Monday, October 30, 2017

Tug of the Heart

After visiting the VA Hospital for three years one gets to know many of the residents. I like to refer to them as my regulars. Although rooms will get moved and roommates shifted a good many people have been there for many years. Maggie and I have gotten used to seeing these people every other Tuesday when we visit and they tell us they look forward to our visit as well.
So when I walked in last Tuesday after missing a week (because of my travel schedule) and was told two of my regulars had passed away I nearly stumbled over Maggie, as I had not been anticipating this .
Len was known for his chocolate candies (no he never gave any to Maggie) and his amazing orchards that were always in bloom on his window sill. I don’t know how long he resided at the VA but he was there longer then we had been visiting. He loved to watch old movies and we always had an interesting discussion about them. He always thanked me for stopping by. I know Maggie and I were there to offer him comfort, but every time I left his room I felt uplifted.
Len- rest in peace, I know you are in a place where there is no pain.
Bruce was a man of few words, but always eager to interact with Maggie. We could always find Bruce and his aide wandering the halls, sitting and watching TV or participating in horticulture class. I could see Bruce’s mind was on the go. I understand Bruce’s Mom would visit often although I never had the opportunity to meet her. I know she was a dedicated mother. I feel for her loss.
Two men living under the same roof living very different lives.
As an outsider the one amazing thing I admire about the VA hospital is the brotherhood and respect you feel. The Honor Guard comes forward when one passes. A person from the same division will put on their uniform and stand guard outside the room until the body is picked up by the morgue.

What a wonderful way to honor the deceased.

Monday, October 16, 2017

De-Mystifying the Therapy Dog

The other day I stopped into a store to pick up a drink. The clerk was friendly and asked what I had planned for my day. When asked these types of questions I usually respond with “ you know a little of this and a little of that.” But that day for some reason I decided to share a little more. I told the clerk my therapy dog and I had a session planned for the afternoon, a visit to a college. She looked at me with concern and said “I hope your dog feels better soon.”
With the rise in popularity of therapy (and service) dogs I imagined the majority of people are aware of their function in the world. However, clearly the word has not reached everyone. I decided to take a few minutes to educate this person on the role of a therapy dog, not for a pat on my back, but rather so she can educate the next person.
Similarly, I had a conversation with my niece who is raising a dog to become a seeing eye dog for the blind. Dino is 9 months old and travels everywhere she does, He wears a vest identifying himself as a dog in training. My niece also carries an ID card. Unfortunately there have been a few occasions where people have been confused and denied her (and Dino) entrance to a building. They have asked her if Dino is blind. They have asked her is she is blind. They have a hard time comprehending her role in training this dog. (The early years are spent socializing the dog before determining if the dog can pass the requirements to be a full service dog for the blind).This is an unfortunate situation as she is a volunteer and is doing this out of the goodness of her heart.

Although therapy and service dogs have two completely different roles they both help people overcome obstacles. My hope is that in time and with more education people will recognize the good they do in people’s lives.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Goodbye Mr. D

I remember each time entering Mr. D’s room. Even before I had a chance to ask how he was feeling he always said “Hi Blondie,” the name he had given to Maggie.
Mr. D passed away last week. He was one of my regulars at the VA hospital and definitely one of my favorites. You never heard a complaint come out of Mr. D’s mouth. Always a smile on his face. His favorite topic-baseball-and I never admitted I didn’t fully follow the game. He probably knew but never let on. We danced around the topic. We enjoyed each other’s company and conversation. But most importantly he enjoyed his time with Maggie. I know Maggie enjoyed her time with him as well. When we turned the corner near his room she used to pull on her leash eager to enter his room. This past time she pulled on the leash and then stopped. The smells were different. She looked up at me.
“I know,” I said “I miss him also,” I told her as I patted her head.
Is it wrong of me to ask how he passed?
I was told Mr. D was transferred to the main hospital for a procedure. He was left alone momentarily in search of a consent form. When they returned … he had passed.
So like Mr. D. No complaints, and in his own terms.
Goodbye and a salute from Maggie and me.

