet therapy I had a nice conversation with one student whose family has a Goldendoodle. She started be asking me questions about Maggie’s health. At first I was a little confused and turned the tables by asking her why all the questions? She told me their Doodle was just two years old (Maggie is seven) and she is just trying to figure out what the issues will be down the line. I explained to her that every dog is different (and I am not an expert). But she persisted. So I told her Maggie’s issues have been that she has a tendency to get ingrown hair which causes cysts. She also has had a bout of pancreatitis and when she was just a pup she contracted Lyme disease through a bite from a tick. As I’m talking with her I see her taking out her phone and start typing. When I stop talking she looks up at me and says “I’m going to send these notes to my parents so they will know what to look out for. Clearly a diligent person! Needless to say Maggie received a lot of attention at this visit which she enjoyed and when we got home she slept the afternoon away!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

After School Program

One of my favorite visits is the ones we do at the libraries. So when we went to the Lawncrest library this past week it put me in a good mood. I grew up spending a lot of time in a library. I loved the excitement of combing the shelves looking for a mystery or a book about animals. My weekly excursions there usually netted me a pile of books that would start a new adventure for me. Our visit at the Lawncrest library was part of an after school program that was catered to the neighborhood kids. This is an area in Philadelphia that is doing its part in rejuvenation. The neighborhood even has a small garden behind the library for the local kids to work on. I noticed a patch of vegetables growing and even a friendship bench. Since this was a new program for this library it was limited to 20 students. The students were in the 5th and 6th grade, and all of them were accomplished readers. After our general introduction where we each said a little about our animal (we were there with 3 dogs and 1 rabbit) the kids were split into smaller groups so each child would have an opportunity to read and interact with an animal. After 15 minutes the groups would rotate and at the end of the hour each group would have visited each animal. A few kids were creative and while they read turned the book so Maggie could see the pictures. So does Maggie really listen to the stories? She does. She will watch the kids and even lay her head on their laps. At some point she may fall asleep. If one of the kids mentions this to me I tell them they have done a good job soothing her. I also tell them that she is still listening. Sometime I compare it to them listening to their parents even when they are not looking at them. They seem to like that explanation the best. This turned out to be a really nice visit. I do have a couple of thoughts about these kids. Compared to other places we have visited, these kids did not come in and start telling me about their dog(s). I can really only think of two kids that mentioned their neighbor’s dog or a cousin’s dog. One girl mentioned that her father promised her a dog, a Golden Retriever. When I asked her what she planned on naming the dog she said she didn’t know. I suggested she go home and think about it. There was one girl in this program who had difficulty sitting still and following directions. This could be for any number of reasons, but it was something that bothered me only because I found myself correcting her several times throughout the program. Maggie has sensitive areas and doesn’t like to be pet on her paws, around her face and we never allow anyone to touch her tail for fear they will pull it. So when this girl couldn’t listen to me I found I had to put myself between her and Maggie , basically to protect Maggie. So what did this girl do at the end of the program? She came running over to me and gave me a big hug and thanked me for coming out and bringing Maggie. I found myself overcome with emotion and I wish I could tell you why. Before I could regain my composure and respond to her she had skipped off. I find myself constantly reminded not to judge anyone. As we never know what is going on in someone’s personal life. The small act of gratitude this young girl showed me is something I will cherish for quite some time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Memories-Here Today.....

Maggie and I had the opportunity to return to Haverford Estates last week. This is the nursing home where we visited last month. This time we started our visit in the memory unit which is located in the rear of the building. As we made our rounds we introduced ourselves to a gentleman we will call “Dave”. After going through our routine of Maggie’s age, breed, likes and dislikes, I turned the page and asked him if he had any dogs in his life. He told me when he was in the service his job was to train dogs. Interesting, so that is why Maggie had gone right over to him. I could see the way she responded to his touch. When I asked him if he wanted to give Maggie a treat he knew right away to tell her to sit. I asked him what he trained these dogs to do. He told me he trained them to seek out the enemy and bring them down, but never to kill. Wow, it was an amazing conversation. So my next thought was why is this gentleman in the memory unit at the nursing home? It was a thought that bounced around in my head as I made my rounds. I went to see other residents in the unit. Out of the dozen people in the unit on this day a few people were alert. A couple of ladies were still eating their breakfast (the smells were very enticing to Maggie). Another woman was interested in visiting with Maggie. I realized she was somewhat vision impaired so I gently placed her hand on top of Maggie. As soon as she felt Maggie’s soft fur a huge smile appeared on her face. I wasn’t sure she even realized she was smiling so I commented on it. When I did this she said she hadn’t felt fur so soft in quite some time. Before I left I went to say goodbye to “Dave”. When I said it was lovely talking to him I noticed a blank look on his face. It was then he asked the name of my dog. I told him this is Maggie. He started to tell me about the dogs he trained while he was in the service…… So my question was answered and although I wished he would remember our conversation clearly he wouldn’t. Hopefully it would trigger some pleasant memories of his earlier days. I know Maggie enjoyed the attention she received from “Dave” and the rest of the residents, and I certainly learned a lot from my visit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Treats, Treats and More Treats

