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Skipping a groove

Has this happened to you?

You have the daily grind of Life in a delicate balance with the whole working on your career while paying ample attention to the family thing, right? There’s a groove to be found with making sure everyone has clean-ish clothes to wear and that drive-through window sustenance is kept to a minimum. Worrying about the health and welfare of your adult kid is the norm because that’s just what parents do. You’ve remembered to make the house payment on time. The dogs are getting their two square meals. The puppy training is happening. And the daily commute has been carefully planned out to avoid the annual summertime orange barrel rodeo.

The weather has been simply gorgeous and you even make it to the occasional local farmer’s market. Fresh tomatoes and Ohio grown corn enhance the dinner hour.

Life is on cruise control and you’ve set it to a quasi-legal eight miles over the speed limit.

But the smallest nudge tips your world. In a week’s time, actually. A couple of bad days in the one hour commute to the office. Accelerated deadlines for stuff you’re still learning about at work. The cat’s throwing up something more orange than clear in a manner best described as projectile.

No, no we got this, you say. Just bumps in the road. Carry on, y’all.

Then more. The weird noise you hear a car making at the traffic light turns out to be actually your very own Toyota.

A friend tells you about the cancer diagnosis for their oh-too-young service dog.

Oh man. Really?

But you can’t flinch or you’ll risk losing this Jenga match.

One more thing, Life. You mean it. Just one more thing this week and I’m gonna explode and these carefully managed wooden blocks will be crashing down.

Is that an invitation? laughs Life. Or a challenge? It’s hard to tell with you. Because, either way I think it’s a good time time for you to change jobs. Oh, not so fast there, missy. Maybe. I’ll let you know what we decide on this one. Hang loose, ok? 


Sure, hanging loose is in your vocab. Always has been.

Oh, then merely a simple thing happens in a final attempt to unbalance you. A twenty four hour notice to move the office space you’ve been growing roots in for the last three years. While you’re still steaming towards that afore mentioned tight deadline.

And now it’s getting kissing cousin close to midnight and you need finish the slides for tomorrow’s presentation.

Normally, just another challenge to tackle. But now…

But now.

You survive it.

You do.

Because you have family and friends and co-workers.

And you feel pretty darn blessed.  It becomes clear that you have a boatload of folk to complain to because all you really need to do is kvetch for a while to make things better.

That and the services of a professional Therapy Dog. The mighty Micron is at hand to remind us to not take Life so serious. He presents himself as a fine example.

You called? Therapy Dog at your service.
I’m open twenty four hours. But not in a row.

Needin’ a little Pet Therapy

Heh, check out my Serious Face
on the poster. 

The Week from You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me closes with a morning spent among dog-loving young people to talk about Therapy Dogs.  Micron and I waited all week for this.

Just to be in the presence of kids who appreciate dogs for who they are brings one to a warm and fuzzy state of mind. If there is truly such a thing as positive energy, this is the place to soak up the goodness.

We offer up a little info on recognizing dog body language and add a quick review of foods toxic to dogs. We got both kid and dog safety covered.

Then I consider how to describe what it feels like to be visited by a Pet Therapy team. We set the scene for the kids.

Imagine being away from home and having to spend an overnight in the hospital. You miss your room and your own bed. But then Pet Therapy teams show up and there are friendly dogs, cats and the softest of bunnies to pet.

How would this feel, we ask. Good, they say. It would feel wonderful.

Like, I dunno, maybe like rainbows and unicorns, I ask.

Yeah, this is an actual animated slide I use in the presentation.  It’s a Mi-corn! yells one particularly clever little girl.

Micron wraps up the session by offering his therapy services to all who are willing to bend down and rub his belly.

I wondered if the timing would be too much on my favorite Therapy Dog, after all it’s not like he’s a working breed, but the next day we’re off to volunteer at a Meet & Greet booth for our therapy organization.

If we show up and Micron doesn’t want to work it, well we can all breathe easier knowing that he will indeed let me know. The dog is in no danger of becoming a wage slave.

