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Category Archives: mvPTa

What’s black and yellow and furry all over?

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A group photo from last year’s CCI Summer Camp event.  Who’s that pup not in a Down?  Guess.

I’m reminded of Henry Ford’s quote about that hot car of the days of yore, the Model T.

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”


And how ’bout yellow, Mr. Ford?  I’m kinda liking the black and yellow choices of things. A glossy black coat is a thing of beauty, to be sure. But ah, the ever happy color that is yellow. So many shades to enjoy, from a light parchment to warm caramel. Sometimes with a hint of auburn in those deeper hues.

Right, I stopped talking about the Model T after that memorable quote and moved right into the topic of dogs.

It’s true we get a limited color choice with the Canine Companion for Independence pups. With our labs and goldens, and crosses of both breeds, the genetics don’t offer up much diversity in coat color. Instead we see personalities that are unique to each furry one of these canines. Taking a moment with the photo at top, you will see each black and yellow critter up there has their own look about them, as well.  The shape of the head and how it’s held. Ears up for attention or a relaxed flat to the head posture. A couple of the furries are completely focused and ready for the next command from their handler. Others are waiting for the most joyful of words, Release, so to continue their play session.

Body language is helpful in understanding personalities too, don’t you think?  Like guess who’s been told he’s the Golden Child around our house about one too many times?  That would be the little lord Yaxley who, at that moment, didn’t see the need to conform to the masses. In the little guy’s defense, he was a young fella when this photo was taken, just six months old for his first big outing.  Honestly, I was just happy he didn’t break his Stay while still in the afterglow of puppy playtime.

Preparing to line up for the Memorial Day parade.
That’s boxer Cheech behind Micron.

Now this pet therapy gig is a whole ‘nuther animal, so to speak.  Micron met his new therapy peeps during the Memorial Day parade celebrated at the Dayton VA Medical Center. We joined up with the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association to honor our local veterans and to give out some free doggie lovin’ along the parade route.

More than just black and yellow dog fur sticking to folk’s shirts here. Our pet therapy friends are as wonderful as they are diverse. 

Once you can move your eyes from Grace, the great dane,
enjoy the collie in a patriotic tutu.

Flash the goldendoodle is a popular pup in the
Northmont Library’s children’s reading program
Beamer proudly sports the nation’s colors.
The adorable Sophie has been blind since birth.
She brings smiles to folk at our local hospitals.

The morning was gorgeous, but to my dismay, turned out to be a steamy hot one. I completely misjudged how the mighty Micron would handle the heat of the day. [sigh] A lesson for me.  This dog o’mine spends most of his day relaxing in a climate controlled environment and I do believe I’ve turned him into a delicate orchid or something.  We stopped short of finishing the parade and relaxed with a bowl of water under a shade tree to enjoy the event as spectators. And thank you, thank you to a fellow handler for sharing your cold packs to give relief to my panting dog.

‘Scuse me, won’t you?  My limo is here.
It’s air conditioned, right?

Moving into some air conditioning seemed a logical next step, so we accepted an invitation to join a couple of other pet therapy teams to visit some of our country’s best in the VA assisted living center.

‘Scuse me, sir?. We ask a fella in the visiting area. I have a dog with me today who wants to say hi to you.  Do you like dogs?

The fella looks up from his lap, sees Micron standing there with his tongue hanging out the side. He says, Yeah, I do!, which is all the invitation Micron needs. He’s all over this guy, tail wagging and head resting on his lap.  As another therapy team approaches, we hear stories about times in the Navy and life during the months at sea. Memories of youthful adventures told with smiles and laughter.  And Micron is listening.

I think we’re off to a good start here, with this pet therapy gig.

Therapy work looks to be exciting

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Whaja mean I have a cliffhanger?