What dog doesn’t like treats? Maggie gets her fair share at home as positive reinforcement, and when she is on the job she gets extra treats as well. There are many instances where residents will ask to give Maggie a treat. This usually happens with the regulars that we visit. I always make sure to carry plenty of treats with me. I try to let people know that Maggie must obey a command before she receives a treat. The command doesn’t have to be a major accomplishment, just something simple like sit, or give her paw- just so she knows she isn’t getting a treat without a reason. If I am at a new facility I will ask the residents if they are interested in giving Maggie a treat. Some of them are interested and some are not. Generally the ones that are interested are true dog lovers. I tell people to place the treat in the palm of their hand and Maggie will gently take it from them. I find it interesting to watch people’s reaction to this process. Maggie is a rather large dog (75lbs) and although she is considered large she is still a gentle dog (sort of like a gentle giant). If you don’t know her and if you aren’t accustomed to dogs you might be a little afraid of her. So when she opens her mouth to take the treat she bares her large teeth. She manages to take the treat ever so gently (usually with saliva left over in someone’s palm).Some people pull back a little as if they are worried Maggie will bite them- even after I have reassured them (a few times) that she will take the treat gently. Others have gotten used to Maggie and don’t really pay attention to how she takes the treat. Then there are others that look at their hands after the treat has been taken. This is quite comical because I usually forget to mention that Maggie might leave a residue of saliva on them. I quickly look around the room to find a tissue for them to wipe off Maggie’s saliva. I used to consider Maggie a treat snob. Whenever I would take her to a pet shop or to the vet and give her one of their treats she would promptly spit it out. These were the hard crunchy treats. I would find myself picking the pieces off the floor and searching for a trash can to dispose of them. Maggie prefers the soft chewy types of treats. So I have gotten used to buying these types and if the hard crunchy ones are the only ones available at the stores or at the vets, I don’t bother offering them to her. Humans or canines, everyone has their favorite snacks!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

So What's In A Name?

Therapy dog or family dog is a name important? We all love our pets and choose their names with care. Some choose strong bold names while others choose soft loving names. Some choose human like names while others choose random made up names. Whatever we choose, our pets become the name we give them. The top 10 names for 2016 for both males and female dogs (Good Housekeeping Magazine) are: Male: Bear, Max, Cooper, Duke, Finn, Hudson, Jack, Rocky, Toby, Tucker Female: Aurora, Bailey, Bella, Chloe, Elsa, Ivy, Maggie, Sadie, Stella, Sophie I’ll never forget how Maggie came about her name. When we knew Maggie was going to be joining our family my whole family got together and came up with about eight names. We then narrowed it down to two names and decided when we saw her we would pick the final name. So what were to two names we had narrowed it down to Katie and Phoebe. At this point you are probably scratching your head. But keep reading … Turns out when we picked Maggie up I took one look at her and decided she didn’t look anything like a Katie or Phoebe and on the spot named her Maggie. The funny thing was that Maggie wasn’t even on the original list. Sometimes out pets just name themselves. I’ll never forget the time I took Maggie to the vet. One of the technicians was getting us set up and I noticed her name was Heidi. “Oh,” I said “I love your name. We had thought about naming Maggie that.” She turned around and gave me a dirty look. I thought she would be honored to have a dog with the same name as her. After all she does work at a vet’s office. Guess I was wrong about that!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Maggie's Point of View

So what’s in it for Maggie when we go for therapy visits? Maggie certainly enjoys getting out of the house and going for a ride in the car. She often looks out the window taking in the view. At the age of seven Maggie is at the stage where she is content to sleep most of her day if she is not engaged. If I am working from home at my desk she will sit at my feet but will usually fall asleep. Maggie loves to interact with people. Part of this is due to her breed. The Goldendoodle is known to be a breed that gets along well with other animals as well as with people. The other part is due to her training as a therapy dog. For the past four years Maggie knows that when we get into the car we are going for a therapy visit. Or should I say 9 times out of 10. The other times we are headed to the vet or to get bathed. During a therapy visit Maggie is not allowed to have any contact with the other animals present, but if we get there before the session starts we do greet the other animals. For her it’s like getting it out of her system. Maggie has gotten used to this routine. She knows for the duration of the visit she is there to interact with the people. You might ask how she knows this? Through repetition and positive reinforcement (treats!) At a hospital visit we are on the move. Walking from room to room, spending a few minutes in each room. Maggie is patient while I interact with each person but more importantly she get a lot of attention in the form of a gentle rub on her back, behind the ears and of course her favorite treat! At a visit to a nursing home we are moving but at a much slower pace. We are usually stationed in a meeting room of some sort and we move from person to person (they are seated). About halfway through the visit we will generally go to another unit. At the nursing home each person will spend time with Maggie petting her. If there is time I try to show them a few of Maggie’s tricks. The patients there enjoy this and Maggie gets rewarded with treats! At all other visits to universities, elementary schools and libraries we are seated and the students rotates from animal to animal. Maggie is use to both types of visits and can handle either. She just goes with the flow. On another note an interesting outcome of Maggie being a therapy dog is that while we are out walking in the neighborhood Maggie expects to be greeted, petted and given treats. This is due to her conditioning. It makes for taking a quick walk very difficult. I’ve had to explain this quite often to people we’ve met while on our daily walks. Most people expect dogs to be interested in one another and while Maggie will greet another dog she will quickly adjust her attention to the human sidekick. As long as she gets some sort of attention Maggie is a happy camper!

Monday, September 19, 2016

And My Favorite Is........