But he’s working the crowds like a boss. He’s all about licking small children to identify the truest of dog lovers. How does a kid react when receiving a legendary Micron tongue bath? It’s like a Meyers-Briggs personality test for children. Who is a slobber accepting extrovert and who wipes their spit-tainted hands on their shorts?

Hi folks, I’m Micron.
I’m three quarters golden and
one quarter work ethic.

His fan club from the Paws to Read library program squeal when they see him. It’s Micron!, they cry.  A veteran stops by to thank our group for visiting him when he was in the hospital and shares how much it meant to him. Micron and his colleagues pass the afternoon educating folk in the ways of pet therapy.

A good day and wonderful way to end the week in a positive state of mind.

Pet Therapy is truly the stuff of wonder.

I may never learn my lesson about challenging Life. I’m not that kind of girl. Nobody knows, really, what will be next tossed at your feet, awesome or otherwise, anyway.

But my wish for you is that you also have friends, family, co-workers dog to see you through.

And a dog, of course. I wish everyone one awesome dog in their lives.

It just makes things better.

This calls for the Class A uniform

Come a little closer. I can’t lick you yet.

I reach for the light blue bandanna on the kitchen counter and turn to Micron.

Dress, I say to him.

My big yellow dog lowers his noggin and slips into the open loop. He looks up at me, expectant. The Tail of Wondrous Beauty is slowly wagging.

You know what, big guy? I say. I think tonight’s event calls for full Class A uniform. Let’s put your working cape on and get you all official looking.

Getting ready

Micron turns the dial on his tail from Slow to Oh Heck Yeah as I put the logo cape on him. He knows we have an adventure coming up. What is it? Micron has no idea, but from experience he’s pretty darn sure this is gonna be a good time.

Because he’s going to work.

Once attired in full gear, Micron runs to the Toyota and prances at the car door, looking back at me.

C’mon two-legger! Let’s go! he says. We’re burnin’ daylight here.

And so I secure the therapy dog in the back seat, turn the key, and we hit the road to meet us some Cub Scouts to talk about the jobs of working dogs.

I didn’t expect any real challenges for the evening. After all, Micron is a true professional, highly trained in the skills of pet therapy and the like. So with confidence and a loose leash, we strut our stuff into the entrance of our venue, an elementary school.

Ok, let’s pause here for just a moment. So who has now, or ever, born witness to the entrance of an elementary school at the end of a long, cold winter? Yeah? So you know what I mean when I mention the ubiquitous sight that heralds Spring along with the song of the red breasted robin, right?

You got it.

The post-winter elementary school Lost & Found table.

A pirate’s booty overflowing with mismatched mittens and gloves, sock monkey knit caps and, kinda surprising to me, a couple of winter coats.

And in an instant I go from the evening’s educator of young scouts to the chick who’s yelling at her dog to Drop It! as he surfs the lost and found table for something soft to carry in his mouth.

Yep, we’re here, y’all.  We can start the Pack Meeting now.

Micron models his Class B uniform

Two other pet therapy teams from Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association meet us there. It’s a yellow dog affair with another golden retriever team and a yellow Labrador. The three of us hooman volunteers tag team the Pet Therapy presentation, each sharing our own personal stories and experiences of visiting folk at hospitals, retirement homes, and Hospice. How it is that we merely hold the end of a leash as our dogs do the stuff of magic.

Our audience for the evening is first to fourth graders. Young boys, yet so very eager to learn about what these dogs can do. We field some great questions from the boys.

Where do the dogs visit?
Where do they live?
Can cats be therapy pets? What about fish? Goats? Snakes?
What would happen if you let go of the leash?

At our turn to talk about Micron’s work, we found a nice segue to cover his Change of Career from when he was training to be an assistance dog to his current work in pet therapy.

The mighty Micron, after presented with his favorite dog cookie, demonstrated a few of the thirty commands he learned while in training to be a service dog.

