Thursday, February 10, 2011

Family Dogs as Therapy Dogs

This will probably be the last blog post of the "three-parter" that was inspired in my thought processes by reading the new and delightful little book, "Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?"

My dogs are family dogs first and sheep dogs second. It's just a fact of life when you live in the 'burbs, and even though we work with sheep at least four or five times a week, and care for our own sheep in our little sheep co-op, they are still house dogs when we come home and wash off all that mud and gook. They live in and around the house and are first and foremost, my companions. The fact that two of the three can now work sheep respectably well and are useful stock dogs, is a huge bonus. But on some nights they can be found down at the park chasing tennis balls and socializing with our friends' JRTs and other breeds...and having a wonderful time just being dogs. They have brought me dear friends and fabulous experiences, and also were very important to our parents as well.

I don't think it's any secret that in the recent past we were care givers for elderly parents. Before the parents needed so much care, they were clearly very attached to our dogs. When Bid came to the household as a baby puppy he became The Little Prince and could do no wrong. But when Chief arrived, Bid had to scooch over a little bit because Chiefie won their hearts in a different way...Augie presided over the household like the elder statesman.

My dad went to exercise class several times a week, nearby at an adult retirement complex; he called it the "old ladies home" as if he were the youngster of the group in his late 80s--not! Anyway one evening I came home from work and noticed Dad squirming a bit. Finally he 'fessed up:

Dad: "I took Augie to the old ladies home today."

Me: "You did WHAT?"

Dad:" I took Augie to exercise class."

Me: (thinking quickly about law suits from the retirement facility about the dog in the class who was not certified TDI and wasn't even bathed recently, heck maybe not in months) "you took him to the building and took him inside?"

Dad: (squirming a little more ) "Well...yes..."

Me: "Did you put his Halti on?"

Dad: "Oh yes, of course. He had the Halti on."

Dad was on a kick of wanting to take the dogs for a walk in the afternoons. He was very frail with a bad hip, and even though Augie was age 10 plus, he was still well, very strong. So I had insisted that Dad take only one dog (Augie) and that he put Augie's Halti on so that Augie couldn't pull him around. Little did I know that Dad would throw Augie into the back of the also-elderly Buick and haul him over to the retirement center to meet the old ladies. Actually it wouldn't have been any throwing at all. Just opening the door to the back seat of the Buick would have been plenty for Augie to hop in and go for a ride.

Dad: "I won't do it again. Unless I tell you beforehand of course."

Me: " But was he good?" (knowing the answer)

Dad: "Oh yes of course, and one of the old ladies really got to talking about a farm dog that she grew up with who looked just like him".

Me: (regretting what I was about to say) "OK you can take him again but tell me beforehand so I can bathe him. Therapy dogs are supposed to be bathed". (Thinking: Yeah and they are supposed to be approved and TDI certified, and all of that too!)

I think Dad took Augie back one more time then never took him again. The old ladies had enough to talk about with Dad about the beautiful black and white dog who had come to visit. And Dad would bring them pictures and brags about the dogs. It was enough. I breathed a sigh of relief. Augie had the heart of a lion but the finesse of a surgeon. Thank God.

In the next chapter of what was to come, Mother had become really fond of Chief. Of my dogs, Chief was the one who would stay close to her and sit allowing her to pet his big white head, endlessly. The other dogs would slink off and find a place to nap in the evenings. If Augie was the statesman, then Chief is the Diplomat. I can see Chiefie as an ambassador in a glitzy household, greeting guests and swooshing around, shaking hands, smiling and making alliances between former enemies. He is just that gregarious. With that long sweeping tail and the eyes rimmed with black eye liner, he can win your heart. As a puppy he would literally drag me across the street to greet strangers. There are very few people or dogs that Chiefie cannot get along with; and those few dogs, I think we should have listened to what he was saying about them, because he was right on.

We went to the nursing facility often to see Mother. At first, I took Augie because he was still viable and was so proven and reliable in this venue. (I took Bid one time and that was enough. His legs went helter-skelter on the slick floors and terror shone from his eyes. I wouldn't put Bid through that experience again.) Augie handled it well though. We only had permission to take the dogs directly into her room, however, the front lobby was always lined with folks in their wheel chairs during the day time. Some were coherent and some were not. Augie would stop to see each one who wanted to greet him. Often it was hard to hold back the tears to watch the elderly ones reach out to him. There was one lady who was non-communicative but if she saw me come in with Augie, she would reach out her hands for him. I always made sure to stop with him for her, even if I dared not stop for the coherent ones. 

As Augie got more frail, Chiefie took over the therapy-dog job. Chiefie was the consummate visiting therapy dog. As he had done at home, he would sit endlessly for Mother (and others) at the various faclities to pet his big white head. His almost too-long tail would swish back and forth and he adored the attention. One time, Chiefie even got to sneak into the ICU. There was only one other patient in the unit, a man who was regrettably, totally out of it. The nurses heard me talking with Mother about Chiefie out in the truck and asked me if I wanted to bring him in, briefly, to see Mother. I said, "sure!" So the nurse directed me around to a back door and in we came, with all the monitors and equipment on a Sunday afternoon. Of course Chiefie was perfect. He behaved like the diplomat that he is. Mother was thrilled. The nurse was thrilled. We only stayed a few moments. I knew the nurse could get fired for what she did so I didn't push the time limit at all.

I'll close with one more anecdote. The day that I was to pick up Coal from the airport was the day that Mother went into the hospital for the very last time. That week we visited her daily as she gave up the fight. Each hospital visit meant that there was that 10-week old puppy full of promise, waiting for me in the crate in the front seat of the truck. Coal and I have a special bond as a result, as I would walk out the hospital door and open the truck cab door.

I guess the point of the book, and the point of my recent posts, is that each dog has his job and it is an ongoing learning process; so on we go, to open that next "door".


marlacorey said...

What a beautiful story.

Anonymous said...

NICE,but sad

Billy said...

Some of it is sad but it has helped me some, to write about these things. Writing can be therapy too! ;-)
When I started the blog it was because I wanted an outlet to write...and sometimes I do that although most of the time it is just fun stuff and pictures and links...
thanks to everyone for viewing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Sis, for sharing these sweet memories of your great dogs and our great parents! TT