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.