Hahaha, just kidding. I got him to Speak. We tried the Leave It command, always a crowd pleaser, by setting a dog cookie on each front paw.

As a puppy, I say. We taught Micron not to eat …

Peals of laughter as my dog calmly leans forward and flicks a cookie into his mouth with a lizard tongue effect.

Try putting them on his back paws, some youngster heckles from the back. Yeah, so anyway the dog knows Speak.

Full Class A uniform. Micron is brushed and cleaned to a spit shine.
Ok, no spit. But I did trim his toenails.

Embarrased, but not defeated, I plow on to explain the differences between assistance dogs and pet therapy. Mindful of our young audience, I pop out some basics.

  • A Service Dog is trained to help a person with a disability. 
  • A Pet Therapy dog is trained to help everyone feel happier.

  • A Service Dog goes wherever their person wants or needs to go – restaurants, shopping, museums.
  • A Pet Therapy dog only goes where they are invited – hospitals, retirement homes, libraries.

  • A Service Dog is trained to help a person do things that may be difficult for them to do – retrieve dropped items, turn on light switches.
  • A Pet Therapy Dog is a dog that loves being around people and has good manners. They make everyone happier.

I share a story with the Cubs. This is a true tale that was told to me when we started puppy raising for Canine Companions for Independence.

Ok, Cub Scouts, listen up. I have an awesome story for you about how important a service dog can be to someone. There’s this fellow who has a disability that limits his movements. He isn’t able to walk and so he uses a wheelchair. But he can still go places on his own, because he has a van with hand controls he uses to drive, instead of brake and gas pedals. On his keyring he can press a button that opens the side door of the van and lowers a ramp. Easy ’nuff, right?  He rolls his power wheelchair up the ramp and to the front of the van to drive. He’s good to go anywhere he wants to drive.
Except this one time when he’s leaving a shopping mall. It’s raining really hard and he hurries to get to his van in the parking lot. But when he pulls his keyring out of his pocket, everything is wet and he drops it.
Because the man can’t reach the keys from his wheelchair, he has to wait for someone to come by and see him. He has to wait in the rain for another person to pick up his keys for him. Young people, this is a guy who can go wherever he wants. He has a disability, but feels good about taking care of himself. And when this happened, it made him feel pretty bad.
He decided on that day he would get a service dog. And now his dog is with him all the time. The service dog can pick up anything and give it to his person. And be a friend that is always there. 

Can Micron pick something up and give it back to you, asks a young Cub. Yeah, says another. We want to see Micron do that!

Micron? Seriously? The same dog that just ate a verboten dog cookie from his paw in front of everyone? I’m afraid I’ve set the bar a little high here.  No, I say. No, Micron is a pet therapy dog now.  He isn’t trained to retrieve things.  Hey, but who wants to hear him Speak again?

And with that, the Cubmaster splits the boys into three groups, one to visit each therapy dog. This is where Micron shines. The reason he slips so eagerly into his neckerchief and cape.

The dog is on his back with soft belly exposed. I tell the boys that he like a gentle scritching on his underside. Rubbing the ridge between his eyes is a favorite, too. For those up to the task, a hearty scratch of his rump is always appreciated by the big guy.

And they comply. Oh so willingly.

Enuf with all the talking and lectures, y’all. There are no stories for this kind of therapy. Imagine being surrounded by a score of young boys that are happy and cooperative? No follow-the-leader into group misbehavior that I saw too often in my own Den Leader days. Not one bit of  negativity in our aura bubble.

Absolute positive energy. If only we were able to bottle such stuff to save when needed later.

All because of the presence of therapy pets in the room.

Now I just need to get Micron back to the car without scoring a mitten in the foyer.
____________
Spoiler alert: Mitten removal from a dog maw was at risk, but disaster averted. But really, winter coats, Moms? I get the lost mitten thing, but wouldn’t you notice your kid lost his coat?

Wordless Wednesday: A Private Reading

How many dogs does it take to get through a story book?