Every time I have the opportunity to take Maggie on a therapy visit I think “this has to be my favorite place to visit”. That being said I thought I would discuss the different places we visit and some of my goals while we are there. When we go to a hospital the idea of cheering someone up (especially if they are experiencing pain) gives me great satisfaction. I enjoy talking with everyone and hearing their story (totally their choice if they choose to share it) Most of the time, I get to hear about their dogs or a dog they knew or currently know. Of course Maggie gets most of the attention and some treats as well. My goal for the visit is to engage each person and make them feel special (distracting them from their pain is quite helpful as well)! Nursing homes are a great place to cheer people up. The mood is usually sedate. I find most residents sitting around waiting for an activity to start, so when we walk in as a group (we are generally 2-3 dogs and 1-2 rabbits) the mood is instantly lifted. Conversation is about people’s younger days which is great stimulation for their brain and Maggie just goes with the flow – as long as she gets her time allotment of hugs and treats! Colleges and Universities visits have a lot of energy. I can feel Maggie go on high alert especially when our sessions occur outdoors. Sometimes there is so much activity she doesn’t know where to look first. Although most of the students are stressed when we meet with them there is still a positive energy flow throughout our sessions-something that I see Maggie is able to pick up on. Most of our conversations are focused around the student’s pets that they miss from back home but there are always a few students who are nice enough to ask a few questions about Maggie. The students are always appreciative of our visits by saying “this is the best day!!”I hear this repeatedly throughout my visit. Maggie really loves these visits. At our last visit at Immaculata University Maggie resisted leaving when I got up to go. .I literally had to bribe her with treats to get her going. Everyone there had a good laugh about it! Elementary schools are very loud and noisy! The students have an opportunity to practice reading to Maggie. They seem to enjoy this and of course Maggie is not going to judge them on their level and ability to read. Some kids choose to pet Maggie while they read while others prefer to read first and pet her after. Maggie doesn’t mind either way. By the end of the session Maggie is exhausted from the level of the noise and activity and is always eager to return home for a long nap! Special needs visits differ slightly from regular school visits as the children might have an aide sit with them and help them read or encourage them to interact with Maggie. There are many different scenarios that might play out but Maggie will generally adapt to all situations. With both school settings the children take turns reading and move around so each child present gets a chance to visit with all the animals that came for the visit that day. My goal for these school visits are for the children to feel they were successful in their ability to engage with Maggie –be it by reading to her or petting her. When I see them walking away with a smile on their face I know I have done a good job. So, the question remains which is my favorite place to visit with Maggie? ALL OF THEM !!!

Monday, September 12, 2016


I am often asked why Maggie will turn her backside to someone. So I thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of Maggie’s behaviors. Although Maggie is a therapy dog she is first a family dog. Maggie turns her backside to people because she wants to be pet on one of her favorite spots (her backside where she can’t reach herself). When Maggie and another dog approach each other it is very normal for them to sniff each other on their backsides (this is similar to humans shaking hands upon greeting) Dogs get to know each other by their smells and a dog’s backside has the strongest smell. If a dog approaches another dog and goes straight to its head that is usually a sign of aggression. There are times when we are out for a walk and another dog will approach and Maggie will go down on the ground. This is her way of submitting to the other dog. Maggie is giving in to the other dog’s superiority. Also on walks there are times Maggie will simply stop walking. I have learned to listen to her and wait a few minutes. She can sense (or smell) a friend close by. Nothing like a “Good Morning” to start your day off on the right foot. When Maggie was younger she used to cock her head to one side. This meant she was listening to a noise. Dog’s hearing is 1000 times more sensitive than ours. So naturally they will hear things we will not. So why do dogs cock their head? It helps them focus and pay attention to where the noise is coming from. There are times in the middle of the night that I will hear Maggie scratching the rug. I used to wonder what she was doing. So naturally I turned to Google. Turns out it is a natural behavior that dates back to when dogs where outside creatures and they claimed their territory. It also creates comfort for them. Some people equate it to us fluffing our pillows before we go to sleep. Maggie is extremely afraid of thunderstorms (something I was hoping she would outgrow). From the second the first rumble can be heard I know we are in for a rough patch. The only way to soothe her is to wrap something tight around her. When I can’t find anything I have actually placed pillow from the sofa on top of her and that has done the trick. I feel badly for her but no amount of reassurance works. I just know that in time the storm will pass and she will feel normal again. Maggie’s favorite sport is chasing squirrels in the backyard. They usually run up a tree when Maggie comes after them. In the beginning it was just when she happened to be outside. Now when I simply say the word “Squirrel” (when she is in the house) she will jump up and race to the back door waiting excitedly to be let out. She will wait at the bottom of the tree and give a bark to let them know she sees them. Eventually she will give up and wander away. I often wonder what will happen if she ever catches one. Hopefully not bring it in for dinner! Maggie is also an active dreamer. How do I know? I have seen her move around a lot as well as bark while she is sleeping. Her paws sometimes move as is she is walking and her snout moves as well. Wonder if she is dreaming of going for a walk and smelling all her familiar smells? I have also seen her tail wag (I guess that means she is having a happy dream!). Sometimes when she whines I feel bad and calmly call her name and she will settle down. These are just some of Maggie’s behaviors. As you can see when she is home she is a regular and loving