You will be missed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Most Favorite Place

With schools being closed over the summer Maggie and I have had the opportunity to shift out focus and spend time with middle school kids (and the literacy program) at many libraries across the area. We’ve traveled to the East town Library, Ridley Park Library, Ridley Township Library and the Gladwyne Library. Seeing smile’s on kid’s faces when they greet Maggie is one thing but when they have a book in hand adds to the delight. Many of these programs are scheduled in the evening as these kids are in camp during the day. They come in raring to go with tons of energy to read and tons of questions about Maggie.
I am always curious which books each child picks to read. This season I have seen a lot of “Captain Underpants”, Pete the Cat series”, A bunch of books about animals, “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, and some “Judy Blume’s a tale of the Fourth Grade Nothing”.
Being a part of the Literacy program is a wonderful experience. The idea is for the kids to read to the dog (or rabbit) in a non judge-mental environment. I love that the program continues over the summer as well. It helps reinforce their reading skills.
Does anyone remember the old Zany Brainy stores? They had a summer reading program for kids. The idea was to read a book a week and come in to the store and talk about it. What a great concept. Parents had to come drop the kids off for reading/discussion time at the store. Reading time=shopping time! My kids were part of this program and loved it as well. (I can’t begin to tell you how many toys we bought at the same time!)
This summer reading program has been a win win (and win). Maggie gets lots of hugs and treats. The kids get to practice their reading while petting Maggie and I get to be in my most favorite place.

The Library!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

My Own Bit of Therapy

I recently received some unfortunate news concerning a family member. Over the course of the following days I turned to Maggie as a source of comfort. As this was not my only time I have literally sat on my kitchen floor snuggling with Maggie I got to thinking… when I take Maggie on her visits the time allotted is one hour. We do this so not to wear out the dogs. When we are at the hospital we are on the go and move from room to room. There is no set time for each room but we try to visit as many rooms as possible. My question is how much benefit does one really get from a few minute visit from Maggie? What I mean to say is when I was on my kitchen floor with Maggie and feeling very down I spent quite some time with her-as much time as I needed till I felt a little better. I’m not saying that the people in the hospital are all feeling down but does a quick visit really elevate their mood?
Well, I certainly hope so. I also know for a fact that for the elderly people we visit it gives them something to trigger a memory, especially if they’ve had a pet before in their life. Hopefully this will be a happy memory.
Another thought worth mentioning is that quite often while either walking Maggie (especially over the summer at the shore) or else just sitting outside of Starbucks I will be approached by an individual to say Maggie reminds them of either their dog or a dog they know . This starts a conversation while they are petting her. This leads to a continued conversation about Maggie being a therapy dog etc. etc.
I’ve gotten a couple of responses of “I’ve been thinking about doing that with my dog.”
It makes me happy to be able to share my life with random people. It bothers me that we pass people on the street without uttering a hello every so often. I like to connect with people.

A dog can really bring people together in so many ways!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Where Are The Dogs?

As Maggie and I entered the VA Hospital last week we were greeted by one of our regulars. He was about to enter the Physical Therapy room as he spotted us walking down the hall. We usually check in at the Recreation Therapy Center first before doing our rounds but I stopped first to greet “Jim”.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Jim said
“Good to see you.”
“I need some good pet therapy today. I just found out my buddy died earlier today.”
“So sorry to hear,” I said as I ushered Maggie over so he could pet her.
As Jim is in a wheelchair I watched as he laid his face in her fur. Maggie being very used to this behavior rested her body on his chair and waited for him to pull back. When he came up for air he proceeded to tell me the story of how his friend was discharged from the hospital earlier in the week.  He saw his friend’s number come up on his cell phone but figured he would call him back later. Later never came as a massive heart attack took his (friends) life.
Now riddled with guilt Jim just needed some time with Maggie. I stayed with him as he spent some time with her. When he looked up at me I noticed some moisture in his eyes.
“Thanks I needed that,” he said as he turned to enter the PT room.

I had a feeling the rest of the visit would be comforting as well.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dog, Cat, Rabbit Therapy

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

I continue to learn. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


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

All because she’s a normal curious dog!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Off Duty?

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Does Color Really Matter?

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

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

To all the Veterans- Thank you for your service!

