Archive for the ‘Therapy: Her’s & Mine’ Category

No News…

September 9, 2010

I strongly hesitate to even tap out these words: no news is good news. Because the minute I do so, you know something is going to happen. But I’ll risk it because I feel like I haven’t posted in this blog in ages.

But the reality is: Stella is pretty much not a problem. I really get why people will rescue one Greyhound and then go back again (and again–and again.)

The only real issue she has is that she can be growly on lead. This, I have learned, is something that just comes with the dog or doesn’t. The best thing to do is to just avoid extended “meet and greets” with other dogs if she’s on lead.

The therapy work we do at the psych facility is challenging and I question how long I’ll continue. The people act funny, smell funny and, as much coaching as we do, asking them to be gentle in their approach, there is generally at least one person who comes at her and frightens her. I’ve shifted to letting her walk around without her leash and I believe she feels more secure without it. And I’m reducing her sessions from an hour to 30-45 minutes. We’ll see…

I’m training for another half marathon and Stella has been training right alongside me. I’m now up to 9 milers for my long runs–I sort of wish I could take her with me on the actual day of the race. It feels odd not to run with her, like I’m missing a 65 pound, four legged, black and white appendage.

So yeah, no news is good news. And honestly, I’ve been writing a lot less and “arting” a lot more. Check out Wildpots, my latest endeavor!

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Living In The Dot Calm Era

February 3, 2010

It’s pretty remarkable that a dog this fast, one who has caught two rabbits this season, would, for the most part, lay on her back all day, teeth exposed, dead fast asleep. Maybe not 24/7. But 23/7 for sure.

It is also amazing to me that the other day I went to clip her nails and…she fell asleep. While asleep I was also able to brush her teeth. Let sleeping dogs lay, indeed.

Which reminds me…

Yesterday at a Paws For Reading event I had this tyrant-in-training kid. As usual, Stella was picked last because she’s tall and skinny and kids like those small fluffy dogs. But because this brat came in late, Stella was his only option. He did not say hello but just plunked himself down and began to read. Stella wanted to check him out so she sniffed the top of his head and began tasting his hair, “I don’t want her touching me while I’m reading!” he demanded.

As if Stella could understand English, or maybe she’s fluent in “brat” she actually moved and stretched out on the floor a few feet away. Immediately the kid then yells, “Why isn’t she here? I want her HERE!”

I told him that Stella was more comfortable stretched out and suggested he go over to her and read. He got up and went to her but then began to reprimand, “Don’t sleep. You listen to me, dog, don’t sleep while I’m reading.”

I let the kid know that Stella wasn’t asleep but couldn’t help but warn him that he should never get up in the face of a dog he doesn’t know, especially if they were sleeping. When I added that some dogs could react and bite I could see the information registering in his eyes, settling deep into his brain. I could tell: He’d be taking this pearl of wisdom home with him for good.

It was interesting to observe this child. First he did not want Stella to touch or bother him. Then, when she moved away he was angry about that. He said he was tired of reading. And then he became angry because Stella wasn’t listening to him read, “How can she listen to you read if you’re not reading?” I asked. He had moved on to being angry about how skinny she was.

I wondered about this kid. I wondered if he had any friends and what his life as an adult would look like with this off-putting personality. I wondered if he just came out of the womb a brat and the parents were trying like mad to work with him. Or if his parents were verbally abusive and he was just passing along what he knew to Stella. And to some degree, me.

And I wondered too since my business has a baby focus that if people thought about giving birth to an adult–or even a seven year old–if they thought about that vs. an infant if they’d have children at all. Because the possibilities of personality quirks and disturbances are limitless. I thought about this too: in the end, as a parent, you will likely spend much more time relating to your child in an adult form vs. child. So what happens if you just do not like that person that is your kid?

Makes yah think. And ramble. What a crap shoot this all is.

Fur Better Or Furcon: A Pet Therapy Review

January 25, 2010

Last week the head of TherapyPets.org gave me a call. She wanted to know if we could attend FurCon. Fur what? I quickly googled it to discover that Furcon is an annual convention for celebrating the anthropomorphics genre and furry fandom. Think huge stuffies roaming the Fairmont San Jose and you’ll begin to get the picture.

Turns out that TherapyPets.org was one of three organizations benefiting from the proceeds of several large art auctions.

I often tell people that having a therapy dog is a lot like having a free ticket to places you would otherwise never think of or be allowed to go to. FurCon was the perfect example of this.

The director told me that we would each be asked to speak about our experiences having a therapy pet. Huh. I didn’t think I’d actually have to *do* anything. Damn. But I figured it was a good opportunity to stop for a minute and and review my pet therapy work to date.

Backing up a bit, I realized doing therapy was one of the reasons that got me to really thinking about Greyhound rescue. I wanted to do pet therapy work and Greyhounds tend to make fantastic therapy pets. They’re calm and polite and so tall their heads can graze the edge of a patient’s bed.

About a year and a half ago Stella and I became a certified pet therapy team.