Monday, September 5, 2016

Inspection 2X

As I walked into the Philadelphia VA this past week two things out of the ordinary occurred. I was greeted by the head of my organization who was filling in for someone who couldn’t make it and we were notified that the hospital was presently undergoing inspection on a state level. So, how did these events affect Maggie and me? Being under scrutiny from the head honcho of your organization is stressful enough but when someone (actually there were two people) from the state checks to make sure you are sanitizing before and after leaving every room, and making sure Maggie is acting appropriately can be quite stressful (although the only unprofessional attribute Maggie displays is eating crumbs off the floor something I am continually working on). We only ran into them once, but the amount of extra sanitizer used that day was intense! I was aware that Steve and his sidekick Sadie were unable to walk around with Maggie and me as he had sent me a text the previous day. When this has happened in the past Maggie and I have walked around ourselves. But I didn’t know there would be a replacement for Steve until I received an email shortly before the session began. Was I nervous? A little. The last time I had a session with the head honcho she did point out a few things she thought I might change or brush up on with Maggie (although constructive criticism is not necessarily a bad thing). So I wasn’t sure what would happen this time. Hindsight I was glad I didn’t have too much time to worry about this because by the time the session ended she had nothing but praise for the job Maggie and I did. She was amazed that so many of the residents remembered Maggie and thanked me when I gave her a heads up about certain limitations with some of the residents. We walked around with both Maggie and Bubbles the Bunny. As most Goldendoodle, Maggie loves rabbits and will follow them anywhere. This particular rabbit is trained to stay on his towel so each resident can hold the rabbit (if they choose) and pet it for a period of time. Each room we walked into was happy to see Maggie but was surprised to see the rabbit. Bubbles, was well received by all. His fur definitely felt different then Maggie’s which is great for sensory stimulation. Allowing the residents to hold the rabbit is also different then petting a dog. I learned that this particular breed of rabbit, the French Hotot lives to about 10 years old so Bubbles at 5 is halfway through his life. Bubbles, also weighs about 3 pounds, a big difference then Maggie’s 75 pounds. Turned out to be a nice change for the residents, really perked the hospital up! Even the state inspectors who knew about the therapy dogs were pleasantly surprised to see a therapy rabbit.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Trip Down Memory Lane

I went back to Haverford Estates Assisted Living a place I hadn’t visited in quite a while. I really don’t know why I stopped going there because Maggie and I had such a great visit. The residents were very warm and welcoming to us. I didn’t recognize anyone from my previous visits but we met many new friends and heard some great stories about their dogs from when they were younger! Many of the residents had never met a Goldendoodle before so I was happy to introduce a new breed to them. We first visited the main floor and then headed to “Reflections” which is their memory impairment unit. So why am I writing about this? As we are visiting with the residents in Reflections I noticed someone visiting with his mother so I decided to go over to talk with them. As we are talking I watched as his mother caressed his arm and I wondered if she even recognized his arm as the arm of the child she raised. I could see his love and devotion come through in his patience with her. I didn’t ask the questions running through my head, how long has his mother has been in this facility? How often he is able to visit with her? I figured he gets asked these questions one time too many. As this gentleman is petting Maggie we had a nice discussion about his desire for a Border collie once he is able to move out of his apartment. As I glance at his baseball cap I notice the emblem of a Redskin, the insignia of the football team from Maryland adorning it. I ask him why he is wearing that particular cap and he replied he originates from Maryland. When I told him I did as well, the nature of our conversation changed dramatically. We compared notes and realized we grew up approximately 2 miles from each other. We spent the next few minutes reminiscing about popular landmarks and hangouts we remembered from our youth. I had a hard time pulling myself away and giving attention to the other residents. I’m one of those people who believe that there is a reason for everything. The fact that I hadn’t visited this facility in quite some time but decided to go on this particular day when this person was going to be there was meant to be. My goal for each session is to bring some happiness to someone’s day. I guess today it was my turn to have a chance to leave the session with a big smile on my face. It was a great trip down memory lane!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover

I met a movie producer today. Yes, A real live movie producer. No, not one from Hollywood but one that produced movies in New York. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him as I met him during a therapy visit with Maggie. He gave me this information and quite honestly I didn’t know if I should believe him at first. He eyes the color of the clearest blue sky, were amongst the kindest eyes I have seen in a long time, and they didn’t appear to be joking. I started looking around his room and noticed many photos of him sitting in what looked like a director’s chair and a few more photos of him behind the camera… So he was telling me the truth. I looked at the pictures and saw a vague resemblance to the person sitting in front of me. His disheveled appearance differed from the photos of his youth. As most of the residents of the hospital, this gentleman chose not to talk about his career but instead talked about his dogs-the ones he missed and cherished. Work comes and goes but our true loved ones stay in our hearts forever. I didn’t recognize him as someone I had met before. I assumed he had been transferred here recently. This is a normal process. Patients get transferred to different hospitals in different cities/states depending on their benefits all the time. My curiosity of which movies he directed was piqued but I didn’t rush home and google his name. I felt my connection to him was through Maggie not through his movies. Perhaps one day I will take the leap and watch one of his movies but for now I was content to let that go. I do hope I get to see him when we go back for another visit as our discussion of his dogs was quite touching. So how did this information come out? As I walked into his room he was being notified he won first place in the hospital’s art contest. What did he draw? He drew a picture of wolves. Obviously this is a very talented person. I did check out the drawing on my way out and was very impressed with the drawing.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Most of us have heard of the positive relationship between exercise and endorphin output. For those that love to exercise we know how it feels to complete a good workout. Have you heard of the expression “runner’s high”? So what exactly are endorphins and where do they come into play in the relationship to dogs? Endorphins are a group of hormones the body releases within the brain and nervous system that have a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body’s opiate receptors causing an analgesic effect. Endorphins are known to decrease pain and stress. Dr. Karen Allen from State University of New York- Buffalo Dept. of Oral Diagnostic Sciences (in 2002) stated that having pets reduces our stress level and if you interact with them even more so. In her study she measured heart rate and blood pressure. Her results indicated that pet owners have lower heart rates and blood pressure than non- pet owners. Pet therapy or Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) as it is often known was developed out of the premise that being with an animal can boost a person’s mental and/or physical health. During AAT a person interacts with an animal to relieve depression, reduce anxiety or just bring a sense of well being to one’s day. It doesn’t matter whether the animal is a dog, cat, rabbit or other type. It doesn’t matter if it is an animal brought to you through an organization or your own pet that lives with you. Spending time with a cherished pet will help bring tranquility or calmness to your day. I have personally taken advantage of Maggie’s love and snuggled with her when I have had a particularly bad day. She really has made me feel better! So give an extra hug to your favorite animal and thank them for helping us feel better and stay just a little bit healthier!