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's All in the Eyes

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Two Different Worlds

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

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Every person has their own way of communicating with their pet. It could be in a verbal or non-verbal way. These are learned skills we teach our pets throughout their lives.
Our pets are like our children. They do better with a set of rules to follow. With a set of rules or boundaries a pet knows what is allowed or expected of them.
As a therapy dog Maggie has another layer of rules she has to follow on a visit. For instance no jumping or scratching people, and no barking are just a few of the rules. Throughout our visit Maggie will look to me for cues. I will reward her with a treat if she is behaving properly or I will ask the person she is visiting if they would like to give her a treat. If I am talking with an individual Maggie will sit patiently waiting for me to give her instructions.
I am often asked if Maggie is smart. Since she is part poodle (poodle is one of the smartest breeds). I reply that she is indeed smart- she listens when she wants! The truth is when we are on a therapy visit Maggie has learned she is there for a purpose (to give comfort and/or relieve stress to the person she is visiting) and she follows directions very well. But Maggie does have her own mind and at home there are times she doesn’t want to listen. This is why I tell people she listens when she wants!
One of Maggie’s favorite way of communicating with me is what I call her “stare down”. She will come over to me and stare at me until I recognize what she is asking for and I respond.
This generally happens a few times a day. In the morning when she is ready for her walk. In the afternoon when she is hungry and in the evening when she is ready for her evening walk. As she is not the type of dog that barks a lot, her way of communicating works for us. She does have an internal clock that alerts her to her needs and I have a watch (or clock on the wall) that lets me know the actual time.
Some people would get annoyed with a dog staring at them but I actually love it! It makes me feel connected to Maggie. She knows she can come to me when she needs me and I will be able to help her.

It is important to get to know your pet and work on a way of communicating that works for your family. It gives your pet a feeling of love and security.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Going On Vacation


I often wonder when I leave Maggie with a trusted caregiver for a number of days does she think I will return or does she think this is her new family?
I recently traveled out of town for a period of 10 days. My go to caregiver was completely booked so I had to find a different place for Maggie to stay. After talking with a few friends nothing panned out. When I checked Google I was sent to which found me two options that I felt would meet my (and Maggie’s) needs. After a meet and greet I decided on one person not too far from my area.
I was a little apprehensive about leaving Maggie so this caregiver said she could send me pictures and updates daily. Well this was the next best thing to talking with Maggie. I received pictures twice a day with comments about what Maggie had done during her day. My mind was certainly eased.
I was still curious how Maggie would react when she saw me upon my return. She definitely was happy: her tail was wagging, she was jumping around and she was licking my face! When I stayed a few minutes to thank the caregiver Maggie planted herself between my legs. I took this as if she wanted to make sure I didn’t leave without her. Dogs display their emotions in so many different ways but Maggie had never done this before. Very interesting!

I know she was well cared for and from the pictures it even looked like she was having a good time. But I am happy to say “There is no place like home!”

Monday, April 3, 2017



I came across a new website called iSpeakDog. It’s a great place to get information about our furry friends. You can find information about dog’s behavior and books on dogs. This site walks you through how to find a trainer. There is a swag shop and even webinars.
I was drawn to the area on behaviors. One of the behaviors that Maggie exhibits that I do not understand is that she digs in the same area of my backyard. This doesn’t just make a mess of my backyard it also leaves Maggie caked in dirt. I say NO but of course from one time to the next Maggie doesn’t listen..
So this site explains that dogs can dig for a variety of reasons:
1)      For critters
2)      Boredom
3)      Cool sleeping spots
4)      Scavenging
5)      Hiding food
6)      Escaping
I ruled out #3, 5 and 6. Maggie doesn’t lie in the hole she digs. She doesn’t hide any food in the hole and she is not trying to escape because the hole is in the middle of the yard. I can definitely see Maggie digging for critters. I can see her scavenging and she could also be bored at times. At least I now have an explanation for this behavior, and as I try to correct this behavior I will do my best not to get angry at her.

Check out this website-iSpeakDog. Thanks to the participating individuals and organizations supporting this site!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Losing a Beloved Pet

I recently read an article by Frank McAndrew that states how much more difficult it is to lose a beloved dog then it is to lose a beloved person. The author speaks about the loss of his dog, Murphy. He makes this claim because while there are certain protocols and practices attached to the death of a person, non are in place for an animal.
I am fortunate that my beloved Maggie is still here with me but I can understand what the author is saying, as I have lost a dog when I was a young.
Recently a friend of mine went through the process of grieving for the loss of her beloved dog that was more like a daughter then a pet. While I tried to be there and lend support to her I also witnessed some unfortunate comments made to her. While sometimes we do not know what to say to a grieving person it is best to say “I am sorry” or “how are you doing today?” But if there is ever a time when you are unsure of what to say then it is best to remain quiet.
While visiting Bryn Mawr College last week I met a student that was happy to sit with Maggie. I could tell she was a ‘dog person’ by the way she was petting and talking with Maggie. When I asked her if she had a pet at home she first said yes, but then changed her answer to “I had.” I didn’t press her but she looked at me and opened up. Her family was living in Taiwan at the time and while she was away at school her dog was swept away in one of their bad storms.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
She added that her family didn’t tell her right away because they wanted her to do well in school. One of her friends sitting with her said “you never told me that, you just said that your dog’s name was Jack.
The conversation continued for a bit but then petered out as the friends enjoyed just sitting with Maggie.