I mean it Micron, try not to embarrass me . . . EEP!  Micron spies his friend, Bubba’s Mom, from across the parking lot and rushes to greet her. I follow him, mostly because I’m still holding the leash. My goofy, silly, glorious dog never met a person he didn’t want to lick, but he does have his favorites. And Bubba’s Mom is right there at the top.

This is a evening of celebration for Micron and me as we prepare to graduate as a Therapy Dog Team with Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association.

Not only our friend, but Bubba’s Mom was also one of our instructors over the past ten weeks of training.  We cross the parking lot together to walk into the event with all the honor and dignity this occasion warrants.

Just kidding.  As the door is held open for us, Micron throws his furry body mass into the room and declares, All right, hoomans and dogs!  The party starts . . . NOW!

Yep, he’s excited to be here tonight.

You know what are the two most ineffective words in the English language are?

Calm down.

Think about that a sec when you’ve said that to someone in a tizzy fit. Or been the recipient of the ersatz advice. Has it ever worked?  Right, the answer is no.

And it didn’t work this time either. So as soon as I can stuff my hand in my pocket, I grab a dog biscuit and wave it in front of Micron’s nose like smelling salt.  Whew, he’s back.  Oh, Food Lady, he says, I didn’t know you were here.

We make it to our seat and Micron flings himself to the floor. Wow, he says suddenly I’m so exhausted. How ’bout you?  I begin to respond in kind, but goober dog sees another friend from class and here we go again.

In class, he was noted as “engaging.”  That’s such a nice word.  It’s so much more becoming of the big guy than when I use the term “the squirrel factor” for his love-of-life behavior.

We are recognized with nineteen other therapy teams. Many of our graduates were rescued from shelters. Even more amazing, one dog has risen above her humble beginnings as puppy abandoned on the side of the road in cardboard box. A couple of rather confident cats in the celebration as well.

Each pet’s brief bio was shared with all in attendance. Our task was to write a two to three sentence to describe our partner.  Was this a such a challenge for everyone else, I wonder.  How do I describe Micron in a mere three sentences?  A moment pondering, then came up with this.

The mighty Micron is a lab/golden cross; a lover of life and licker of people. Micron has been the go-to dog at P&G Pet Care for post-meeting de-stressing.  He’s completely jazzed to be graduating and is looking forward to expanding his client base outside of the office.

With the help of a semi-colon, we fit within the three sentence threshold. I would remain frustrated with so much more to say, but really, once we walked in the door it was pretty apparent who Micron is.

He’s engaging.

Oh, oops.  Covered up my photo badge. No matter, it looks just like me, ugh.

We send off our congratulations as well, to our classmates Harley, Kaylee, Suzy, Tully and their partners.  And a big Way-to-Go to new instructor, Janet, and evaluators Lisa and Angela.  Thanks for being there for us every week to help develop us into Therapy Teams.  And that Micron and I gave you some solid challenges to hone your skills upon. Well, you’re welcome.

What’s next, you ask.  Ah, that’s a good question.  We’ll be meeting with our esteemed mentor soon to find out.  New adventures coming up, the stuff of life.

Getting measured for his custom-made cape.

Um. That ain’t right, Micron.

Test anxiety bites

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Ah, Test Anxiety, my old college friend, I say.  There you are, big guy. I kinda was expecting you to show up. But really thought I’d run into you on drive over here.  (Or perhaps drive over you, says the inside voice.)

Yeah, I was running late, he says, slipping into the passenger seat. Sorry about that. I know how much that freaks you out.

Yep, you know me well, I say. Hey TA, it’s nothing personal, of course, but I’ve trying to avoid you.  How did you know where to find me this morning?

I’m a savvy fella, he says with a wink. But you told just about everybody and their second cousin at work. And posting it on Facebook kinda cinched it.

Gotcha. That makes sense, I sigh, making a mental note to unfriend this guy. Oh man! You didn’t tell the Jinx about this, did you?