Monday, August 8, 2016

When a Visit is Good

A few weeks ago I posted about a session that didn’t go too well. This week I’d like to write about a session that went exceptionally well. This session took place at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills PA. This was our first visit at this school. We had an opportunity to meet with a group of special needs students. Our group consisted of two dogs and a rabbit and there were close to 50 students present. The school was well prepared and staffed with about 20 aides/teachers. After our initials introduction we split up into three smaller groups. We met in an auditorium and most of the kids sat on the floor so I chose to get on the floor with them. The purpose was twofold. I have more control of Maggie (if needed) and it brings me down to the same level as the kids. I didn’t want them to feel this was a classroom setting. There were a few kids in wheelchairs so naturally I got up when speaking with those kids. I really enjoyed this session as I felt the teachers/aides were constantly trying to engage and encourage each kid to participate in the program and ask questions as well. Some of the kids expressed fear and chose not to approach the animals so an aide stayed back with them. Again I felt this was a wise choice- so that child would feel secure and not left out. I told the group what a typical day is for Maggie, what she eats (only dog food as Goldendoodles have sensitive stomachs so it is a good idea to keep them on the same food every day), what her favorite activity is (chasing squirrels), and what kind of exercise she requires (a walk in the morning and a walk in the evening). I then got to hear stories about their pets, their names, ages and what tricks they know. I find kids begin to open up the longer they sit with Maggie. Some of the kids choose to pet her and others prefer to just be near her. Maggie can sense what each individual needs and tolerates both. Her favorite places to be petted are on her belly and behind the ears. When I tell this to the kids they are able to focus on these places. It empowers them. The school was so grateful for us being there. What’s so wonderful about our visits is that even though they only encompass an hour it keeps everyone talking about the animals long after we are gone. The kids (and teachers) go back to their activities talking about our pets and they go home and tell their families about our pets. Everyone’s mood stays elevated long after we are gone!
When a Visit is Good A few weeks ago I posted about a session that didn’t go too well. This week I’d like to write about a session that went exceptionally well. This session took place at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills PA. This was our first visit at this school. We had an opportunity to meet with a group of special needs students. Our group consisted of two dogs and a rabbit and there were close to 50 students present. The school was well prepared and staffed with about 20 aides/teachers. After our initials introduction we split up into three smaller groups. We met in an auditorium and most of the kids sat on the floor so I chose to get on the floor with them. The purpose was twofold. I have more control of Maggie (if needed) and it brings me down to the same level as the kids. I didn’t want them to feel this was a classroom setting. There were a few kids in wheelchairs so naturally I got up when speaking with those kids. I really enjoyed this session as I felt the teachers/aides were constantly trying to engage and encourage each kid to participate in the program and ask questions as well. Some of the kids expressed fear and chose not to approach the animals so an aide stayed back with them. Again I felt this was a wise choice- so that child would feel secure and not left out. I told the group what a typical day is for Maggie, what she eats (only dog food as Goldendoodles have sensitive stomachs so it is a good idea to keep them on the same food every day), what her favorite activity is (chasing squirrels), and what kind of exercise she requires (a walk in the morning and a walk in the evening). I then got to hear stories about their pets, their names, ages and what tricks they know. I find kids begin to open up the longer they sit with Maggie. Some of the kids choose to pet her and others prefer to just be near her. Maggie can sense what each individual needs and tolerates both. Her favorite places to be petted are on her belly and behind the ears. When I tell this to the kids they are able to focus on these places. It empowers them. The school was so grateful for us being there. What’s so wonderful about our visits is that even though they only encompass an hour it keeps everyone talking about the animals long after we are gone. The kids (and teachers) go back to their activities talking about our pets and they go home and tell their families about our pets. Everyone’s mood stays elevated long after we are gone!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Therapy Dog Vs Service Dog

I was approached today by an individual who asked me about Maggie’s breed. This is not an unusual occurrence as Maggie is known as the “pretty” dog. After I went through the explanation of a Goldendoodle he asked if she sheds and proceeded to tell me he was looking for a non-shedding dog because he is allergic to dogs. I told him although she is considered hypoallergenic there is really no dog that is 100% allergy free- the concept is really that if none of their fur or hair is flying into the air one less likely to react negatively to a dog. This gentleman proceeded to tell me he is really looking for a service dog for his PTSD and his diabetes. Oh, so this was a totally different conversation. As I was in the middle of a therapy session I felt pulled to continue the discussion but also was obligated to conclude my session. I recommended he check the internet for links to websites for more information that could direct him to the right resources that might help him. I judged his age to be mid to late 60’s so I wasn’t sure how computer literate he was. I then suggested he check with his local library because I figured the librarian might be able to help him with the computer. So what is the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog? Wikipedia defines a service dog as a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, mental illnesses (such as post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD), seizure disorder, mobility impairment and diabetes. Since each disability is different, each dog is to some extent custom-trained for the individual it will help. Service dogs may wear special vests or badges to identify them. A therapy dog is defined as a dog that might be trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with autism. Therapy dogs need not wear special vests or badges to identify them In the U.S. therapy dogs are not service animals and are not afforded the same privileges as them. Whereby a service dog is allowed in food establishments a therapy dog is not. I remember after one visit at an elementary school, a mother was dropping off her daughter. She saw me walking out with Maggie. I noticed her hesitate as if she wanted to approach me. I smiled at her as I recognized her daughter as being one of the children that knew how to treat Maggie properly. I approached her and told her what a good job her daughter had done and how Maggie appreciated being handled properly. At that point she opened up and said she had wanted to come over but wasn’t sure if she was allowed to approach because she thought Maggie was a service dog. I explained that Maggie was a therapy dog and petting was allowed. We continued our conversation for a few minutes while she visited with Maggie. While therapy dogs differ from service dogs they both have a purpose and they are fulfilling a large need in the world.