Interestingly, before I really got going with my certification, I honestly wasn’t a true believer in the “healing powers” of pet therapy. But I liked the idea of it (that free ticket thing) and I really wanted to give it a try. Ironically it was during the process of becoming certified that I had one of those moments where you find your heart melting all over the hallway of an acute rehab unit. And I was hooked.

What happened was this: Stella and I were doing a visit in a rehab center. We were being observed and would be given our final critique, the last step in getting certified at a pet therapy team. I was feeling challenged because Stella, reserved as usual was polite but not big on the eye contact or licks. I was working hard to try and get her to engage with patients but the going was slow. We were nearly done and I was bracing for the critique but at the last minute were guided by the director to see one final patient.

Along the way the director told us this patient was blind. When we arrived we peaked in to see a gentleman sitting quietly along with his physical therapist. Suddenly I looked down to see Stella’s tail wagging up a storm. She wanted to meet this man. So away we went.

Unlike every other encounter, Stella clearly was having an instant and strong connection. She went right up to him and nuzzled her long nose into the palm of his hands. The patient, encouraged by his physical therapist, touched her soft ears. Those watching the entire visit were floored by the obvious rapport these two were having, especially in light of Stella’s previous non-reaction to every other patient.

Afterward the physical therapist took us into the hallway where she explained the situation. She told us that her patient was recently blinded in a horrific accident. She then paused for a moment, tears in her eyes, and told us that the connection with Stella was the first he had made since being at the facility for several months.

I was so blown away, first I think by being able in some small way, to help. I then felt this enormous rush of respect for my dog–for her keen sensitivity–for her ability to sense something in that man who had been so hugely traumatized.

I have since gone on to work with Stella at a lock-down psych facility where we visit with long term and for the most part, psychotic patients. Since psych patients can often times move in an unusual and sudden ways and since they can smell quite differently due to medications, it takes an extremely calm and steady dog to do this work.

And while it’s not an easy gig for Stella, she does her job and connections are made. The patients work to gain her trust and this process of working with another being, touching a warm furry body, taking a large animal for a little walk, patients are empowered. And for a brief period of time, these patients can escape the difficult thoughts in their own heads by concentrating on Stella.

But I digress.

Back to FurCon!

The FurCon community is large (a couple thousand attended this year) and, up until today, completely foreign to me. I think these people range from individuals who like to clip on a tail every now and again to those who wish and strive to really look like a certain animal 24/7 (e.g. facial tattoos and implants.) And everything in between.

On the surface, if you cruise through the exhibit hall, it feels like any other conference exhibit hall with related vendors hawking their wears. I actually priced out some clip-on tails ranging from $40 to $70. There were people selling comic books, jewelry, one guy was selling knives and a few furry (would that be “soft?”) porn rags. So yeah, like any other convention but with a kink and a twist.

What I found compelling though was how in-depth the tracks and seminars went. I read somewhere over 130 of them. The various tracks included Fursuiting, Species, Writing and Puppetry. Venture into the details of these tracks and you’ll find the actual seminars including ones called: mustelids (weasel family), rodentia and both a feline and avian panel. There was also seminar on Buddhism and one on Norse spirituality. I found anthropomorphic sculpture, furry ham radio (??), basic and advanced head making.

Was there an adult bent to all this? For sure. I found something called Furoticon, there was an adult dragon panel and the auction that I spoke at was all for adult anthropormphic art.

The landscape, when you really took it in, was quite vast. But honestly, on the day I was there what struck me was that every attendee Stella and I interacted with seemed to genuinely care and appreciate animals and the work we were doing. And it was this common ground and deep appreciation that, for me, made the event quite meaningful.

And so yeah, maybe they’re not exactly mainstream. And maybe they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. But I had a blast attending and getting to know some FurConnies. And bottom line: having raised over $100,000 for various animal related charities, this group isn’t just paying lip service to caring about animal welfare, they’re putting money where their snouts are.

She Never Had Me At Hello

August 11, 2009

It was never love at first sitehound. I wasn’t sure I wanted the daily responsiblity. I wasn’t sure I wanted the attachment to a dog. And I was definitely unsure of getting a puppy–that was one I really had not bargained for.

Though I’ll never know for sure, Stella didn’t seem sold on the situation right away either. No licks, no bounding to say hello, not much in the way of eye contact. Sure, she would freak out if you left the house for five seconds, but when you were there she would go for an entire day without ever coming in for a visit.

So guarded we were–the both of us. Me because of my fears and neurosis and baggage. Stella because that’s who she is–not an easy sell, not demonstrative, not a people dog as much as a dog’s dog.

I always thought that you’d have an instant love connection with your dog like people do with their babies. I never thought that this connection might take time to grow, that I would change along the way or that, gasp, my heart might learn a new trick or two.

At the two year mark I can safely say all of the above. I’ve changed. I’ve learned to really appreciate a pet personality different from the one I thought I could order up as if ordering from a menu. I wanted that kicked back male Greyhound who was more pillow than dog. I got a protective, cautious female who would show you her teeth and the door if you tried to get too close to her on the couch let alone lay on top of her.

Initially I was disappointed. Who was this odd creature laying around the house who obviously could care less about me other than the roles I played as kitchen and janitorial staff member? Who was this creature who clearly preferred Llewis to anything else in the house? Who was this creature who obviously was so much happier with other hounds than hanging with me?

