We went to Petsmart to practice doing obedience work with our dogs in other places and to get hugs for Tanker. It was a busy night at Petsmart. When we first walked in, we were greeted by an employee. Tanker and Topher went over to visit him. I was telling him about how we were getting ready to take our therapy dog test when a German Shepherd (yes, Topher's worst fear) pulled his owner up to us. He was obviously not well controlled by his owner. When he got about two feet from us, Topher let out a bark. I immediately said no and pulled him towards me. I wish I had reacted quicker, but really the GSD came at us so quickly. Tanker even let out a little growl, which is not at all like Tanker, so the GSD must have been a little intimidating for them. I was really discouraged about that. Once we left the situation, Topher was fine the rest of the night. We did meets and greets with a lot of different people. One little boy particularly stood out and Topher made me really proud. He was maybe two years old. He was over by the fish and staring at Topher and Tanker. I asked him if he would like to pet the dogs. He did not answer. Topher and I walked up to him and I told Topher to go visit. Topher went right up to him and did his little "cuddle." Topher does this thing where he'll sit down right in front of you, lean up on you, and look up at your face trying to lick you. I call it his cuddle move. He gave the little boy a kiss on the chin and on his hand. The little boy scrunched up his nose and said, "eww", but also laughed. He patted Topher on the head and then walked off. His mom said that the little boy did not like dogs and she was shocked that he liked Topher. She wanted me to try again with letting Topher interact with the little boy. The little boy did not seem interested anymore. Topher must have sensed that he did not want Topher visiting and Topher would not walk up closer to him than about a foot away. It was like Topher knew his limits and he could sense that the boy was not comfortable visiting again. I was really proud of Topher for using his instincts and reading the little boy so well. He will make a great therapy dog. We visited with other people as well. Tanker got hugged and did fine. Overall, it was a decent night with the exception of the german shepherd encounter. When I later talked to Kris about it, she said that it was actually a good encounter and showed that Topher had gained confidence. It would have been bad if Topher cried and ran behind me. It would have been bad if Topher growled. Instead, Topher made his boundries and told the dog not to come closer. Kris always makes me feel better. There were other dogs in the store and Topher did not seem bothered by them. None of the other dogs were pulling toward him and dragging their owners though. It seems that Topher is fine with other dogs as long as they mind their own business and they don't get in his personal bubble.
March 8th: I shadowed Kris in Dixon Smith Middle School in Fredericksburg where she works with a classroom of autistic kids. Kris and Titus never cease to amaze me. I can write pages and pages on what she does with these children. I will tell you about one encounter yesterday that stands out to me and is a great example of the great work Kris and Titus do. One of the severely autistic girls was sitting on the floor. Titus went up and layed next to her. She did not want anything to do with him at first. After a few minutes, she petted him just a little. Kris stayed at Titus' head to reassure him that he was okay. Then the girl started kicking and hitting at Kris because she didn't want anyone around her and Titus. Kris scooted back away and stopped looking in their direction. She kept an eye on Titus, but did not look at the girl. (autistic children do not do well with eye contact) The girl settled down and started petting Titus again. She was very gentle with Titus, although she wanted to hit Kris. After about five minutes, Kris pulled out a ball for Titus. The girl knew what it was because she had seen the other kids play with Titus. She focused on the ball and allowed Kris and Titus to get up. The girl got up and picked up the ball. She tossed it into Titus' mouth. Kris doesn't allow the kids to take the ball from Titus. She gets the ball and hands it back to the kid. After a few times of doing this, the girl started laughing and eventually started making eye contact with Kris. Kris had gained her trust through Titus. She was making noises and interacting with both Titus and Kris. Titus allowed the girl to open up and enjoy life. Titus showed the girl it was okay to interect with others. It was truly amazing to watch.
March 9th: Today I shadowed Linda and Kelly with their dogs Muffin and Amber at Mary Washington Hospital. It was really a fun day! (Gosh, I know this hospital really well. This is the hospital my dad was in the ICU in for a month.) We first went to the ER. I loved that. I feel right at home in the ICU and ER. Those were the favorite areas of nursing I have worked in. I had a big smile on my face! We greeted the nurses and staff mostly. The LOVE Amber and Muffin. They had a jar of dog bones waiting for them. You could just see the stress melt away as the nurses intereracted with the dogs. Next we went up to the pediatric unit. They did not have a lot of kids today. The nurses told us of one little boy who really wanted to see the dogs. We walked down to his room and I think Muffin and Amber made his day! He was so happy to pet and interact with them. Linda and Kelly gave him stickers and notecards with Amber and Muffin's pictures on them. It was a happy moment enjoyed by all! We then visited various other units in the hospital. We had requests from family members to go to specific rooms. A few patients cried when they got to intereract with the dogs because they made their day. We ended our visiting in the ICU waiting room and surgery waiting room. So many people loved on the dogs and I could tell that it really brightened their day. Kelly and Linda said they don't actually go into the ICU unless they are requested by a patient or patient's family. When they do though, the dogs will do things such as lay next to a patient in bed to stimulate a patient; lay on the legs of patients; be petted by patients who are able to pet, etc. That will be one of my favorite areas to work in. I have so much personal experience with being a patient in the ICU that having my dog lay next to a brain injured patient to stimulate his brain will touch my soul and bring tears to my eyes. (I am tearing up just writing about it.) What a way to give back to the world something that has been given to me. This is my purpose in life.
We're hoping to go to Lowes this evening to practice with our dogs. I didn't write this in the beginning, but Topher and Tanker got their therapy dog vests in the mail a couple of days ago. I have not sewn their patches on yet because we're waiting for one more patch to come in. With their vests, we can go to places that are dog friendly, such as Lowes, and practice with them. We can't wait to test on Sunday!