Losing a sidekick is never easy. Some choose to replace them immediately and while others need time to grieve. Whatever the decision as friends we need to show our support.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Emotional Support

At the Mastery Charter School which was a new visit for us, Maggie and I met a few middle school students in an Emotional Support classroom.
However before we could get to the correct classroom we had to traverse the long hallway. Word spread quickly that there was a dog in the building and one by one classroom doors popped open and kids started spilling out.
“Can I pet you dog?”
“What kind of dog is it?”
What’s its name?”
were all the questions that were shouted at me as Maggie and I continued on our way. I did stop a couple of times in order to satisfy their curiosity, but I couldn’t stay long as I was expected in room 222.
So what is the purpose of an Emotional Support (ES) classroom and where do Maggie and I fit into this puzzle?
An Emotional Support class is set up to provide both emotional and academic help to those who are unable to be a part of the regular classroom. They are unable to participate because of behavioral, social and/or personal skill impairments.
Maggie and I were there to help boost their behavior skills and at the same time show them the proper way to handle a dog.
The class itself was on the small side with only 5 students in attendance (a few were out sick). The kids were very well behaved and most took an immediate liking to Maggie. As they spent time petting Maggie I filled them in on her usual day, her likes and dislikes and how she came into our family.
Although one of the students professed to being afraid of dogs, by the end of the hour she was on the floor petting Maggie.
Another student was happy to spend most of the time giving Maggie a “belly rub” which is one of her favorite spots to be petted. While spending time with Maggie this student kept repeating “this is so great, just what I needed.” When it was time to leave he asked if he could take Maggie home with him. I looked at him with a smile and said he wasn’t the first person to ask me. When he repeated the question I realized I needed to be more definite so I answered No, I would miss her too much!

As I had never been in an ES classroom before I felt I had learned something that day. Never judge someone by their needs. I was just happy that Maggie and I were able to contribute something positive to their day!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fish Therapy???


Pet Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Fish Therapy, wait Fish Therapy? On a recent vacation to the Caribbean I started noticing kiosks set up with what looked like large fish tanks with the tops of the tanks open. People had their feet submerged in these tanks and the fish were nibbling at their feet. On my first pass through I did a double take. On my second pass through I stood and stared, ok I gawked. On my third pass through I asked the people sitting (with their feet submerged) how it felt.
“Nice,” was their response.
“Does it tickle?” I inquired.
“Not really,” they responded.
I then turned to the operator of the kiosks and asked what was the purpose of these fish? They told me they feed off the dead skin of your feet. Interesting I thought as I moved on.
I didn’t think much of these dead skin eating fish until I got to the last stop of my vacation and came up to another of these fish kiosks. At this point I examined it a little closer and noticed the tank of water was filtered. If I was considering submerging my feet into a tank of water I didn’t want to come into contact with anyone else’s bacteria.
So I decided to take the plunge. The cool water felt good against the warm Caribbean air. I immediately felt fish go after my feet as they felt a foreign object invade their tranquil space. I looked down and watched as roughly 50 fish started nibbling at my feet, toes and ankles. So did it tickle? No not really- as a person who is very ticklish I was rather surprised.
I sat with my feet submerged for about 15 minutes. The only thing I didn’t like was when the fish tried to get in between my toes. Other than that there were periods of time when the fish got bored of my feet or just got used to a foreign object in the tank and swan away. So I would move my feet around a little and they swam back to me.
All in all it didn’t feel much different than an elongated pedicure.
So my question is… Do I think I received any therapy? No not really. I tried it once will most probably not try it again. I do think they “borrowed” the word THERAPY to attract the average person.

But I’ll let you be the judge of that yourself.