Test Anxiety laughs, Of course I did, you silly, quivering thing. What’s an event like this without a little Jinx? And you’ll love this!  I called Lack O’Grace as well.  We’re like a team of super heroes, the lot of us.  Glory cannot be won without a challenge or two, my girl.  Without us at your side, life is just an easy A, now isn’t it?

Right, I can always count on you guys to tie my shoelaces together. I say. Hey TA buddy, I’ll just be a few minutes here.  How ’bout you sit back and relax in my comfy Toyota. The Car Talk guys should be on NPR now, so I’ll turn the radio on for . . .

Oh ho! Not a chance, chickie. TA declares in his booming voice. You’ll need me at your elbow the whole way.  And oh, I nearly forgot to remind you that you shouldn’t have tanked up on that last cup of coffee. Oops, you didn’t notice how much you needed to go until I said that, right? Ha, ha, you should see your face! You always make me laugh.

Micron is in the back seat observing this exchange and is left wondering why I’m talking to myself. People are weird, he thinks. But I like how their toes taste.  

You know, I’ve always wanted to believe I would do well on the trivia game shows.  My sad little noggin is filled with so much useless knowledge that trying to have a deep thought requires an air hammer to pound through that concrete layer of trivial nonsense.

My brain cells are kicking around chunky detritus like daddy-long-legs are not spiders and the brontosaurus was a case of mistaken identity. You’ve heard of a murder of crows? How about a conspiracy of ravens?  It’s said that Paul McCartney referred to his muse as Martha and named his dog after her. Which led to the song Martha, My Dear.  Oh, this can go on and on. I’m damaged goods, to be sure.

Right, but put me in the hot seat of a trivia contest and then ask my middle name. Cue up Mr. Test Anxiety. I would stammer until the buzzer sounded and then shout out in panic something random like, Abby Normal!  Which would be helpful for Young Frankenstein trivia. By the way, did you know Aeromsith’s song Walk this Way was inspired by a line in this classic movie? No? Well, then tell your brain cells to move over and make room for this factoid. It’ll likely stick with you for awhile.

So anyway here we are, Micron and me. Walking up the ramp into Gem City Dog Obedience like the pirate’s plank over the great murky depths. You’re going to do great, I say a little too shrilly. [ahem] You’ll be just fine, my handsome fella.

And we’re ready for our certification test to be a Pet Therapy Team. Over the past ten weeks, we’ve trained and practiced and desensitized ourselves to the kryponite of stuffed toys.  Nothing left to do but take a deep breath and . . . ack!  can’t breathe . . . can’t breathe.

Holy cow, I gotta relax. What is the matter with me anyway?  This is a cake walk. Micron’s got it down cold.  Oh great, now I want some cold cake. mmm Chocolate cake with fudgy frosting.  Oh hi there, Miss Stress Eating, you’re back already. I thought we took care of our business this morning?

Got me a job!

We follow the directions as given by the evaluators. We demonstrate the walk on lead, sit, stays, downs, handling and then other challenges unique to a successful pet therapy team. A couple of burps along the way mostly involving me holding the leash too tight (relax, chick. . . ) and then that one heart-stopping moment as Micron does what he does best. He does a Micron.

That dog never met a stuffed toy he didn’t like.

But a quick verbal correction by me and . . .  we’re done.

Talk about the hot seat.  I’m directed to a metal folding chair to await the verdict of the evaluators.  A delightful lady takes the seat next to me and strikes up a conversation.  Micron? That’s an unusual name, she says to me. How did he come by that?  Is this part of the test, I wonder? I feel panicky.  Is there a wrong answer?  Relax, chowderhead, and breathe.  She’s just being friendly. So we pass the time of day until the decision is announced.

Donna?  Congratulations, you two passed.

We did? We did!  whoooot!  Micron, my love! mmmwah!

Take that,  Mr. Test Anxiety. Go lumber back to your dark cavern in the back of my noggin. I don’t want to see you again until, well, never.  But just so you can mark your hellish calendar, take note that we’ll need to take the re-certification test in two years.

