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Category Archives: therapy dogs

Tutelage in relaxation

Not pictured – the kid at the rear sorting Micron’s Tail of
Wondrous Beauty by shade of coat color.

Nothing too scary, ok? says Micron. I’m of a delicate nature. And not one about cats either. Those give me really weird nightmares. He shudders slightly.  Maybe a story about food?

I’ve got Star Wars: Bounty Hunters for Hire, says the young reader.

That’ll do, Micron agrees.

The big dog prepares himself for another evening of listening to stories at our local Brookville branch of the Dayton Metro Library.  The monthly Paws to Read event where Micron can [cough] work as a Therapy Dog. A reading tutor, of sorts.

As Micron rests with eyes closed, our young friend reads to Micron about Jango Fett and his cloned offspring. As each page is finished, the book is turned so Micron can see the pictures. Look, Micron, says our reader. And Micron does. He opens his eyes and lifts his head to get a clear look. He blinks, but doesn’t put his head down until the book is turned away. He does this every time.

The dog has a gift for this work.

A good group of kids this evening, we have six readers to share the dog with. All are at different reading levels, but Micron doesn’t notice this. He pays no mind when a word is sounded out by syllable or during the occasional pauses as the reader takes a moment for comprehension of the story. Micron doesn’t care a cat’s whisker about reading skills. His reasons for being here are as pure as only a dog’s can be.

He just wants to be near the kids. To be quietly among their presence and enjoy them.

Hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but . . .

Always a good idea to let everyone settle for a couple of minutes to get to know each other a little before getting things started. Micron is introduced to the readers with a short bio and his job description. Once again I find myself in that warm glow of being so proud of this fellow and his chosen vocation. This is absolutely where this dog should be, I know it and . . . Ack! Micron! Leave it!

Oh my. Love at first sight for my obviously myopic dog. Micron is entranced by a pair of furry boots. Well, only the left one, really. It must have more personality or something.

This calls for a dog cookie distraction . . . and he’s back. Alrighty, time to get things started here.

And so our young readers select an interesting looking book from the selection the children’s librarian has set out on display for them. They sit and crack open their chosen tome as Micron relaxes into his favorite story listening position. Which is pretty much just being prone. He says this is intended as a non-intimidating posture to relax the kids.  I say I wonder if I should hold a mirror up to his nose to see if he’s still breathing.

Just relax, my young reader friend.

Over the next hour we learn about interstellar bounty hunters, follow along with adventures of brave woodland critters, and laugh out loud at a funny story of a very silly squirrel. And Micron listens to every word.  His eyes are closed, but he’s not asleep.  He very much looks like he’s enjoying the experience.

You can tell here that he’s fully engaged. Because for one thing, he’s not snoring. A tell tale sign that he’s outa here, mentally speaking. And also because he has one paw firmly on the reader to keep going.  Tell me more.

That belly rub going on there is just a job perk.

Micron insists that this is indeed work. It must be, because he leaves totally exhausted and that’s what work does, right? Well, if you’re doing it right anyway.

It takes a lot to be this engaging, Food Lady. he tells me. I mean, I have to stay awake the whole time and stuff.  

Do what you love, they say, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

And you know what? If I ever doubted that before, I now know it to be true.

Our mighty Micron is proof. I can honestly say this dog has never worked a day in his life.

[gasp] Our children would be . . . Gorgeous!

Family therapy

So, asks Micron, when’s this new puppy thing getting here anyway?

Really, Micron? I’m so glad you’re showing interest now, I said. I thought you were rather lukewarm on this puppy situation. What changed your mind?

Seriously, says Micron  
When *is* that puppy gonna show up?

Because you’re obviously getting low on blog fodder. As I raise the camera again to focus, Micron knocks the Christmas head boppers off with a left paw and begins chewing on them. I’m tired of you telling me to [chomp chew] do something “interesting” so you can write about it. I’m not a trained seal, you know. To add emphasis to this point, he drops heavily to the ground making a flump sound.

Of course you’re not, I say. You’re a highly trained, um, family pet. Ok big guy, I admit I’ve been putting  a lot pressure on you over these past few weeks while we await Euka II in all her adorableness. . . .

I’m adorable, says Micron.

Right, I say. You are indeed my snickerdoodle.  All 85 pounds of you are nuthin but sugary sweetness. Ah, except when you get wet, then we’re dealing with more of a mushroom soup sensory experience.

Yep, I’m like a cinnamon and sugar-coated, wait . . . what? Mushroom soup? I do not smell like mushroom soup, says Micron. Well, maybe.  But that’s food so that’s good too, right?

Sure it is, my love. I say.  Look, let me give you a break this week. I’ve been talking with the family of one of your littermates, Madden. They tell me he’s now certified in Pet Therapy just like you are.  But with a different organization than Miami Valley Pet Therapy, since Madden lives on the East Coast.

I remember my brother Madden, says Micron. A squint as he tries to picture him.  He’s a great guy and all but he’s kinda, well, different.

I think the word you really mean is “unique”, I correct him. Until your M litter came around I never saw a brindled Lab/golden coat before. He is the most striking dog I think I’ve ever seen.

[cough] says Micron. A tiny jingle bell rolls from his mouth.

Oh! Ok, let me be specific here. I attempt to clarify. Madden is the most striking brindle-coated Lab/golden cross that I have ever seen. Obviously the good looks run with wild abandon throughout the M litter.

