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Thursday, August 7, 2008

You and your little furkid will benefit: Dog therapy visits

We had our very first therapy visit on Tuesday and I can't give an adequate description of how life-changing it was. It's so amazing to see what an effect this 12-lb. bundle of white fur had on people.

We recently completed a 16-week training course to become a certified therapy dog team. We graduated in mid-May and this week we made our debut visit to the brain injury rehab floor of St. John's Medical Center [in Missouri].

Before we even got to see a patient, Ms. Chelsea found herself surrounded by a visiting family. Her little tail was wagging furiously as she looked from one person to another. She was in her element being the center (literally) of their attentions.

Our staff coordinator didn't (and won't) tell us what the patients are in for, and it's none of our business really, but she did share some feedback with us after our visit. For example, our first stop was a young woman who had half her head shaved and a visible scar along her head. She was lying down and had trouble speaking (as did most of the people we visited). The minute she saw us come in, she asked for Chelsea to be placed next to her on the bed. I put her up there on her new pretty pink bath towel (to protect the hospital bed from fur) and this woman was clearly thrilled to be in the company of unconditional love. She kept petting her and Chelsea did a great job of staying put, just like we learned in class. The patient talked non-stop about dogs, her dog, and how she worked for the American Kennel Club and knew about all the breeds. We always work in teams so my fellow classmate Cindy was in there too with her dog Coco. This patient was so happy and energized by the presence of the dogs and just wouldn't stop talking. As we left her room, our staff coordinator pulled us aside and said, "She didn’t talk at all last week!"

And so it went the rest of the visit. We met with other patients who were in various stages of recovering from brain injuries/surgeries. Some had a hard time communicating or using motor skills but all of them did what they had to in order to pet our dogs. And some of them were very chatty and excited by our visit.

At the end of the visit, the coordinator told us they saw remarkable signs in the patients...cognitive thinking, biological changes, chronological knowledge, and a whole bunch of other markers that sailed over my head (I had a lot of things already swimming around in there). We walked out of there on a cloud.

To witness a dramatic impact like this is a gift. After getting through to that first patient, all the weeks of driving back and forth to class and all the practice we did just went right out of my memory. Just knowing we made a difference to one person made it all worthwhile.

If you have a dog, I can't urge you enough to look into being a therapy dog team. You and your little furkid will benefit in so many ways...a closer bond with each other, a more well-behaved canine citizen, relationships with classmates, and the knowledge and first-hand experience of helping people.

We will be visiting there twice a month.

Advice to pet owners: Look for ways to offer your pet's love to others.

Read another pet story.

Thanks to the source, my friend Victoria in St. Louis. Bravo to CHAMP Assistance Dogs!

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