I thought dogs were supposed to follow you around the house, lick you on the face, ask you how your day was. I thought dogs weren’t like cats. I thought that they were unselfish.

But didn’t I want a cat-like dog? Isn’t that why I wanted a Greyhound? And wasn’t that Lab that came over for a few hours one evening enough licking and love for the rest of my time on earth?

But as I was asking and answering these questions, struggling on a daily basis, occassionally freaking out too, something else was going on.

Stella was changing.

In the past two years Stella’s not only put on 45 pounds and grown out some killer legs. Stella’s morphed from a slow-to-trust pup who never wanted me in her face to a relaxed girl who lets me bug her anytime and doesn’t mind getting nuzzled by me (or, as it so happened at a PawsToRead event, 20 seven year olds.) She’s a well behaved dog who happily greets friends but doesn’t knock them over. Four on the floor pretty much holds with her. Her cautious nature which disappointed me at first has been a real plus keeping her injury free. She’s smart to not get into trouble–with dogs that don’t smell right to her and in physical situations that look dicey.

She went from a pup peeing every 45 minutes, sometimes in the house, to a dog who gently knocks on the door to be let out.

Stella goes gently into this good crate whenever asked. No kong required. She’s great with children. I never worry.

So while I was learning to let go and let Stella, Stella was on her own journey–a two year crash course from puppy to adulthood. Looking back I have so much more empathy for the puppy path now. Since a dog’s lifespan is relatively short, the amount that they need to grow both physically and behaviorally is awe inspiring. I look back and wonder if I want a do-over. Not for her, she’s turned out great. But for me. Knowing what I know now I would have definitely enjoyed and appreciated many more moments having a framework to put them in.

Ah, but this is life. Full of lessons. And the biggest lesson yet? If dogs don’t teach us about living life, we are definitely not listening hard enough.

Paws For Reading

October 18, 2008
I Hate My Therapy Dog Uniform

I Hate My Therapy Dog Uniform

Yesterday I trotted Stella down to the library to do Paws for Reading. This is a program where kids read out loud to your dog. Since most dogs aren’t real picky when it comes to how quickly a kid reads or if their pronunciation is proper, kids find it to be a non-threatening experience. This is especially true for kids who are self conscious about their reading skills.

The way it works: There are usually four dog therapy teams. Kids come in, 20 minutes at a shot, and read to your pup. It’s one on one. One kid to one dog. Usually they allow the kids to pick which dog they want to read to. Interestingly, just like adults, kids gravitate to a huge variety of different dogs…

Some like ’em fluffy
Some like ’em small
And some like ’em skinny
Skinny and tall.

Aside from some rooing over another Grey who was working, Stella was a superstar. And since Stella is tall, I had one little boy actually sitting underneath her crosslegged as she stood. Fool that I am, I did not have my camera and no, my phone, purchased back in the Stone Ages (18 months ago) has no camera. The pic here I took from home where I could force Stella to put on the uniform for five seconds while I snapped a picture. I’ve come to learn that Stella hates clothes so the $25 I spent on the uniform, aside from this photo, was pretty much a waste.

In regards to Hannibal TeethFace, she’s gone for now. But she’s never had issues with people. And, in fact, seems to love kids–must be the equal height issue. Not for one second do I ever worry about her around a child. They can pound her, be up in her grill, grab her by the neck–and not one sign ofTeethFace–ever.

In Session. With Dog.

June 18, 2008

Given my “situation” one of the requirements when picking out a pup was to try and get one of the mellower ones. This to me seems nearly redundant or perhaps a double dose of mellow since when these Greyhounds get to be adults they’re nearly comatose. Today, predictably, at a year old, Stella’s more like a sixty pound cat than a dog.

I figured though that if fate and Llewis were in cahoots to land a pup and a mellow one into my life, I’d do the Aikido thing and go with the flow. And what better way to leverage a super mellow, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” creature than to do a little therapy. A little pet therapy.

The plan is this: Stella’s gonna be the therapist. And I’m the person holding the leash and cashing the checks.

Unfortunately, however, it’s all volunteer so no $150 for 50 minutes. Damn!

Seriously, it’s about giving people who are very sick some good fur time. We’ll be working with patients in hospice settings as well as working in some more acute care areas within hospitals. Stella also does great with kids so maybe a children’s setting will be in her future too.

The hoops we’ve both jumped through so far, me and the hound, have been vigorous. But for good reason. You need reliably calm, well mannered dogs to do this work. We passed the Canine Good Citizen test . We did a two hour evaluation session with the leaders of the therapy group: they poked, prodded, clanked around and did nearly everything to rattle the prospective therapy dog (Stella was rattle free–thankfully.)

I’ve also had to observe someone doing pet therapy at a hospital. And next, I will be observed–twice. Rigorous stuff. Lots to jam into a life getting more jammed by the minute.

Anyhoo, soon pet therapy will begin. And as much as I’d love to post more, as much as I’d love to go on and one about pet therapy, as much as I’d love to post a picture since I’ve not done so in months…I’m afraid that our fifty minutes are up.