Tag Archives: Therapy Dog Visits

A Beautiful Thing

Shelby has her credentials!

My dog Shelby is a certified therapy dog. This means she has passed a test indicating that she is qualified to visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, residential care facilities, hospice patients, and she can participate in “Read to a Dog” programs at libraries and schools. It also means that she exhibited a temperament that is suitable for such “work.” It is work, even though this is a volunteer position and cannot be done for money, as certified by the organization we are members of.

Shelby and I have not done any visiting since February of 2020. This was the time Covid started to rear its ugly head in our area. Nursing homes and the like were one of the first things to be shut down because of the vulnerable nature of their residents. It was deemed too great a risk for dog and handler teams to visit. (And I agree with this determination.)

As late spring 2021 arrived, things were looking up as the Covid vaccine started to be distributed. Case numbers fell and it was safer to go out, with the proper safeguards. I got Shelby’s veterinary care and records up to date and sent away for her 2021 credentials, seen above. I was taking steps so we would soon be ready to resume visiting our friends at a local facility and maybe consider going back to the schools with the Reading Role Model program through the United Way.

Now cases are sky rocketing again to over 100,000 per day in our country. I’m not feeling so safe anymore. And I certainly don’t want to take a chance on spreading Covid to any people Shelby and I would visit. I am not ruling out the possibility that Shelby and I may still be able to visit this year, but I am putting our return on hold for a while longer.

Shelby after a Reading Role Model visit a couple years ago.

This is a sad thing to me for multiple reasons. The obvious is there are more Covid cases and some people will die from it. Some will suffer long term, perhaps permanent, damage.

And then there are my self-centered reasons. I need to be more cautious when I do go out in public. I must be sure I have my mask and avoid mass gatherings. (No, I don’t like wearing a mask. I consider it the responsible thing to do, for myself and others even though I have had the vaccine.)

I have other selfish concerns too. Will the folks I used to visit still be at the nursing home? A few of them probably died in the year and a half since I was last there. Will they still be able to remember us? Shelby is 11 1/2 years old now. She had just turned 10 when last we visited. That is a long time in dog years. I have no doubt that she will still do a fine job and be a reliable partner for me. She may tire faster than she used to and I will have to pay attention to know if she needs a break. I will also need to think about training a younger dog to take her place when it is time for her to retire. I like to train my new dog with the old one. They learn faster and take cues from the old pro. I have found this to be the best way to train a therapy dog for me. And it’s best if I do it over a long period of time. Months, at least. I can teach a dog the basics faster, but giving the new dog time to ease into it and process the adjustments has given me dogs that I feel are more confident and trustworthy.

A therapy dog needs time not only to learn the obedience and desired behaviors and responses. The dog needs to feel that he and I are a team. He needs to know that I will always look out for his safety and best interests. He must know that we are working together and he can trust me to have his back. These things take time. A relationship on this level cannot be built quickly. I must earn the dog’s trust and respect just as much as he must earn mine. A good dog/handler relationship is a beautiful thing!

Coronavirus Irony

I took Shelby to the vet for her annual health check up today, so she could continue with therapy dog visits. We visit at nursing homes and residential care facilities. The check up is good for one year, and visiting can only continue if all records are current. No problem. (Shelby got her tests and inoculations and passed everything with flying colors.)

I looked at my emails when we got home. I had one from the certifying office strongly recommending all visiting be suspended until there is more knowledge about the coronavirus. The office will be sending out this recommendation to the facilities that we visit also.

I understand. We all want what is best for everyone involved. Better safe than sorry. I just found the timing to be ironic. We were preparing for work that we are now, not able to do. But never fear. When this is resolved, we will visit again!

Belly Rub, Please!

This evening was nursing home night for me and the dogs. It didn’t take Shelby long to ask for a belly rub.

Nikki spent part of the time in a chair between two residents. That way two of them can pet her at the same time.

Another resident came and we gave her the chair, so Nikki moved to a lap and was very happy.

I’m never sure who has a better time, me, the dogs, or the people we visit.

Visiting With Friends

The pups did good work visiting at the nursing home last evening. Here Nikki holds court with her admirers. Really she just doesn’t like to be on the floor because she’s afraid she’ll get stepped on. She’s laying on my coat so she won’t scratch the table. If I put her between two people like this, they can both Pet her.

Cassius also did some fine work relaxing the residents, and himself. He gets the hang of it a little more with each visit. He goes up to some people on his own now without me leading him every step of the way. He certainly enjoys our visits. He can’t wait to get in the car.

Shelby is my old pro. I can give her voice commands and hands on where to go and who to visit. Here she is visiting with a new resident. She makes me proud.

Taking the dogs visiting was what I did on my birthday. It was a fine end to an enjoyable day.

