Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Therapy Dog Visit - Wordy Wednesday


Today Toby and I made our first visit to the local hospital as a therapy dog team! I have a "worrywart" personality and today was no exception as I felt my anxiety level rising through the morning. It didn't help me that the pouring rain prevented Toby from getting his usual energy-draining morning walk. I bustled around, ironing his TDI bandana, completing the paperwork for the visit, packing a little oops bag of wipes, and trying not to make Toby anxious too.

Finally it was time to tie on the bandana and leash and go to the car. Toby was happy and surprised to be leaving the house since it was raining. I think he remembered visiting the hospital a few weeks ago, because his tail was wagging and he whined with excitement as we entered the parking lot.

We made our way to the volunteer office to sign in and meet Sharon and Lobo, the experienced team we were partnered with today. Toby was pulling on the leash, a bad sign that upped my tension level. Lobo, a gorgeous fluffy Keeshond, and Toby took to one another instantly and were very good together. Sharon is a bit older than me and has been visiting with her two therapy dogs for over four years. She is calm and relaxed which was helpful for me.

After a chat in the office we began to slowly wend our way through the hospital. We stopped by waiting areas and lounges, the physical therapy department, through the halls and elevator, and finishing with the second floor. Whenever anyone showed interest we stopped to let people interact with the dogs... and us. To my surprise a lot of people began with the dogs but soon were talking to Sharon and me. One gentleman took out a pen and asked for the names of trainers who could help him get his dog certified with TDI. A lot of people were eager to talk about their pets, including cats. In fact several people asked if cats were allowed to visit the hospital too.

Toby was very good most of the time, though I wished he took less interest in sniffing every square inch of the hospital. I did explain that he's a sniffer and of course Sharon and I told people he was a newbie, in fact it was his very first day. It was cool that people were so pleased and surprised to see dogs. The staff expects them of course and have treats on hand...Lobo clearly expected the little rewards. And what could be more pleasant than strangers saying over and over how cute your dog is?

Two incidents stand out for me. The first was when we entered a crowded surgical waiting area. Sharon took the lead in announcing that we were there with our therapy dogs if anyone would like a visit (she did this when we entered any public space). Strangely, people shrank back, shook their heads, frowned; one man even said "NO!" angrily. Well obviously we moved on. Sharon said, "That was weird..." so I know that wasn't something that happened often.

I should say right here that everyone has a perfect right to refuse a pet therapy visit and we understand that some people are allergic, some are afraid, or some folks simply don't feel like it right then. What made this situation odd was the unanimous reaction among so many people, almost like a bad vibe in the atmosphere.

The other scene that struck me was the last room we visited. This was a very frail, lovely elderly lady. Though in her 90's she had all of her intellect and was eager to pet the dogs. She petted Lobo's head for several minutes but soon tired because she had a hard time reaching him. Then it was Toby's turn, and I pulled a chair up and indicated he should get up on it. This made it easier for her to reach him, plus she could see his face. I felt so good to be able to help her enjoy his company. This lady and her daughter talked to us for a long time about all sorts of things. Lobo and Toby settled to the floor, tired from what was now going on 90 minutes of pet therapy. I sort of focused on the conversation and didn't realize at first that Toby had gotten up. Next thing I knew he was licking the patient's foot! Luckily for us she was delighted, especially when I told her that's how he likes to get me out of bed in the morning! Then she reached out her hand and he kissed that. She was so happy. It was really great.

Toby really was tired though and right after that he gave me a "woof" to say he was ready to go, which is a big no-no (barking). I think they'll make allowances for a bit but I'll definitely have to work on that. Also I'm resolved to keep future visits to one hour. Last but not least I'm resolved to be more relaxed and enjoy the experience more the next time.

Note: No photos today - I had my hands full with Toby and everything going on. Next time I'm going to try to get a picture of him in front of the hospital. 

