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.