Monday, March 6, 2017

For Animals on the Go


As per my usual when I think about my next blog I wonder if everyone wants to read about another college visit (Maggie and I went to Rowan University and it was a good visit) but then I stumble on a different topic. On a recent pass through the Philadelphia airport I noticed a number of areas marked “For Animals on the Go” This area consisted of a small patch of fake grass with a red fire hydrant in the middle. This area is to be used for the sole purpose of therapy and service dogs (or those traveling with their dogs).
As the rise of these services increases I have become aware of organizations that visit the airports to help de-stress weary passengers. I do not travel that often myself that I have been fortunate enough to encounter any of these lovely creatures but I have seen reports of them on the TV and seen how happy they make these weary travelers. So along with that these animals need areas to relieve themselves and instead of the handlers having to go outside and find a patch of grass some amazing people thought ahead and place these “relieve” areas throughout the airport.
Great planning!

So the next time you are traveling and see a therapy dog take advantage and give them a hug. But don’t forget to thank their handlers!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Even Therapy Dogs Get Sick

I took Maggie to the vet this past week. She has been getting cysts on her back side and her legs. The cysts have been bothering her and I didn’t realize she has been gnawing at them. They ruptured and scabbed over. The vet diagnosed this as sebaceous cysts. Apparently these cysts are common in large dogs. Maggie is 73 lbs. to be exact (she was just weighed at the vet). The sebaceous gland contains sebum that lubricates the hair follicles, hair shaft and skin. Inflammation happens when cysts form a sac under the skin because the area gets clogged.
I’m sitting with the vet talking about Maggie and she said Maggie is close to being a geriatric dog. As tears spring to my eyes I say “no she is only 7 ½ years old “
The vet who is such a good doctor (and a lovely person) says once a dog hits the age of 8 they are classified as geriatric. I held back my tears as best as I could and looked at Maggie who was obviously quite uncomfortable. I asked what we can do to help my sweet and loving dog. She suggested a round of antibiotics to treat the infected cysts and if they should continue then we might want to test them to make sure they aren’t anything else.
I agreed and as I await the medicine I think back to the time Maggie joined our family. At 8 weeks she was a sweet and curious pup ready to explore the world. We brought the right gear to prepare our home so that Maggie would not injure herself. Who would know that 7 years later there would be so many hearts that Maggie would touch!
I refuse to think of Maggie as geriatric dog but rather this incident as a small bump in the road. This visit to the vet is the same as us visiting our doctors when we don’t feel well.
When the vet returned with the medication (enough for two weeks) she recommended a collar so Maggie would not gnaw the cysts or scabs. I figured we would stop at a pet store on our way home because Maggie loves to go shopping there, kinda like a kid in a candy store.
The vet looked me in the eye and said if Maggie did not appear like herself in a few days to call the office and make an appointment to bring her back. I felt sincerity while she was talking to me.

P.S. As I sit and write this blog Maggie is back to her (young) and usual self. After 2 days on the meds one afternoon she picked up her toy and brought it to me as if to say “Mom I’m all better how about a game of tug-a-war!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Maggie and I returned to PCOM this past week. Many of the 2nd year students recognized Maggie from our visit last year and the first year students were thrilled to meet her. Since it was such a warm day (the temperature gauge on my car read 64 degrees) we decided to meet outside. For February this was most unusual but such a treat! The students loved the chance to get some fresh air and Maggie and I enjoyed it as well.
Getting ready for finals is never easy and spending time with these hard working students was such a pleasure.
I did my best to avoid questions about their studies as I felt the best way for these students to decompress is to talk “dog.” Many of them chose to dive in and “attack” Maggie with lots of love-which Maggie just can’t seem to get enough of. When the students came up for air the questions start.
What kind of dog is she?     Goldendoodle
How old is she? 7
Does she shed? No
Is she your only dog? Yes
How often do you go out on therapy visits? Generally once a week but sometimes twice
How did you get into this type of work?  I was in the hospital myself and visited by a therapy dog and felt the positive benefits from it. I always promised myself that if I were ever in the position to give back I would.
When they finished asking me their questions I turned the tables and asked if they had dogs back home. A few answered yes and told me the breed and how old they were. One girl told me she had just lost her family dog to old age. I told her how sorry I was but she said she was really ok since her dog had led a good life.
 I notice in all the college visits there always seem to be one or two students that linger a bit longer than the rest. On this visit a young man hung around longer than most. He told me he is a first year student and he kept saying he wanted a dog of his own as he had grown up with dogs and missed them, He knew he could manage a dog for his first and second year of school but by the time his third year came and his rotations started he knew it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. I sat there and listened to him debate this I felt he didn’t need me to comment on his thoughts- he just needed someone to listen to him. He thanked me for bringing Maggie- a nice polite and sensible young man.
Some faculty members also came outside to visit Maggie. Always nice to see them take advantage of us being there. Maggie is happy to get love from them as well.
It was a great session and hopefully we helped destress everyone so they can focus on their exams in the coming weeks.