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for stopping by my bloggie earlier.
    Nice to meet you and Toby. I'd love to be a therapy dog, as I love meeting new people but mummy says I'm way too exuberant for anything like that. I'd be running round jumping all over everyone BOL.
    Looking forward to hearing more about Toby's visits:-)

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    1. Thank you Misaki! Toby and I love making new friends!

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  2. Yay for you and Toby!!

    That's awesome that you got to do your first Therapy Dog visit!! :) I remember my first visit, Mum was so nervous as she wanted it to go so well, I was relaxed and excited - she's definitely much less stressed now, we've been doing it about 6 months now :)

    Do you have a front clip harness on when you do your visits? I'm asking because of your comment about Toby pulling - I wasn't a puller, but when I started my visits I was super excited to sniff everything and meet everyone and also with the slippery floor that I was pulling too - that's when Mum got me a front clip harness and I don't pull anymore, it was an instant change and I know Mum is happy about it :)

    It sounds like you did an awesome job Toby and made lots of people really happy, don't worry that not everyone wanted to say Hi this time, my Mum says if we make even just one person smile it's great :)

    I'm so happy that your first visit went well and I'm sure you'll do great buddy :)

    Your pal Snoopy :)

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    1. Thank you so much Snoopy and your Mum. I'll look into the harness - great suggestion! Toby was initially trained on a ring ("choke") collar and never pulled but we had to stop using it for his CGC and therapy dog classes and it gradually became a problem. Thank you for the encouragement and it's cool that you guys are a therapy team too!

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  3. Sounds like you did a great job! Way to go!

    New follower here from the WW Blog Hop. When you get a chance come on over and return the follow, k? Can't wait to read more!

    http://sassysslobberchronicles.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thank you Sassy! I'll be over to visit!

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  4. Sounds like Toby did really well on his first official visit! I could never be quiet for that long so I think the whole therapy dog thing is not for me, but it does sound like an awful lot of fun, especially the licking part! *Waggy tail*

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    1. Thank you Alfie! Well hopefully Toby will learn not to talk during visits but we'll see. It's my fault of course for not paying attention to all the signs that he was tiring. I think he did have fun!

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  5. Found you on the blog hop! I loved reading this as I am in the process of getting Blueberry certified to be a therapy dog. It's really great to know that it may start out a little bumpy at first, but eventually gets easier for the dog and handler! Hey, they wouldn't have certified Toby if they didn't think he was qualified, right? So hang in there and thank goodness there is a seasoned therapy team to walk you through the initial stages!

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    1. Oh that's really neat that you are getting certified! And I'm so glad I'll have partners for at least the next 2 weeks. Once school starts we'll be visiting Monday evenings and I think (fear?) we might be on our own then...

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  6. I was so nervous on my first therapy visit with my Toby too, so I can relate. How weird that noone in that one room wanted a visit. Maybe it's a full moon or something? It's probably better off, since you felt your visit was too long anyway. (I always kept mine under an hour also)

    I tried to teach my Toby "No kisses" too...I know some people like it, but not everyone does. It's a hard thing to teach, since the dogs are just showing affection. At least it made the woman happy - and that's what its all about!

    All in all it really sounds like your visit went great! Therapy work is such a wonderful thing to be involved in. I think it is awesome that you are sharing your dog's love with others, and bringing smiles to peoples faces. Can't wait to hear about your future therapy dog visits. :-)

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    1. I'm so happy to hear from all of you experienced therapy dog handlers. Your enthusiasm and encouragement is great feedback- very motivating. I really believe in the value of pet therapy, that's why I went for it with Toby. Thanks for commenting!

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  7. I've never read anyone telling about their first therapy dog visit. Thank you.

    I can imagine how nervous you must have felt. But it sounds like you and Toby did great. I'm sure you'll feel much less nervous the next time.

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    1. Thank you, I hope I'll be less nervous too :)
      I started my blog because I couldn't find any personal stories about learning to be a therapy dog handler when I was thinking about doing it with Toby. I'm glad you enjoyed reading our story.

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  8. What a wonderful service you give to the people in need of doggie love. Very inspirational story. I would love to visit people and lift them up.

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