Micron and I will be graduating at the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association’s ceremony on Friday, May 18 at Delco Park in Kettering, OH.  Free and open to all.  Come celebrate with us if you can.

I hear there will be cake.

Yeller peeps

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Micron (on right) is totally owning the bunny ear look.
Yaxley? Eh, not so much maybe. That focused look is lasered
in on the dog biscuit in my non-camera hand.

He knows you’re showing these to his girlfriend when he grows up, says my niece. Called my house crying. Couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but I’m pretty sure he’s sick of it. “Bunny ears Ash. I did the Santa hat, but freaking bunny ears?!”

Oh sure, I took photos of the dogs wearing bunny ears. And then posted this gorgeous shot of my two yeller fellers on Facebook. Which prompted Ashley to come to their defense. I’m guessing she’s feeling protective of Yaxley’s tender psyche, as Micron is pretty much rocking the look, wouldn’t you say?

And, as I told Ash, just wait until you’re an empty nester.  It’s either dressing up dogs or a concrete goose on the front porch.


I’m ok with the occasional reference as the Dog Lady. But being the neighborhood’s Concrete Goose Lady implies a whole different category of crazy. So I’ve made my choice and stand by it.  Dogs it is.


As entertaining as this was to put together a photo shoot of dogs in bunny ears (aargh! quit knocking them off, darn it!), I had a solid reason for wanting to do this. No, really I did. And it involves training for the two yellows. 

Both Yaxley and Micron are training for different careers. Yaxley as an assistance dog for Canine Companions for Independence and Micron is going to school with Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association to be a member of a pet therapy team. I’m finding a few of the skills needed for both occupations are similar.


Consider this for a moment. You’re enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant. A lovely chicken picatta and maybe a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio. Deep in conversation with friends about the latest controversy in news, weather or gossip. Ah, nice, isn’t it?  Now what’s the last thing on your mind at the moment? Perhaps, oh I don’t know . . . the floor?

Can’t get the ears to stay on Jager’s
pointy noggin.
They’re resting on his withers.

You ever notice the carpets at restaurants?  Walk in with a CCI pup in training and you will, gare-un-teed.  As puppy raisers, we are training these fuzzies to ignore any delicious morsels they come across as they stroll to the table. Tough enough to be sure, but the real challenge is when the pup has settled at your feet. Do you know what’s been safely stored in that cave under the table? 

Well, El Dorado’s city of gold for dogs, that’s what. Blackbeard’s lost treasure chest. The family jewels. Oh wait, that doesn’t sound right, does it?  But do you see what I mean?  There’s some good stuff under there and it’s likely been fermenting for some time to ripen into an odoriferous temptation.


So instead of tucking into that hamburger with reckless abandon, we instead pay a lot of attention to the pup.  Ah! Don’t!, we say, until the message gets through. 


Because our goal is this . . .a person partnered with this pup will be able to enter their favorite restaurant with the confidence that they can simply enjoy their meal. Their canine companion is there for them, not the glimmering treasure in the dragon’s cave under the table.


Ok, now let’s think about the environment in a medical facility.  A pet therapy team is likely to come across a plethora of non-noshables as well.  Think beyond floors here.  What about open trash cans in patient rooms or personal items stored on easily reachable surfaces?

With the CCI pups, we use the commands No! or Don’t!  With the pet therapy training, I give the Leave it! command to Micron.  And yeah, I sometimes will confuse the commands in the heat of the moment, but the intonation has the same level of business-meaning.  Keep your pie-hole away from that, Buster Brown.

Yaxley doesn’t give me much reason to worry about this.  He’s a pro, turning instantly invisible once under a restaurant table. The feller just curls up and naps lightly with one ear cocked awaiting his next command. What a good dog this guy is.

But the mighty Micron, well, we’ve got some work ahead of us. That dreadful word, distractability, is our nemesis. Ooh, fuzzy thing!, says Micron, mmmph. I just want to roll this around in my mouth for a minute, ok? 
No, it’s not ok, I have to tell him. Give that kid his teddy bear back, will you?