You know, we pet therapy folk didn’t mind staying a few minutes past our allotted hour at the library. How could we leave when our young reader wanted to finish just one more book?  You have to admire her passion. Well, I sure do.

So after the other readers left, our four Paws to Read canine volunteers teamed up for a special private reading. We should all be so blessed, right?

From Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association we have the dedicated canine volunteers (at top) Char and the mighty Micron.  Also joining us from CCI are puppies-in-training Euka and Emma.

Time flies at the library

Read to me about the golden retrievers, says Micron.

Fly Guy vs. the Flyswatter? Really?, I say. I’m thinking this next question is going to be kinda sensitive, but yeah, here goes.

Um, does Fly Guy win? I ask.

Yeah, says our young reader, totally throwing the spoiler right out there. She turns another page in her book like this was nothing. Well, sure I asked for it, I guess.  The spoiler that is.

So, I say. Because I need to know more about this Fly Guy person. Is that a good thing then?  I mean, having flies in the house that talk to people is ok?

She doesn’t look up; just turns yet another page and shifts her book to show Micron a picture. I don’t know, she says.

Ugh, this is vexing.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve immersed myself into children’s literature, but really.  We want the flies to win now? Growing up on the farm as kids, we actually held time trials on who could swat the most of these pestilent creatures before we sat down to dinner.  If one was still able to buzz after a swat, those were only granted a half point. You know, the same basic rules that most families use.

Not sure how to get my head around this Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold about a boy named Buzz and his big eyed pet. With titles like There’s a Fly Guy in my Soup and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy, my gray matter is dredging up some not so happy childhood memories.  But I don’t want to get all judgey until I have a chance to read about this thing.  Trying to keep an open mind here.

It’s a popular series with the kids, I find. And in spite of the subject matter, the books are clever and funny with a format intended as a smooth transition to chapter books.  Honestly, so long as kids are inspired to pick up a book to read for fun, I’ll support just about any topic in children’s literature.

Except maybe spiders. No, definitely eight legged freaky things are out. Everyone has their limits and I have to put my foot down on spiders. Real hard, too. Until you hear the harmonic symphony of the squish and muffled shriek.  Nasty little buggers.

Naw, I’m good. If they scootch over, we got room
for a couple more, I think.

Micron and his canine peers with Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association have finished their work with the summer Paws to Read program at our local branch of the Dayton Metro Library. For the last eight weeks, these awesome dogs have listened to stories about everything from talking aardvarks to the history of fire trucks. Some weeks we enjoyed as many as forty kids wanting to read to the dogs and it wasn’t unusual to see Micron resting with his eyes closed as he took in  each story as shared by the five kids sitting around him.*  And it was the same for the other Paws to Read dogs, too.  Good thing these are canines highly trained to listen well.



Sure, that’s an adorable golden puppy, says Micron. But I’ve
seen cuter, right Food Lady?  [wink wink]

Although, I gotta say that Micron and his friends seem to be just plain naturals with their mad skills of engaging young readers. This lot acted like they were born to do this very thing.  Fulfilling destinies here on the library carpet.

Because if there’s one single thing that Micron is proficient at, it would be tamping down carpet fibers for long periods of time.  If the dog is in the room, rest assured the flooring is not going to go awry on his watch.

The Paws to Read library program is intended to encourage young readers to enjoy a good book among friendly canines.  Unlike those of us who are rather judgmental about talking flies, these dogs really don’t have any concerns over plot lines or even individual reading styles of the narrators. It’s a comfortable, welcoming environment with all the happy hormones that pet therapy dogs bring with them when they enter a room.

Paws to Read, not paws that read — just to be clear on this.
We did take a moment of wonderment about the size of
Micron’s huge feet.  

We stop here to make this all about me for a minute.  I have to tell you that there’s some sort of nirvanical** feeling that goes with being in the same space as dogs and children reading on purpose because they want to. Just some things that make me very happy with the world at large. 

It gives me some hope for the future, it does. Well done, you parents of dog-loving children. You are awesome.

