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!