With that, I’ll share with you my mastermind-inspired Grand Plan . . . I’m gonna desensitize this goober dog to fuzzy toys.

Here’s a stuffed toy impaled upon my cubicle in the office. Right there at Micron eye level and everything. The thing makes a eerie singing noise when the belly is pressed, which co-workers do. Press the belly, that is, not make eerie singing noises. A rather successful experiment, I think. I only had to remove it from a canine craw a couple of times over the week. Heck, if I tried this a month ago, it would have been eviscerated before lunchtime.

We’ll move onto another stuffed animal next week. Because it’s a good idea to keep it changing and well, because of the complaints by co-workers of the non-belly pressing type. When are you taking that creepy thing home?, they ask politely.

Ok, about the bunny ear photos.  If you notice the photo at top, there are yellow objects at Micron’s feet. Those are Peeps.  You know, those sugary treats that show up in Easter baskets every year even though nobody actually eats them?  Try and describe the taste, I dare you. I popped in one of the yellow harbingers of empty calories just to try to come up with a analogy of the flavor. And, people, this is what they taste like. Nothing. Not cardboard or styrofoam or food, but nothing.  Maybe the appeal is that gritty mouth feel. Peeps must have an excellent Marketing Team, I gotta say.

But anyway, I’m using them as Leave it temptations for the yellow dogs in training.

Ooh, another successful experiment.  But only because even dogs won’t eat these things.

Well, let’s step it up a little then.  On the dog paws with their sugary goodness.
 

Aw, come on. Give me something challenging here.
Or at least something edible.
Rocket shooters, peep style

Bumping it up one more notch, Yaxley displays a well-ignored dog biscuit on a paw. 

And there it is, good dogs understanding Leave it.  After this shot, I turned to see Jager sniffing around the open Peeps box and thought I might have a problem here.  But no, even potato chip, chocolate, cat poop eating Jager won’t touch ’em.

Maybe I could try the pink Peeps next time.

Addendum April 10:

Not that I’m still fixated on this Peeps thing, but I came across a Time.com article with some trivia on the sugary globules that’s worth sharing.

For example, I found this amazing:

It takes just six seconds to create the popular Marshmallow Peep. When it first debuted in 1953, it took 27 hours to hand-create each edible yellow chick. But now Peeps get cranked out of machines at 3,500 per minute and four million per day.

Now I don’t think the six second thing is so incredible. Rather I’m a little gobsmacked that this whole Peeps concept has survived for 59 years.  There’s some really good ideas that haven’t made it that far.

And then we have some Good Peep News and some Bad Peep News:

Peeps don’t have any fat, but watch out for the sugar rush. Each Peep packs in 32 calories and eight grams of sugar. While yellow remains the most popular of the best-selling, non-chocolate Easter treats (which now come in a variety of shapes and sizes), pink, lavender, blue and white have people popping Peeps too.

Well, the good news is the sand-textured treasures are fat-free.  The bad news is that now you’re going to have the phrase “people popping Peeps” stuck in your head for a little while.

The Micron Effect

Oh man, says a co-worker, I just finished an ugly phone conversation. Our Human Resources manager has come in late to our budget meeting in progress. Because of privacy laws and just plain moral fortitude, she really can’t share any more and is left with that nasty feeling that comes with internalizing stress. 

Yeah, I think, I’m familiar with that heavy, queasy in the mid-section, kind of sensation. You too? When you have that visceral need to unload some of this, well, crap that life has stuffed into you. Oh, ugh, was that more literal than figurative? Sorry about that. But you know, right? You just can’t share the burden that’s eating you. Or because of a sense of martyrdom cleverly disguised as pride, you won’t.