Fergo is retirement age, but he refuses to slow down. Not when
the kids still need him, he says.



No, no, keep reading. I’m listening, says Char. 
Just resting my eyes for a  . . zzz
 
 
Beamer says he’s actually a fan of Fly Guy, thank you very much.  He can
listen to his insect misadventures all day.
 

________________________________________

*Hey, I learned something new in all this reading stuff.  We are no longer to refer to sitting on the floor with legs crossed as sitting Indian style. No, now it’s criss-cross applesauce.  Huh, who knew?

**Right, I made that word up. So, it’s not misspelled, thank you anyway, Spell Checker program.  It fits nicely though, right? I honestly can’t come up with a better word to use there.

Micron shares his Therapy Dog Top 5 List

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This month Micron and I will celebrate our first year anniversary of graduating Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association as an animal assisted Therapy Dog Team.

So using photos from a recent Healthy Kids Fair event, Micron and I are here to wax all philosophical on y’all about this past year’s volunteer gig in pet therapy.

Our top five things we love about pet therapy



Hey, Food Lady! Let’s do the Cartoon Dog trick again! 
You hold the leash real tight and I’ll do that
scrambly running thing.

1. Experiencing exotic locales in the nether regions

Micron demonstrates his comfort level on placing his nethers on different surfaces. He gives absolutely no mind to slick floors nor pokey mulch.  In our travels we find retirement facilities have smooth flooring that’s a little slippery for dog paws, but libraries are usually carpeted.  And the floors of elevators are pretty much random; you never know until the doors open.

I love that Micron is so well socialized and flexible about whatever may be down there supporting his weight under those baseball mitt paws that he walks into any venue with confidence. Because a worried dog is not a happy dog. 

Yeah, I had to do a finger sweep to get the
mulch out of his mouth for this shot.

And an unhappy dog isn’t going to be much help in the therapy dog world.

We have more important things to focus on during our travels.  We don’t want anything to dampen down that ridiculously sunny personality of his.

2. We meet the most interesting folk

You don’t have to be the subject of some Oscar winning biopic movie to be an amazing person, you know.  Each of us get up each day to continue writing those chapters in our life stories, right?

Hey, if there was a movie about your life who would you want to star in it? Besides yourself, that is. Micron says he wants that dude that plays Kirk in the new Star Trek movie play him. Or Jim Gaffigan.  Either one will work.

 
When we visit patients of Hospice of Dayton, Micron and I have listened while being told a life story that is, truth be told, holds my attention more than any old movie or book could. 
Hey, Blinkin! 
Did you say Abe Lincoln?*
We hear of local history made personal, family lost and found then sometimes lost again, ways to process regret and what a successful life means to an individual. And about their beloved pets from over the years. Micron’s presence brings back warm memories of that always extraordinary bond between pet and person. And those times after we have said our last good-bye to our person, their stories remain with us. We’ll carry those experiences and lessons until our own book is closed.
 
And you know what? My own life is richer because of these other folk. Truly.

3. The treats are pretty awesome, too

 
Cordell and Micron politely await some popcorn.

In the mighty Micron’s early training as a CCI puppy we thought that maybe, if he really applied himself, he might end up a service dog.  So we never offered him people food. Ever. He learned to not eat anything that fell on the floor or to be all obnoxious about asking for a dog cookie.

Well, all bets are off, Micron says now.  He’s a pet and he can sleep on the sofa any darn time he feels like it, he lets us know.  So sure, we’ve relaxed some standards. For the sofa naps, anyway.

But still, for a dog as food motivated as this big guy, I insist on maintaining the no-eating-off-the-floor and polite manners stuff.  When a fellow mvPTa friend at our info table asks if Micron can have some popcorn from her bag, I did allow it though.  The other therapy dogs working the booth were being treated from the same paper bag, so it looked as much like a dog cookie reward than people food, I thought.