We look forward to going back next semester.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Pajama Day

I could feel the excitement in the air as soon as Maggie and I entered the Vanguard school in Malvern. I looked around and saw the kids in the pajamas, Teachers as well. Pajama day! If only I had known I would have worn my pajamas and dressed Maggie as well. Actually Maggie doesn’t own pajamas but I would have figured something special for her just so she would fit in!
How wonderful to feel a shift in the energy at the school. The kids were excited to see Maggie and of course Maggie was excited to see the kids. The kids got to wear their favorite pajamas and most of the teachers wore theirs as well. We saw pajamas with stars and princesses. We saw pajamas with dinosaurs and superheroes. We even saw pajamas in many colors of the rainbow. Some kids even chose to wear their slippers to accent their outfits (I’m sure they were instructed to put on their athletic shoes when they went outside to play).
Having a special day brings teachers and children to the same level. It’s another way to say we care about you and are there for you. Some of the teachers even took it another step and chose to have messy hair as if they had just gotten out of bed!
Most kids like a change from the normal schedule. Everyone we saw was in a good mood. No sad faces today, no comments like I don’t want to read to the dogs today. Today was a fun and exciting day. Maggie being a dog who is sensitive to people’s feelings and emotions knew something was different. She was not her usual sedate self. She wagged her tail more and she licked more faces. The librarian noticed a change in her as well.
“What a sensitive dog that Maggie is,” she commented
I smiled to myself and thought ---oh yes she is!

And a great session we had!

Monday, January 30, 2017


It’s not uncommon to see people milling around on wheelchairs at the VA hospital. It’s also not uncommon to see people with missing limbs. When I first started bringing Maggie to the VA hospital about 2 ½ years ago my head would turn every time someone with a missing limb passed me. Today I don’t even bat an eye. When I first enter the VA hospital Maggie and I visit the physical therapy room. The physical therapy room is well equipped with state of the art work out equipment, weights and mats. By looking at it one would think it is a regular gym at a facility anywhere. A big shout out to the people that work there who give it their all. Tuesday afternoons (the day Maggie and I visit) are always busy. I appreciate their ability to give personal attention to the residents and deal with our interruptions without missing a beat. Many of the residents enjoy our visit and like to engage in long ended conversations. I end up having to pull away with comments like “so sorry but I have to continue with my visit” or “so many people to see.” The best way to end our visit is to ask if anyone wants to give Maggie a treat. This is usually answered with a yes and Maggie ends up very happy. This past week after completing our visit in the physical therapy room, Maggie and I continued down the hall when a gentleman was rolling in a wheelchair towards us. On his lap was a shoe. As he came closer I asked if he wanted to pet Maggie. He said he did. “Where are you going with the shoe?” I asked. “My prosthetic leg is in, “he answered with a smile. “Oh so nice,” I replied. “Just the temporary one but still it will be good to get out of this chair, “he continued. Our conversation went on for a bit while Maggie enjoyed a little attention as well. I knew he was headed to the physical therapy room as that is where he will be fitted with his prosthetic leg. After some adjusting (of the leg) the team in the PT room will come up with a plan for him to do daily exercises to strengthen the muscles that he hasn’t used in quite some time. I know I will see him up and about really soon!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Therapy Starts at Home