We get so busy in our own worries, focused on the things that are circling about our heads like a cloud of gnats. As human beans we miss a lot of cues from our friends and family. Those subtle markings that define stress in other folk. Unless someone tells us that the Suck Scale is tagging a high point that day, we may not see the extra quiet mood.  The person who’s not engaging in the conversation. The usual spring in the step is missing.  And if we do ask, are you ok?, we might get the succinct reply, yeah, I’m fine.
 

So as if a budget meeting isn’t enough giddy fun on a Monday morning,  my friend and co-worker walks into the room with a bit of fresh-from-the-phone emotional baggage.  A few minutes in, I do the obligatory peek under the table to make sure the mighty Micron has not broken his Down-Stay. In Micron’s world (picture everyone as a muppet who talks in sing-song) an implied down-stay is solid so long as his belly doesn’t leave the carpet. This reasoning, of course, allows a stealthy army crawl to a new destination.

And crawled he has, the big goober.  Right over to lay his head on my friend’s feet.  He passes by three pairs of stylin’ shoes to reach the person who needs his Micron-ness the most. And by her own admission, she’s not even a dog person.

Huh.

What does Micron know that we don’t? Without verbal cues, he seeks out a person who needs comfort. Is it an emotional aura, a particular scent we have when stressed?  A kind of sixth sense unique to dogs?

Sure, this story is anecdotal and could stand on its own as a happy Micron tale. But the dog has done this thing again and again. He seeks out the soul in the room that craves a calming influence. Since he was a cotton ball pup, he’s been the office go-to dog for reducing blood pressure.  Folk stop by my cube just to spend a Micron moment before continuing on with their workday.  Ah, a magical belly rub. Talk about a win-win.

That’s it, young people. Just relax now.

We do know that the fluffy, friendly -and highly distractable- mighty Micron is not made of service dog stuff.  Just not gonna be his destiny.  I’ve always said though, there’s just too much dog happening here for just our humble family.  I need to share this dog’s gifts. I must.

So here we go, I’ve signed the yellow goofball up for therapy dog classes. We’ve decided on Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association as our organization of choice. A volunteer run group of passionate folk who take this therapy stuff very serious. In many ways, I’m reminded of CCI in their very high standards.

See? Just looking at him makes you feel like a nap, doesn’t it.

Micron has an advantage as a past CCI puppy in all the socialization skills he’s got under his dog collar. No worries there.  What does have me concerned with the goober, however, is that incessant lust for life. So over these next ten weeks of training, we’re focusing on introducing him to the concept of self-control. Oh yeah, sez Micron, that again.

Oh, and that weird obsessive thing he has for stuffed toys. The retriever in him requires something soft and fluffy in his maw.  Small stuffed animals are this super dog’s kryptonite.  Chihuahuas in cute sweaters included (sorry about that one time, Ruby). We’re working on this too. Stuffed toys are not bad, per se and all. But you can’t be snatching the things from little kid’s hands, then stand there and wag your tail at them.  Not becoming of a therapy dog, you know.

So what is the difference between a Skilled Service Dog and a Therapy Dog involved in animal assisted therapy? A lot, actually. Maybe even more than most people realize. Just as a Guide Dog is a whole nuther animal than a Service Dog, so to speak.  Ah, but fodder for another post. Stay tuned, we’ll cover this as well.

I wish this was a chihuahua in a sweater, sez Mcron

How’s Micron gonna do with this Therapy Dog training, you ask? Not sure yet. It’s even possible he may not pass the final exam, that’s how tough the testing is. Just proof of the high standards of mvPTa, in my experienced opinion.  We’re told if we don’t pass the Therapy Team exam, it doesn’t mean we can’t do this thing. Instead it’s merely an indicator that we’re not quite ready yet. And we can train and try again.

I do believe that Micron brings happiness and a sense of peace to the world at large. No, not believe. I’ve seen the Micron phenomena with my own hazel eyes. The dog has a gift.

Now only if I didn’t have to finger sweep that little cat toy out of his maw at last week’s training class. [sigh]

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