In hindsight, this was a duh moment for me. There sure were a lot of kids coming by the info table that morning with bags of those salty little dog treats.  A sticky sucker clutched in a toddler’s grip was still a no-no in his canine brain. But thanks for holding that treat bag so near my tongue, kid, said Micron. Ah, but disasters were efficiently averted thanks to my hyper-vigilance. Mostly.

And the popcorn was free anyway, so there’s that.



4. Little kids are sweet things

Little boys smell like french fries with ketchup, says Micron. And little girls? They smell like cotton candy and cherry suckers.

He would know.  When he’s not snarfing popcorn from a youngster’s paper bag, he’s licking the kid’s hands. Or face. Or good grief, now that it’s sandal weather it’s the toes.

Micron is so good with kids though. He plops his self down to their level and soaks up the attention. Here’s my head, kid, says Micron. Have at it.

On a separate topic, I’m considering replacing the carpet in my house with gymnasium flooring to match the dog. 

At 14, Shelby finds herself like some of us do. It’s easier,
to get down, than back up.  So, she’ll  be glad to greet you on
all fours. Thanks for understanding, young person.

5. The free belly rubs

Micron doesn’t charge a dime for these.

So you can just do this all day long, he says. Please. Feel free to continue. It’s my pleasure.

I’d like to bring you attention to that yellow sucker poised all tempting-like in that young person’s hand. Being totally ignored by the mighty Micron, you will note.

Belly rubs trump candy on a stick, according to this canine’s value sytem.

At least this kid didn’t have popcorn

________________________________________
* Yep, another obscure movie reference.  Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).  It’s a comedy classic, people. I make no apologies. Now if I can just get a Young Frankenstein quote in here somewhere.

Wordless Wednesday: Micron’s golden essence

What a sugar cookie, this charming dog of mine. Micron does his stuff at a meet & greet booth for the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association. It was a beautiful weekend to work the crowds for our neighborhood’s annual Fine Arts Festival.

Fine Art, indeed.  The dog has a gift.

It’s my pleasure

Hey, Dad? Here, let me have your hand.

With fingers outstretched, a hand is placed atop the dog’s warm and softy furred head.

A smile.

He looks just like Goldie, Dad.

A nod. The smile broadens.

The hand is making smooth stroking motions, fingers feeling the long hair on the dog’s ears . . .

And then Micron starts up a vigorous slurping party with his tongue on the guy’s hand and the moment is gone.

Oh! This dog and his tongue, I say, fishing into my bag for the hand sanitizer. Ugh, I’m so sorry. Here I have some. . .

No, it’s ok, says the son. Goldie used to do the same thing. Dad would let her do that after he came home from work. It was how he relaxed.  See? Look at his face.

I do. His head is held high, the unseeing eyes focused on nothing, but his mind’s eye is bringing back memories of his Goldie for him.  This is a man who has known the love of a golden retriever.

And in this frozen little niblet of time, he is happy. 

Thank you, says the son.

It’s my pleasure, I say.

Because it’s true.

And so goes our mvPTa volunteer work as a pet therapy team at Hospice of Dayton. We still have oh-so-much to learn at this gig, but our mistakes so far have been blessedly few.

I’ve learned that just because a family wants desperately for your team to visit, the patient may not always agree. Some may even have a fear of dogs that we need to be in tune to.

Micron’s learning that some other therapy dogs actually have a need for a little personal space and don’t want his tongue up their left nostril right now, thank you very much.

And we’re both learning those things that you just can’t get in a training session.  The truths that can only be reached by the experience of it all.

Every room we enter has a person with a life story. We don’t know any of the chapters they’ve written, but we do know that if we make it into their story it will not be anything more than a few words surrounded by parentheses (we saw a dog today).  But that’s ok, really. We’re not after any big picture stuff here.

All we have to offer is a moment of peace of mind or to be able to open up a happy memory that’s been put away in deep storage. To bring a distraction to the heavy thoughts of the day.

That we can do, Micron and I. 

Good Dog, Mikey, I say.

Micron looks at me and wags his tail.  It’s my pleasure, he says.

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