The last two visits went better than the first one. I was more relaxed (though still nervous). The highlight on Tuesday for me - a woman in street clothes crossed the hall to pet Toby, then looked me in the eye and said, "That just made my whole day!" Wow, can it get any better than that?
|This is what we bring on a therapy dog visit: hand sanitizer, wipes, TDI paperwork, and Toby's ID and bandana.|
For visit #2 we were partnered with the cutest Bichon Frise! He was adorable and I saw how great having a small dog is for pet therapy. His handler could just place him in the bed next to a patient and he snuggled right in like he could stay there all day! Toby and Bouncer were friends instantly too, and took "sniff breaks" periodically to get acquainted. Toby still pulls a lot at the hospital and I'm weighing whether to just work harder on his loose leash walking, or buy a front clip harness just for the hospital. The trouble is that at home it's much easier to stop the pulling. I've registered for an Advanced Obedience class with Mr. Dean to see if that will help get the pulling under control, but there may not be enough students enrolled to have the class. Two other factors made this a more successful visit - we had been in all of the visited areas before, and the visit was exactly one hour long. It was still about 5 minutes longer than Toby wanted to stay, but definitely one hour is his limit right now.
You wouldn't think that a dog could get tired from being petted and praised. One of the handlers on visit #3 said her dog absolutely can't do more than an hour, and she reminded me that between the unfamiliar smells, constant interaction with strangers of all ages, genders, and health conditions (including cancer), and even walking on the slippery floors, pet therapy is exhausting for the pets. Toby also gets very thirsty. On Tuesday's visit one of the volunteers thoughtfully filled a portable dish with water from the drinking fountains for the dogs. The volunteer office also has a large dog dish attached to a big water bottle sitting on the floor for the therapy dogs.
|A well-deserved rest!|
On visit #3, we accompanied two other therapy dogs. Heidi is Lobo's big sister. Lobo is the Keeshond we partnered for our first visit. Heidi is an older girl and definitely the queen of the dogs at the hospital. She made sure she got first dibs on all the doorways, elevator, and whatever loving was at hand! She was a big fluff ball and ridiculously cute, so she didn't have to work too hard to get lots of attention! Ben, a handsome old cocker spaniel, also walked with us. Ben was charismatic, with the persona of a Southern gentleman of the old school. You could almost see him in a little black string tie a la Col. Sanders. It was fun just to watch the two therapy veterans do their stuff. In time I hope Toby will become more patient and willing to stay with one person for several minutes. That said, for such a young and inexperienced dog I think he's doing pretty well.
What have I (equally inexperienced, but alas, not so young) learned from these three partnered visits?
- I'm getting better at reading the body language that says "no thanks!"
- Often the dog is just the introduction. People often need a chance to talk, and petting the dog is a safe way to start a conversation. Lots of tact and active listening is required.
- Do what's comfortable. I don't happen to like visiting the patient floors without a specific request, so we probably won't do as much of that. And - one hour is max, maybe even 45 minutes at first.
- Hospital staff need the visits as much if not more than patients and family members! Stress relief?