Monday, July 25, 2016


This past week my visit at the VA was most interesting. I had the opportunity to meet a WWII vet who at the age of 96 looks more like someone in his 70’s. Unfortunately he was on the hospice floor but was completely coherent and with quite a memory as well. While he was visiting with Maggie he was relating his stories of his days with his Labrador Retrievers-all three of them. Their favorite activity was hiking through the woods and running through the streams. I noticed a smile appear on his face as he talked about this. Obviously a pleasant memory. He chose not to speak of his days during the war – “those days are over” he commented “I prefer to think of happy times” I find it so interesting that some people live in their past while others chose to forget them. My second encounter this past week was with one of my regulars. Mr. D- had just returned from the hospital where much to my surprise he had his second leg amputated. When I asked him how he was doing his reply was “When I left the VA I was 6’3” and now I am 3’6” –I might add he said this with a chuckle as Mr. D- has a keen sense of humor. He did point out his bed will no longer need to be extended to accommodate his large size. Always the comic, Mr. D- asked how “Blondie” was doing, the name he uses for Maggie. Maggie sat patiently as Mr. D maneuvered around slowly so he could give a little attention to Maggie. Mr. D- loves to talk baseball, something I am not always in tune to. So I listened patiently and tried to comment and question when appropriate. All in all it was a nice visit and as we leave Maggie’s head is held high, her stomach is filled with treats and I am once again amazed at people’s resilience.

Monday, July 18, 2016

When a Visit Goes Bad

Not every visit goes well. As a therapy handler we have two tasks. One is to bring joy or comfort to the individual/s we are visiting and the other is to protect our pets. In that regard if someone is mistreating our pets or not following instructions we need to let them know. There are a set of rules to follow. Most of the time the visits go well, but occasionally I have to step in and correct bad or unwanted behavior. This past week during a visit at a special needs school a set of instructions was given at the beginning of the session. The instructions consisted of how and where to pet our animals. Our animals like to pet with a flat gentle hand on their bodies (backs and bellies). No head no feet and no tails. These instructions are given for a specific reason. We don’t want any tails to be pulled, any eyes to be poked and any nails on their feet to be pulled. At the beginning of this visit I noticed an aide walk in with her student (she is munching on a chocolate bar) I feel myself go on high alert. She isn’t giving her student full attention and I see the student eye Maggie with intense curiosity. In the beginning of each session all the kids are instructed to sit together in a circle in the middle of the room to hear these instructions and then they are split off into smaller groups around the different animals to be able to spend individual attention with each animal(we rotate every 10-15 minutes so each group meets every animal present). This particular teacher gets distracted and her student walks right over to where I am sitting with Maggie, takes one look at her and proceeds to step on her. Now this kid is not a small child, but rather a hefty child. I promptly yell ”No!”. I then tell the child, “You need to go and sit with the rest of the children. At this point Maggie looks at me as if to say “why would someone do that to me?” I pet Maggie assure her she is a good girl and I would not let this happen again. This child did attempt to come back a few times but I sent him away. It sounds a little harsh but in this case if a teacher is not ready to step in then I have to correct bad behavior. I have had multiple discussions about situations like this with my program director. She has given me clear and precise directions as to how I am allowed to behave towards any individual that is mistreating Maggie. I do understand that teachers might feel overwhelmed at times, but pet therapy visits should not be viewed as their “time off”. There have been countless times that I have watched teachers congregate in the library chit-chatting about their personal lives while I have been disciplining their students. I feel we need to work together a little better so all parties involved come away feeling the visits are a positive experience both for the students, for the school and for the therapy handlers as well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Losing a Loved One

Losing a loved one is always difficult, this also pertains to our pets. Maggie and I first met Bunker a full bred poodle about two years ago. We met him while at a therapy session at a special needs elementary school. Bunker was approximately 13 years old at the time and a little shy. His curly grey and white hair was very becoming for an “older gentleman”. His handler, Tina loved to dress him up for the holidays and the kids loved it as well. He was known for his pumpkin outfit for Halloween. Per Maggie’s usual self, she insisted on greeting each therapy animal before our visit started (this is permitted, but once the session starts the animals are not allowed to approach each other). Bunker showed little interest at first in Maggie but Tina (his handler) made sure to give Maggie a friendly pat on her back. As time passed Bunker warmed up nicely to Maggie. The kids loved Bunker because he had a lot of patience as they read to him. All therapy dog handlers know that it is good to get their dogs out of the house. It is good to engage their minds and keep them active, not bored at home. Bunker was a therapy dog for 3 years. He came into his career a little later in life. But as we know it is never too late to make a change in our lives. But more importantly Bunker made a positive change in a lot of kid’s lives. Rest in peace Bunker, you will be missed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Unknown

