Friday, February 17, 2012

A day in the life of a therapy dog

Every Thursday, my therapy dog Ranger and I go through the same routine. I spend several hours grooming him (either on Wednesday night after agility, or early Thursday mornings.) Once he is all clean and handsome, I grab our gear, put on my uniform and ID badge, and he get his therapy bandana on. Next, I walk him, put his seat-belt harness on him, and then we're on our way to our therapy visit for that day!

Yesterday (Thursday) was our visit to our favorite Adult Day Care. The people there are beyond fantastic, and we always have a blast on our visits! On a typical visit, we see around 35 people. Ranger enjoys all of the attention he gets; he always has a happy face and wiggles his stubby tail when he sees everyone!

Ranger has developed an uncanny ability to sense which people need them most attention and love from him on each visit. On Monday while we were on a therapy visit to a local school, it was a little boy in our READ program who was struggling to get through his book that day. Ranger sensed that the little boy was becoming stressed and frustrated, so Ranger instinctively stretched his body across my lap and snuggled in close to the boy to gave him kisses. The little boy pet Ranger and began to relax and feel at ease with his new friend beside him. He then started to calm down and began to enjoy his book!

As Ranger and I have matured a bit as a therapy team, we've learned to pick up on each others signals and I use Ranger's senses to our advantage. I try to be a very observant handler with him, and always keep one eye on my dog and one eye on our surroundings so I can continually make adjustments as needed. Therapy teams are like a pair of scissors: The handler represents one scissor blade, and the dog represents the other blade. Seperate, they are no good to anyone, but together, they can make a fantastic team! As his handler, it is my job to be the best advocate that I can for my dog, and as my pet partner, it is Ranger's job to watch my cues and commands and stay well-behaved at all times. One of the ways that we stay "sharp" is by continually training and working together.

At the facility we went to yesterday, there is one lady in particular there that he adores and has a certain bond with. She is quiet and calm, and always welcomes Ranger with a big smile. She doesn't say much; the Dementia has robbed her of that capability; but, no words are needed to understand the bond between human and canine on our visits.  Everytime that Ranger and I walk into a room at this facility and he see her, he will very gently tug on his end of the leash to let me know that he wants to visit with her. Yesterday in particular, was a very sweet visit. She was not feeling well and was snuggled up with a blanket. You could tell that she was not having the best day. Once she saw Ranger however, her eyes lit up and you could instantly see her mood and her day improving! (Therapy dogs have have that "magic" about effect!) I asked her if she would like to visit with Ranger and she nodded her head to say, "yes". I then positioned Ranger close to her and knelt beside them both so that she could pet him and visit. Ranger snuggled in as close as he could get to her. That's when he did the sweetest thing; he looked into her face and as gently as he could, he laid his head on her arm and gave her kisses; all the while, she grinned from ear to ear! Ranger snuggled there with her for several more moments before we went to visit the rest of our friends. The entire room could feel the warmth and love that Ranger shared with that sweet lady yesterday. As a handler, I live for moments like that! It absolutely melts my heart that I am able to share this sweet dog in such a positive light with others. I look forward to the day that Ranger's little sister, Mykelti follows in his steps and becomes a registered therapy dog as well! 

~In a funny side note, one of the other things that I've also noticed on our visits at the Adult Daycare is what a "ladies' man" Ranger is! He is quite the canine Casanova! The little ladies there LOVE him and get the biggest kick out of petting him and giving him kisses. Of course, Ranger doesn't seem to mind that one bit! Yesterday after our visit, I noticed when I was putting him into the car that he had lipstick all over him! If you look closely in the picture below, you can see pink lipstick. (On the other side of his face, he had bright red lipstick all over him lol; it took me a while to get it all off of him once I got him back home!)

What do therapy dogs do in their spare time? Squeeze in a power nap, of course! Being a therapy dog + and a Casanova is a tough job! ;) After we got home from our visit yesterday, Ranger took a nice, long nap! 

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