RUNTRAILS' 2022 JOURNAL

 

  

Sweetwater Creek State Park, Georgia

 

   
 
 
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  DAPPER DON, THERAPY DOG:  
  EXPANDING OUR OUTREACH IN 2022

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17

"Our member therapy dogs are trained and certified to provide support and comfort. They    
rely on their social instincts and skills to offer socio-emotional, cognitive, and health
benefits to the people they spend time with. Therapy dogs have a lot of benefits to
offer to school and university students. The recorded benefits include improving
attendance, problem-solving abilities, and improved calmness."
 
~ from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs website
 
 

I mentioned at the end of last year's entry about my pet therapy visits with Don that a goal for 2022 was to find some new therapeutic opportunities with kids and active adults and to reduce the number of visits we had with older folks in assisted living and memory care facilities. 

 


I had to be sure this memory care resident didn't squeeze Don too much!
An ATD therapy dog's welfare is its handler's first priority during visits.

Don responds more enthusiastically to engaged, energetic people who literally reach out to him and quite frankly, I was getting increasingly depressed visiting memory care residents and hospice patients so frequently. I know he does a lot of good in those settings but we needed a reset. 

VISITS @ SENIOR FACILITIES

By early spring of this year, I had taken Don to at least a dozen different senior facilities with outreach staff from Brightmoor Hospice in a 25-mile radius of my home. We were their first therapy dog team in south metro Atlanta and they loved the results of our visits.

However, I had a hard time saying no to all their requests for visits -- my fault, not theirs. Don and I were both getting burned out.


Don doesn't like things on his head but he tolerates this lion's mane.
It's a fun way to amuse residents and staff during pet therapy visits.


Still using the hospice ID badge in this photo

Instead of renewing my volunteer association with Brightmoor for another year, I became an "independent operator" and began limiting visits to just a few of the more local senior facilities that Don and I enjoyed the most. We no longer arranged the visits through or with Brightmoor.

Any teams certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) or another similar certifying group can arrange their own visits with any organization or facility that wants them to visit -- hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, courts, airports, etc. It takes more work to establish those connections myself than to join some sort of local therapy dog or other group, but it's how I now prefer to do it.


Don wears his ATD badge in this photo.

Despite my effort to reduce the number of senior facilities we were visiting, we actually added another one in May, but by then I was down to only two or three facilities.

Don and I were invited to attend a Memorial Day ceremony with Jim's VFW post at a large senior living facility in Peachtree City that we had not previously visited with Brightmoor. I wrote about it in the previous entry about visits with veterans that Don and I do with the VFW.

We had such a warm welcome by the residents and staff that it soon became our favorite place to visit! They are used to having other pet therapy teams visit, so we weren't the first.


Don with his favorite activities director at our new favorite senior facility;
she was all decked out for Christmas!

Jim was so impressed with this place that he commented after the ceremony, "When it's time for me to go somewhere like this, I want to live here." After visiting several times a month for the remainder of this year, I agree!

They even allow independent and assisted living residents to have their own well-mannered big or small dogs, as long as they can physically take care of them. It's unusual for senior facilities in our area to allow residents to have larger breeds of dogs.


Visitors at senior facilities also enjoy seeing Don, including this
young boy who was visiting one of his relatives.

This facility has dozens of resident military veterans that Don and I sometimes see on visits by ourselves. We visit the independent living building occasionally, memory care twice a month, and assisted living three or four times a month.

VFW members also visit the veterans once/month but Jim, Don, and I go to two other facilities for those visits. One is just assisted living, the other has both memory care and assisted living.


Don with one of his favorite veterans

By the end of 2022, I was limiting my pet therapy visits with Don to just four senior living facilities with a total of only one or two 30- to 60-minute visits per week. That's because we were busy doing several other types of pet therapy, too.

READING WITH DAPPER DON: SCHOOL

I had been itching for over a year to get Don involved in a reading program with kids at a library and/or school but the pandemic threw a wrench into that. I knew Don loves kids from his interactions with them at Home Depot, other stores, and on walks. He's even very gentle with babies.

The timing was right this year to introduce reading to a dog because both math and reading scores suffered during Covid when kids weren't attending class in person. By the spring of 2022, kids were finally all back to school in our area and local libraries were functioning more normally.

 

I was talking with a neighbor about this. She suggested I approach the principal at a nearby private pre-school to 8th grade church school about the idea. My neighbor attends church there and volunteers in the school office.

Based on my neighbor's recommendation, and without even meeting Don and me first, the principal and minister loved the idea of kids reading to him. In early May we were introduced to all 200 kids + staff during an assembly.