The Unknown. The Unknown I’m so fortunate to live near many college and universities. Maggie and I have had the opportunity to visit students at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Immaculata College, Philadelphia College of Medicine, Rosemont College, University of Pennsylvania Medical College, and Villanova University. So what do all these college and universities have in common? A lot of students that are stressed work hard and have a love of animals. As much as the students don’t look forward to mid-terms and finals, Maggie and I do, so we can visit and help relieve their stress. Over the years we have met many wonderful people and had some amazing conversations. But one student stands out the most in my mind. This girl came to “Pets on the Green” as it is known with two of her friends. I noticed her sitting quietly and tried to engage her in conversation. “Do you have a dog at home?” “No,” she replied “Do you like animals?” They’re ok she replied. I quickly realized she was probably just waiting for her friends to finish visiting with Maggie, and probably didn’t want to have a conversation. I did however notice a sadness in her eyes, but decided not to comment about it. After her friends finished their visit and got up to leave she turned to me and said “I’m from Sandy Hook and after the shootings they brought in therapy dogs. It did a lot of good. “ A chill ran down my back. I’ll never know if her sadness stemmed from her stress at school or from her thinking about the events back at home. I did however appreciate her sharing those words with me. It reminded me that we never really know what goes on in someone’s personal life. I do hope she finds a way to heal.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Great Strides

Great Strides. With the school year coming to a close it is amazing to see the growth in all the children. I’m not talking about their height or even their ability to read. What I’m talking about is in their ability to connect with Maggie. With so many children visiting Maggie there are those that have fears and will not pet her or even approach her. I have tried to explain the difference between Maggie and a regular dog (Maggie being very calm).But to no avail. We do not believe in pressuring any children so we just let them watch her from a distance. But this last week has proven that with repetition and positive reinforcement come great strides. I was witness to two young children that previously would not approach Maggie. But over the course of the school year this has changed. They not only felt comfortable approaching Maggie, they also adapted to petting her. One child even sat with her for roughly five minutes. The smile on these children’s faces reached all the way to their eyes. What a pleasure to see how Maggie has helped them grow. (if not for the privacy laws I would have taken a picture). Maggie recognizes most of the children that we visit. But I find it interesting to see her get more excited with certain children. Generally these are the children that have an animal at home and know how to handle her (I know this because I have asked them if they have an animal at home). No poking her face , pulling her tail and no touching her feet, all sensitive areas for her. Some young children need to be watched more than others as they get excited and don’t pay attention to directions very well. All in all it has been a good school year and we look forward to the next school year as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Lesson Learned One of the more difficult visits is when you get to the hospice unit and realize a patient there was once on a regular floor. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. The first time this happened I tried to mask the surprise on my face. I hope I was successful, but honestly I don’t know if I pulled it off. As time progressed I have learned to manage my facial expressions to the point of keeping my emotions inside. I do know there have been additional times the same thing has occurred and upon entering a room on the hospice floor I have recognized a former patient from a regular floor. My comment was “Mr ____ there you are, so nice to see you.” This actually evoked a smile from the gentleman as he recognized Maggie and replied “good to be seen” I realize it doesn’t matter what you say as long as you say something. Many people are lonely and long for a conversation not related to their medical condition. So what do we talk about? I usually introduce Maggie (in case they have forgotten who she is), tell them how old she is and talk about what breed she is and how I care for her. If they seem interested (and they have the energy) I ask them questions as well. Did they ever have a dog? If so what breed? What was the name etc? Every case is different. There have been times when a patient has talked non-stop and there have been times when a patient has fallen asleep mid-sentence. Once after a visit Maggie and I were walking down a hall. We were approached by a couple who introduced themselves as (grown) children of a patient we had just visited on the Hospice floor. They pet Maggie for a minute and proceeded to thank me for taking time out of my day for visiting with their loved one. “My pleasure,” I replied With tears in their eyes they said “You don’t understand. Many people say they will come visit but really don’t. I’ve seen you and your dog wandering around here before. You make a lot of people happy.” I gave them a smile and repeated” it’s my pleasure.” I left the facility not only feeling like I accomplished something in my day but really learning the meaning of giving of yourself.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Nod to the Service Dog