Well, says Micron, tossing his head, it’s not like we have a switch so we can just turn off The Handsome or something, you know. It’s on all the time. 

Oh, I know. I say, rolling my eyes at him. Anyway, here’s Madden’s story as shared by his family, David and Regina. It seems you two handsome boys have more in common that just being a couple of irresistible chick magnets. The waters run deep here.

I’m thirsty, says Micron.

[sigh] I say.

Madden, in all his gorgeous glory.  I see the family resemblance, says Micron.

Madden – from the most beautiful litter in CCI history. Some of us were lucky enough to raise one of these sweet M’s. We had high hopes for Madden before turning him back to CCI for advanced training. But Madden decided it was not the life for him, so he came back to join us as a pet.

But we sensed he really did want a job to do . . . just not be a service dog. So we joined Creature Comfort Pet Therapy which a fellow CCI puppy raiser Joan Baer created with Annie Murphy. Madden and I have been doing pet therapy and he just gets better and better each visit. Though not effusive, he just nestles into people and lets them know he is there for them.

He brings such joy. He has truly found his niche in life. Good boy Maddaroo.

-David & Regina

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.

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.

Licker license

Hi there, I’m Donna from pet therapy. Do you like dogs? (patting the bed to allow Micron to put his front paws up) Yeah? Well, this handsome fella is Micron, who . . . AUGH! Micron! Drop it!  

It’s Wednesday evening and Micron and I are at the Dayton VA Medical Center. We’re on a test run with our pet therapy classmates to observe how our dogs react to folk in a medical environment.
And I watch with horror as my goober dog goes snout deep into a size 11 shoe sitting on the bed (snuffle snuffle) only to then grab it with his pearly whites. Lookit y’all. I gotcher sneaker!  His tail wagging heartily the whole time.

Micron’s just hard-wired to be weird with sneakers

Oh, Micron.

Over the past few weeks of our pet therapy classes, we’ve been absorbing a lot of info. Stuff we need to know to be a certified Pet Therapy Team. Recognizing calming signals and stress in our dogs, as a for instance.  

On this week’s visit to the VA, this may be the first time our dogs will experience this particular package of sensory load that is the medical environment. Will any of the unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds and that slick vinyl flooring bring pause to our dogs in training?

I understand that my dog is my first priority.  We’ve been told this by the trainers and of course I have total buy in.  At the first sign of overload, I am prepared to make a graceful exit and remove my beloved Micron from the situation.

In hindsight, it’s too bad Micron wasn’t told the same thing. Hey Micron, what about signs of stress in me, dude?

Oh, he’s doing fine. Wheelchairs, moving beds, beeping noises go past his notice without a glancing thought.  All he wants is to greet people and be petted.  Right after he smells you real good, that is.

His new friend, Harley the chocolate lab, is in front of us greeting a fellow. Micron is nearly quivering with anticipation (my turn-my turn-my turn-my turn).  Ok, Micron, I say, Let’s go, giving him permission to approach for a greeting.  Good grief.  He’s all hey hey my name’s Micron I’m a dog are you a dog no well let me smell you first yep you’re a person i like your shoes can i lick your hand do you have something in your other hand no ok can i lick it anyway ooh you had meatloaf for dinner didn’t you I like chickens but the food lady doesn’t can I hold your sock in my mouth for a minute.  And so it goes.

Yeah, I say, my dog can’t hold his licker. Ha Ha. heh. Sorry, we’ll just move along now. And so I shorten the leash and take the chowder head to look for the next dog appreciator.

Speaking of calming signals

I gotta say, I was really hoping he would have done just a little better on this trip. Micron’s visited family at a couple of different assisted living centers and has always done us proud.  On those visits, he’s able to bring up some past service dog training to walk in a perfect heel along a wheelchair.  Calm and gentle, he’s been a welcome sight.

So what had him so wound up last Wednesday at the VA? You know what? It was all on me. Three days into the workweek, I hit a level of stress that would lead a lesser woman to drink straight from the bottle. Then just starting into my sixty mile drive to get to the VA, I was delayed in a traffic jam. It’s a mandatory class tonight, I lamented to Micron, we really gotta show up.  All the things I had planned to prepare for the evening’s class (brush the dog, read today’s comic page, eat something) was lost to time. Finally pulling into the parking lot, I was on edge. Jittery.

Sensing all this, but not with full understanding, Micron went on Yellow Alert.  Something’s going down at this new place, thinks he,  Oh hey look! My friends are here!  Hey, Harley! Sup, dawg?

And I can mark this point in time as when his brains cells went on a coffee break.  Back in fifteen!, say the neurons.  Nothing to do now, but break out a couple of dog cookies to get his focus back. I wave the biscuit goodness past his nostrils aaaaand He’s Back!  There you are,big guy, I say, getting some eye contact, I missed you.

We’ll get better at this pet therapy thing, you know. When I say We, I really mean Me. Micron is, well, Micron.  I know that and there’s nobody more familiar with his eccentricities than I.  It’s my job to anticipate his misbehavior to keep the dog slobber off people’s tennies.  So, I’ll get better at this thing.

Micron and Harley take a well earned break

We’re nearly finished with the classes now.  One more week, then [gulp] the Certification Test.  I’m actually looking forward to the test, because I’m sick that way. But I think we’ll do just fine.

And by We, I mean Micron. Micron will do fine. I’m off now to practice deep breathing.

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