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.