A Nod to the Service Dog One of my favorite school libraries is within the school of VFES (Valley Forge Educational Services) which is located in Malvern Pennsylvania. Maggie and I have been lucky enough to visit there for the past two years. We have met many wonderful children (and faculty). So why do I love the library so much? When you walk in you are greeted with many bright welcoming colors. It is like you are embraced with a warm hug. As I sit there and listen to the children practice their reading to Maggie I sneak a peek at the titles of the many hundreds of books. I yearn to stay after our official visit and spend a lazy afternoon reliving my youth with the likes of Dr Suess, The Hardy Boys and The Nancy Drew series. I admire the Librarian as she greets each child by name when they enter. They take their seat at a table and await instructions. On a day when the therapy animals arrive we wait for the children to gather. We introduce our pets and give a little history about them This could be their age, where they were born or even if they have any siblings. We generally finish with a question about our pets to see if the children remember us from the previous visit, (which of course they do). I’ll never forget one visit last year when we entered the library we unexpectedly encountered a service dog sitting with its handler. Maggie looked at the dog, the service dog looked at Maggie and I could have sworn I saw the slightest nod from each of the dogs, as if so say “good job!” Other than that there was no interaction between these animals during our visit. Service dogs provide support or some type of function that an individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. This differs tremendously then Maggie who is a therapy dog. The service dog sat quietly throughout our stay and once the visit was over got up and left quietly with the rest of the group. What I found interesting was that the children knew they could pet the therapy dogs but the service dog was off limits. They had been taught well.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I've spoken about the training needed for Maggie to be certified as a therapy dog but my part of the training has been more of on the job training. I know I am never allowed to let go of Maggie's leash while we are in session but every situation can and has been different. While in a hospital setting we are allowed to move  a wheelchair or small table on wheels to gain access to a patient (as long as we replace them when finished) but if a patient needs some medical attention we tell the patient we will get a nurse.
In an elementary school setting I find my interaction with the children is more in correcting or explaining the proper way to handle an animal or in this case Maggie. Some of the students come from a home where there is already a pet so they are familiar with this but for those who do not, they need to be told not to pull a dog's tail, not to poke a dog in the eye, and some dogs do not like to be touched on their paws.
In a college setting the interaction with the students is mostly to help them de-stress during their mid-terms and finals. There are times they are not looking to interact with anyone but the animal so I leave them be while they pet and hug Maggie. Maggie has a good sense of what they need as well!

My biggest "Ah-Ha" moment came during a visit at a local hospital. I was walking down the hall and I heard a woman calling to me. She was saying "lady with the dog, lady with the dog wait for me"
I turned around to see a women in a white doctors coat. She said to me "I've had a really hard day, can I pet your dog?"
It was that moment I realized the scope of comfort that Maggie and I could bring.

I think about that every so often when I pass a doctor, a nurse or even another volunteer in the hallway. I always pause and with a smile ask if they would like to pet Maggie.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Maggie at the VA

One of our regular stops is the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Philadelphia or the VA as it is commonly known. Maggie and I have been visiting twice a month for the past three years. We meet our "friend" Sadie and her human partner Steve (they have been visiting much longer then we have). Maggie and Sadie have become known there and many of the residents have treats waiting for them. The VA is split up by departments and floors. We are assigned specific areas and are always accompanied by one of the recreation staff who are a delight to be around. They know their way around and many of the residents by name.
I will tell you the first time I signed up to visit the VA I did not know what it would be like and upon entering the hospital I had a rude awakening. Many of the residents are wheel chair bound with missing limbs. The smells can also be a little unsettling if you are not accustomed to a hospital setting. Needless to say after my first visit I walked out and said to myself I would not go back.
I slept on it and upon waking the next day questioned my motives of giving up so easily. With my life so blessed and easy compared to the residents of the VA why not push myself out of my comfort zone? Isn't that the purpose of giving back?

So I found myself signing up for the next visit. When I got to the front door I took a deep breath and put a smile on my face. Well the hour went by quickly. I focused on the smiles on the resident's faces when they saw Maggie. The joy took over any misgivings I might have had and three years later I have no regrets.

Each time I pull into the parking lot Maggie gets excited and I know it will be a great visit because we will bring a little joy to someone's day!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Becoming aTherapy Dog Handler

So I've been asked this question a few times "how did I become interested in becoming a therapy dog handler?"

About 13 years ago I was recovering in Abington Hospital from a surgical procedure. A gentleman popped his head in my room and asked if I was interested in a visit from a therapy dog. Not quite sure what he meant but loving dogs I responded "yes!" He walked in with a gorgeous Greyhound dog who promptly put his head on my bed so I could pet him. I remember my pain disappeared for the quick five minute visit. At the same time he explained his purpose. Therapy dogs provide comfort for the sick. After he left I promised myself if I ever had the opportunity I would find a way to give back to my community and become a therapy dog handler.

Fast forward many years I had just retired from my day job and was taking a writing course at a local school. We were going around the room introducing ourselves. A woman told us her dog had just passed a test and was now certified as a therapy dog. The memory from my encounter with therapy dog at the hospital from years ago came rushing forward in my mind. Wow, that was something I hadn't thought about for many years!  Maggie had just come into my life at that point but I made a decision that day that this would be my next goal.

Maggie would have to mature a bit as Goldendoodles tend to be a little high strung when they are young but with perseverance she did pass the test, and four years later we are going strong as a team!

Maggie the Therapy Dog

So what are the requirements for becoming a therapy dog? All dogs must pass a pet evaluation. The basic rules of sit, stay and come must be followed. They can not be frightened by sudden loud noises such as vacuum cleaners or other medical equipment. They have to be comfortable being handled by other people. They may not grab for treats, they may not jump on anyone  and especially no barking while they are working. When there is more then one animal on assignment at once they may greet each other before the session starts but once they are "working" their interaction is focused on the humans they came to visit. Once a dog is in the program they catch on fairly quickly and learn the routine.

Friday, May 20, 2016

So where have we been for the past six years? Maggie has grown and is a full fledged adult dog. She will turn seven next month. She has been keeping me busy. I trained her, had her tested and she is now certified as a therapy dog. Some might ask the purpose of a therapy dog. A therapy dog is trained to provide comfort to people in hospitals and nursing homes. They also help de-stress students. We love visiting different college campuses. Maggie is also part of the literacy program in the Philadelphia area where early readers have the opportunity to read to her in a non judge-mental environment. As an avid reader myself I enjoy being part of the process where children are learning to love to read. And what is there not to love by having a dog right by their side.
So I'm hoping to start back up with my blog and keep you up to date on Maggie's Therapy visits as well as her other activities.
Stay tuned!