I’ve been asked in the past about what makes a good therapy dog. The answer to that question is complicated. I think there are several types of dogs that can make a good therapy dog. You do have to spend time training your dog, as well. Even with raw potential, it needs some shaping. You can talk about things like having a calm demeanor, being well-mannered and a dog that’s friendly, and those are all important parts of the equation. There are other things that are harder to name, too.
This week, I was on my own for my visit because Mr. Taleteller and Küster were busy with their recertification and training. I toyed with the idea of taking Bunny and Flattery both, but I really wanted to go with just one of them. It’s a lot easier to maneuver that way and I can concentrate more on talking to the residents when I don’t have to keep my eye on two dogs at the same time. I won’t lie to you, if Bunny had insisted on going, I would have caved and taken her, but when I went to the back door, she was deep in her nap and Flattery quietly followed me, her tail wagging hopefully.
We slipped out the back door and Bunny was none the wiser. I was on my way to a guilt free outing with Flattery, which is always easier. When we visit the nursing home with my husband, he always takes Flattery because Bunny is not having any part of going with him over me. At times, we have switched off briefly and I know that Bunny and Flattery have very different, but equally successful, visiting styles. Bunny approaches calmly, but almost like a butterfly, her attention landing on you quietly and gracefully. Flattery is more of a “Hi, how are you, pleased to meet you!” kind of girl. Where Bunny can sometimes be selective about who she visits with, Flattery leaves no stone unturned in her quest for supplemental petting. She will walk up to anyone without fear or hesitation, which is usually good, but can also sometimes be a little funny.
About a year after I started working with Bunny, we had a visit that convinced me that she really was therapy dog material and not just going to be with me. A woman had fallen in a back hallway and no one else had found her yet. As a volunteer, I’m not a person who should be helping anyone get up, but I wasn’t so callous that I’d leave someone alone on the floor. She was struggling to get up and not knowing if she’d hurt herself during her fall, I wanted to convince her to wait for help to come. I sat down beside her to try to talk her into waiting calmly, but she wasn’t really listening to me. Bunny laid down beside her and the woman became distracted, talking to Bunny and petting her head. We weren’t there very long, but it made me believe that I’d chosen wisely with Bunny.
This week, Flattery had her own moment that made me a believer. She’s always been very social and outgoing and good with the residents. In the nursing home, she’s a model citizen, never offering a hint of the mischief she’s capable of at home. She’s a natural at meeting other people and I’ve never had to worry about her as a nursing home visitor. I just have never seen her have a specific moment that really stood out to me like I did this week.
As Flattery and I were making our rounds meeting and greeting the residents, a woman walked up to us. At first, I thought she worked there. She had on a shirt the same color that the management employees there wear and she had her hair done and her makeup on. Even the way she spoke made it tough to tell if she lived or worked there in the nursing home, and the way she approached me seemed rather official. Of course, you’ve guessed by now that the woman was a resident there and not a worker, and I figured it out on my own as well.
The woman walked up to us and then departed several times. That’s not unusual in the Alzheimer’s wing. The last time she walked up to me, she clearly had some very specific ideas about Flattery, and I wasn’t certain what they were because she wasn’t articulating them well, but she kept mentioning her and trying to get me to go somewhere. I wasn’t born yesterday and I was a little leery that we were about to be part of some escape attempt, but looking back, I think the woman either wanted Flattery to come back to her room for a longer visit or she wanted to give her something.
The woman was walking the way we were going initially, so I hoped that when it was time to part ways that I could discreetly slip away without to much fuss. As the woman walked along, Flattery fell right into step beside her, as if I weren’t behind her holding the leash. I had to chuckle to myself as the woman walked along, talking to my dog and very pleased that Flattery was walking along with her. Flattery never gave any hint that she wasn’t content to be walking down the hallway pretending to be this woman’s dog. We walked for a little bit before someone came along to steer the woman to her room and the distraction made her forget about Flattery.
It was the easy way Flattery just took the situation in and adapted to it that made me feel good about things. I don’t know if she’d ever lay down beside someone the way Bunny did, but she has her own skill set that she is clearly willing to use to make the world a better place. I was nervous at one point about switching over to Flattery as my visiting partner, but I realize now that I have nothing to worry about. She’s as much of a natural as Bunny is.