I was a little nervous how Don would respond to so many people until we walked to the stage through the middle of the rows of chairs. Don was literally prancing and clearly loving all the attention as kids in the end seats of each row put out their hands to pet him as we walked past! Everybody was smiling. And he behaved like a professional on stage as the principal introduced us and kids asked questions. I was so proud of him!

 

 

Since it was near the end of the 2021-22 school year, we only got in a couple reading sessions in May.

During June and July we attended several sessions of bible school and church camp for pet therapy. The visits were best for Don with small groups of 18-24-month old toddlers or elementary-age kids.

 

 

The preschool and kindergarten classrooms, all with 15-20 excited kids, were overwhelming for Don, even with just a couple kids petting him at a time. I ended those sessions early when Don showed signs of stress.

After school resumed in the fall for the 2022-23 year we had reading sessions once a week for a total of an hour each time. First, second, third, and fourth graders came into a comfortable resource room two or three at a time to sit on Don's quilt with him for fifteen minutes. They took turns reading to him and petting or cuddling with him.

 

The students loved it, Don loved it, the teachers loved it, and I loved it! We had found a great fit!

To further encourage participation by the kids, I gave them Don's existing "business card" and then designed a new bookmark to hand out to the readers:


Front and back of the bookmark


Postcard-sized "trading card" that a friend helped me design in 2020

I was surprised one day in November when the students were getting their official school photos taken. I hadn't checked the school calendar and didn't know that was happening.

As we were leaving that day, the two photographers asked if they could take Don's picture for the school yearbook. I was more sure about that than Don but he loved getting attention!

This is the photo proof I later received:

I've got many more flattering photos of him but I was just thrilled that staff cared enough to want to include Don in their yearbook! [I'll show photos of that in the 2023 journal.]

I have dozens of great photos of the students with Don but included only a few representative ones here. I always crop out kids' faces (and most adults) for privacy when I post them publicly.

READING W/ DAPPER DON: PEACHTREE CITY LIBRARY

It was more difficult to "get my foot in the door" at our large city library (for reasons having to do with the local pet therapy group to which I do not belong) but I finally convinced them to set up a reading session with Don in November.

Again, without even meeting us first, the children's librarian scheduled a "desensitization to large dogs" session based on what I had told her about Don's gentle demeanor and effect on people who "don't like dogs" or are fearful of them.

 

 

Several young children and their parents participated and seemed pleased. Although the feedback was positive, I wasn't able to schedule any more reading visits through the end of this year.

PET THERAPY WITH HIGH SCHOOL KIDS

In November, the founder of Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe sent out a request through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs inviting local therapy dog teams to attend a presentation he was going to make in December at a large high school in neighboring Coweta County.

Don and I were the only team who showed up. The presentation was to about 40 kids in the Future Business Leaders of America Club. Don got lots of attention from office staff before the club meeting, as well as with students before and after the presentation.

It was in the afternoon when Don's usually napping, so he slept quietly through the long presentation. Since I got a good reception from staff and students, I might check later to see if they'd like to set up periodic pet therapy sessions during exams or other times.

HELPING TRAIN NEW THERAPY DOG TEAMS

One of my good friends, who was also Don's regional manager when he was in guide/service dog training with Southeastern Guide Dogs, is a volunteer tester/observer for Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Laura usually does the initial temperament/obedience testing and first of three observations at our local Home Depot store.

When she has new therapy dog team applicants, she invites Don as a distraction dog during the testing portion in a quiet area outside the garden center. Then Don and I take the lead inside the store to greet people while the new team follows us and greets the same (or other) people. Laura observes her client and makes any necessary suggestions.


Don kissing one of his favorite employees when not in therapy dog mode for ATD

Don is a good role model for all the ATD rules during visits except for giving kisses to people who deliberately want them! He can easily maintain the required two feet minimum distance from other therapy dogs during visits, although often the other dogs want to get closer to him. (He's good with dogs, but loves people more.)

Prior to the pandemic, the second and third ATD observations had to be in medical settings, which can include senior facilities because the residents are often in wheelchairs or using walkers.

That requirement was suspended until later this year when most facilities had re-opened to visitors. Now Laura can take her new teams to memory care and assisted living. Sometimes those are set for times that Don and I have already agreed to be there, so I get to work with those teams again.

Dapper Don's a busy boy, in short increments at a time. There are many different settings where therapy dogs can make a difference. We have only just begun exploring our options!

Next entry: update on all three of our fur-kids

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, Holly-Holly, & Dapper Don

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2022 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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