It’s Own Reward

by Houndstooth on

When we adopted our first two Greyhounds, Treat and Hawk, we were thrilled to  take them with us to PetSmart and Petco, but we didn’t know of a lot of other things locally that we could do with them.  As I began to make more connections with dog people, I started hearing about therapy dogs and what they do.  It seemed to me that Treat was a natural, so I began looking into ways that we could start to do some kind of therapy work.  We took basic obedience as a way to get started.

Treat ReadsA friend of ours told us that she did nursing home visits in a nearby city with a group called Paw to Paw.  She invited us to come along and see how we liked it, and I eagerly accepted.  And it wasn’t a surprise at all that Treat was a natural.  After almost a year of doing nursing home visits, she and I went and took our TDI test and passed with flying colors.  Not long after that, we became a certified R.E.A.D. team.

I look back and realize that volunteering as part of a therapy dog team was gift that I gave to myself.  I gained so much confidence, and it’s nice to have an experience a few times a month that takes you out of our own troubles and lets you bring smiles to other people.  It was also a grounding experience for me.  We’re all going to be old one day, and the alternative to that isn’t pleasant.

After Treat died, I realized that I didn’t want to stop doing those things.  Our partnership was so close, that I felt like my arm had been amputated.  We had truly become extensions of each other.  I know that parts of me died when she did.  However, after the intense grief of her passing began to wane, I began to think.  I decided to look for a new therapy partner.

As we went back to the kennel, I had a good idea about what I was looking for.  I needed a dog who was calm, outgoing and trainable.  Most importantly, I needed a dog who was really drawn to me.  I’ve told the story about meeting Bunny several times here on the blog.  She walked in so calmly and leaned against me, with those amber eyes holding mine with a steady gaze.

The truth of the matter is that  Bunny’s first therapy work was healing my heart from the loss of Treat.  It took a little while before we were ready to start doing nursing home visits, for various reasons, but after that first summer, we started visiting again.  It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  Bunny wasn’t perfect, but Treat was in my mind.  Starting over was tough.  It was hard to remember that Treat hadn’t been perfect when we started, either.

Now, I look back and realize that Bunny has been doing nursing home visits for several years.  She handles it like a pro.  She has her Canine Good Citizen certification and our home owner’s insurance would cover any incidents that happen.  But I’m realizing that we need to make our “in the future” goal more present.  I really want to decide on an organization to test with and find someone who can administer the test in the near future.  I have had experience with TDI before, and I liked Delta Society, but I’m not crazy about their rules about raw feeding — not because we feed raw, but because I don’t think an organization should dictate to people who are volunteers how they feed their dogs.  I’d be really interested to hear from others who are certified with a group what you like and don’t like about them.

Hands On BunnySince I’m sharing some things about therapy dogs today, I thought I’d also mention that Cesar Canine Cuisine is having a really cool initiative to celebrate therapy dog teams.  If you have a therapy dog and some good stories about your work, drop in and share your story.  They will be posting links to the stories people share on their Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Cesar is committed to sharing $100,000 with three therapy dog groups in 2012; Intermountain Therapy Animal’s R.E.A.D. division, The Good Dog Foundation and The American Humane Association’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program.  Hilary Duff will be their campaign ambassador, as well.  They have a lot of reasons for doing this.

• CESAR® Canine Cuisine believes that a relationship with a dog can truly improve every life, including people in need. Dogs are capable of lowering stress, anxiety and even blood pressure. We support the work of therapy dogs because we know that they have the power to truly transform lives.
• CESAR® created the Share a Story and Share the Love initiative, a social media campaign to help support and spotlight therapy dog organizations, to ensure people in need continue to receive the powerful benefits of a dog’s unconditional love.
• The Share a Story and Share the Love campaign encourages dog lovers to share the heartwarming stories of therapy dogs through their social media communities such as Facebook and Twitter.  In return, CESAR will share the love with three therapy dog organizations through donations that help continue the services they provide to people in need. Together, we can raise awareness for therapy dogs and the benefits they bring to people in need.
• It’s easy to get involved in the Share a Story and Share the Love campaign. Visit cesar.com/therapydogs to see the real-life stories of therapy dogs spreading their love and simply share those stories with others through your social media communities like Facebook and Twitter. With your help, CESAR can continue to donate to therapy dog organizations across the country.
I wanted to share this because I know there are a lot of people out there with great stories about their own therapy dogs, and because I’ve seen the magic they can work for people.  To see a company support them this way really warms my heart.  Hopefully, a lot of other people will be able to smile a little more after a visit from a therapy dog, too.
Pet Blogger Hop BadgeWe’re participating in this Saturday’s Pet Blog Hop, hosting by Life With DogsTwo Little Cavaliers and Confessions of the Plume.  If you’d like to participate, please follow the rules and follow your three hosts, add your blog to the Linky and copy and paste the html code into your html editor.  Thanks again to our hosts for putting on the hop!

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  • I don’t have any experience in this area, but I know Bunny would be perfect. She’s all grown up and such a poised young lady.

  • I can understand the orgs being shy of raw feeding, especially if the dogs are going to be visiting people who are ill or immune compromised. While people can scrub hands after preparing raw meats, trying to get fur clean is probably much harder. I know Bunny will be the perfect lady no matter where you go!

  • So glad to hear that your work with Bunny (and previously, Treat) in the nursing homes makes you want to take the next step. I can’t wait to hear what you two have in store.

    So often discussions about therapy dogs revolve around the dogs. I’m curious about how this work affects the human partner. Do you think you’d be willing to write about this in the future? How do you feel visiting in the nursing home?

    Honey is not ready to be a therapy dog. But I think she’d do far better with it than I would. If we were ever going to do such a thing together, I don’t see me doing well in a hospital or nursing home setting. I have, however, considered volunteering at the local juvenile facility. It’s a population I feel much more comfortable with. Strange, huh?

  • Sam

    We have just gotten Sam certified with TDI… I know there is a lot of folks that either like TDI or Delta. We took the TDI test because it was presented through our Good Dog Agility Group and I decided it was a good place to start. We shall see. 😀

    Sam

  • After the wife got a new job, and gone 12 hours a day, Stanley and Jaime have not been on a therapy dog outing. Hopefully after we move closer to her work in a month, we can start back up. Stanley was great at it, and Jaime was just coming into her own.

  • Years ago, a social worker friend, asked if she might take our mini-schnauzer on a nursing home visit. The dog would come to work with me, Em would pick her up and take her on her rounds. She began to know what day it was and was highly excited when it dawned. I have a picture of Em, Bitsy and an older lady in bed, with Bits snuggled up with her and the biggest smile in the world on this woman’s face! So I know what a blessing you are to those who are in nursing homes. Can you imagine a life without a dog? I can’t.

    Cheers,
    Jo, Stella and Zkhat
    letoile@arvig.net

  • sara, oreo and chewy

    Therapy dogs are very special dogs. Someday, I hope to have a dog who would embrace that role. It’s beautiful work.

  • angus

    What a wonderful post.

  • Cali is a Delta Society dog. I have been happy with them, but I have had the issue here of finding someone to certify us. The only reason we went with them originally was b/c the hospital where we would go requires Delta or TDI. But you have to re-certify every 2 years. The person who has done it the past two times, has retired. i think I am going to ‘retire’ Cali as well. But if I ever do it again, I may go with a more convenient group.

    I, too, have gained so much from her doing this. And she has become my right arm through the process too.

  • What a wonderful post! I love the way you describe yourself as Bunny’s first therapy work. 🙂