I was wracking my brains trying to figure out a blog to write for this week’s installment. As I have been sick and unable to take Maggie on our usual therapy visits I had resigned myself to skip this week. But finally feeling a little better I took Maggie on a walk this morning and ended up at Starbucks. As we sat outside (me drinking my chai tea latte and Maggie drinking her water) Maggie got to watch everyone coming and going. A number of people approached us and asked permission to pet her. Well this made Maggie’s day! A conversation or two and then we set off for home. Some of my greatest thinking occurs on my walks with Maggie and it occurred to me while I was sick with the flu (and I got the flu shot I might add!) Maggie being a therapy dog, was actually giving me therapy. She stayed by my side without complaining. Actually I did enough complaining for both of us! For four days I would crawl out of bed to let Maggie outside to do her business and then let her back inside. We would then go back upstairs so I could lie in bed. Maggie either lied in bed with me, on the carpet next to my bed or in the bathroom (she likes the cool tile) that connects to my bedroom. When I would turn over she would poke her head up to see what I was doing but then she would lay her head right back down when she realized I wasn’t getting out of bed. Not once in four days did Maggie whine or bark at the change in our regular routine. On the fifth day when I had a little more energy and I managed to sit in the den, Maggie was thrilled! I could almost detect a smile on her face. At one point she brought me her favorite toy, a stuffed armadillo, and we had a nice game of tug-a-war! They say therapy starts in the home and Maggie has proven that concept. Thanks dear Maggie for keeping me company when I was at a low point and needing someone by side. Sorry for the cliché but a dog is truly man’s (woman’s ) best friend!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Agent Orange

Maggie and I met an interesting individual this past week. He was at the VA hospital so he could receive attention to help him manage his pain. When I popped my head in and asked if he wanted a visit from a therapy dog he answered that it was just what he needed! He mentioned that he was at the hospital last year but I do not recall meeting him. As he was petting Maggie he told me that his time spent in Vietnam led him to be come in contact with Agent Orange. Coming into contact with this chemical caused him much pain over the years and this led him to years of drinking, which damaged his liver. Eventually he was added to the transplant list to receive a new liver. No judgement here as to who gets to be put on the list-where you are on the list depending on your habits drinking vs not drinking after all this man served our country! This individual did eventually receive a new liver but while on the operating table coded and had to be brought back to life. His wife didn’t tell him this right away but when he found out he turned to religion. Why? Because he felt God kept him alive many times. We had a pretty good discussion about his experiences. He said he still did not know why God chose to save him while in Vietnam when his buddy to his left was killed his buddy to his right was killed and he was spared. Then again on the operating table his life was spared once again. I answered quickly and said your purpose on earth in not yet finished. He stopped petting Maggie turned to me with his deep blue eyes and nodded his head with an understanding. As I exited his room I turned one last time and saw him looking out the window. I had no idea what he was thinking but I do hope my visit with Maggie was beneficial and eventually his pain will subside.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Words of Encouragement

When Maggie and I enter a facility we never know what (or who) we will encounter. Over the last couple of weeks we met with a few individuals that were “down in the dumps”. One of our regulars “Dave” who is confined to a wheelchair would wait for us outside his room. Although he cannot move his arms or his hands we always make sure to stop by and engage him in conversation. Maggie sits by his side patiently listening to our conversation. This past week when I turned down the corridor and didn’t see “Dave” outside his room I became concerned. I poked my head in his room and noticed him in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin. I put a smile on my face and Maggie and I entered his room. He explained that he was under the weather. I asked him what he was under the weather with and he responded a cold. I know he isn’t telling me the whole story as a cold doesn’t put Dave in bed, but I don’t pry. I talk about his favorite topic-politics, hoping it will distract him for a few moments. At this point Maggie has made herself comfortable on the floor. As we finish our conversation and get ready to leave I wish him a speedy recovery. His comeback is “it is what it is” I smile as I direct Maggie out the door and wonder if he has any family members planning on visiting for the holidays. At another facility I encounter a woman calling me over. “I love dogs, I just love dogs,” she says “I rescued five greyhounds!” “ Wow,” I said “what were their names?” I ask “Can’t remember,” she says after a pause, “What’s your dog’s name?” she asks, “Maggie,” I reply, “Oh, that’s the name of my daughter in law…I don’t like her,” she continues. “Well if you prefer you can call her Margaret, she’ll respond to both.” I’ve seen this woman before but have not officially introduced myself to her. She proceeds to pull out pictures of her dogs, but ends up showing me pictures of her and her husband. So nice I respond. Well, it wasn’t such a good marriage she answers. I realize this woman must have had a lot of knocks in her life, but her dogs were a positive aspect for her. So I sit there with her and let her pet Maggie and listen to her complain in hopes it will make her feel better. “I just love dogs and if I wasn’t living here I would have two or five,” she adds “Well I’m happy to be able to bring Maggie here to visit with you.” I say We banter back and forth until she abruptly turns her wheelchair and exits the room. I’m sure I will see her again at a future visit and we’ll do this over again! I can’t help but think of these individuals over the holiday and wonder how they are fairing.