Sharing Joy

I took dogs to visit at the nursing home this evening. Can you tell Baxter had a good time?

I usually take Cassius as my tall dog that folks in wheelchairs can reach, but he is incapacitated right now. He was being a wild child playing in the pasture and tore a nail off. I didn’t want to take him with an open wound because of the chance of infection. A few people asked where the big dog who was stripped like a tiger was. He will return when he is healed up. For now he needs to take it easy.

Baxter did his “brother” proud. He did such a good job visiting with all the people. He was well behaved, courteous, and friendly. Baxter has always been a joy. It was wonderful to share the joy with others.

Holding Hands

We had a good evening yesterday. We took the four larger dogs for a walk since the weather was considerably cooler than it had been. It was also Nursing Home night. Nikki was happy to go visit her friends there since she didn’t get to go on the walk.

And I saw something I had never seen before. One of the ladies inadvertently put her arm down over Nikki’s paw. Nikki put her other paw on top of the arm and hugged the lady’s arm for about 10 minutes. It looked like they were holding hands. This made them both very happy!

Shelby thoroughly enjoyed her visit too as you can see from one of her trips to check in with me and make sure all is well. She knows we are working as a team so frequently checks in with me for feedback.

Cassius was also a happy boy last evening. Needy, much? Yup, he’s a momma’s boy.

Bring Joy!

Photos with residents are cropped to protect their privacy.

Oh, to be able to bring this much joy into someone’s life. Apparently dogs are more powerful than I am. No one smiles like this when I walk in by myself. But that’s ok, I get it. Dogs are all accepting and instantly make nearly everyone feel better.

I take Shelby and Nikki to visit at a nursing home twice a month and they are always a hit. Many residents want to visit with them. And any passing workers stop for a few pats, from aides to nurses to dining room employees. Family and friends who come to visit their loved ones like to stop and visit with the pups as well.

Everyone enquirers about Shelby and Nikki. How old are they? (9 and 12 1/2) What breed? (Shetland Sheepdogs) Do they live in the house? (Of course) You must brush them a lot? (Yes, my hobby while I watch tv) And many other questions.

I’ve been visiting nursing and residential facilities with dogs since 2000. Of course not with the same dogs. I am on my third generation of therapy dogs. On every visit I’m repeatedly asked the dogs’ names amongst other information about them. How often have I been asked my name? Once.

Does it bother me? Not one bit! Why would I have kept it up for the past 19 years if it did? (Wow, that’s a long time!) It is a great testament to how much people need dogs. People do talk to me and are glad to see me. They tell me about the dogs they had as kids and when they were adults.

Dogs give acceptance to people, whatever state they are in. They are a connector between people and a bridge to memories and conversation. They facilitate miracles. One of my life goals is to be able to bring as much joy as my dogs!

A Week in the Life…

It was a busy week for the dogs and me. One benefit of having so many dogs is there is one for every occasion. On Monday Nikki, Shelby, Cassius and I went to visit our resident friends at a local nursing home. This is the pups posing in front of the facility’s festively decorated fireplace

Cassius wants to stay close to me so this is the best picture I have of him from that evening. We always have a good time when we go there.

Two day’s later I took the same group of dogs to a meet and greet with some Kent State students.

This was to provide a de-stressing session for the students and to promote our Sheltie Rescue group. I know Cassius is a greyhound, not a sheltie but he likes to support his sheltie friends. And ride in the car. Sometimes I take Baxter but this week I took Cassius along and we enjoyed meeting other doggy friends there too.

This morning my husband and I took four dogs for a walk on the Hike and Bike trail. Nikki stayed home and rested her 12 year old bones but Shelby, Cassius, Zekie, and Baxter all went.

I think we wore them out because this is what we saw not too long after we got home. Baxter did find the energy to go out and catch the frisbee until it started to rain.

A life with dogs is a good life.

Visiting With Friends

Hello friends! I want to share my good time with you. Shelby, Nikki, Baxter, and I had a fun time visiting the nursing home last evening. Or should I say, visiting with friends. You can see Shelby had a good time. She was smiling to show her “toofers” while she got a belly rub. It was one of several belly rubs.

Nikki did her usual sitting on the couch and asking to be petted. It’s not overly exciting for anyone who’s not sitting on the couch but it’s her thing. People going by still comment how cute she is. She knows how to work it.

Baxter wasn’t sure at first but he has developed a real liking for going on these visits. Part of it is because I praise him profusely since he is such a good boy and listens to what I ask of him. And there’s also that car ride which, I’m sure, is a big factor.

Shelby is a pro now and makes the rounds so that everyone gets a turn at petting her. She keeps looking over at me to be sure that she is doing the right thing, especially when approaching a new person. I have trained her to the command “go visit” so I can direct her to approach someone in a space where there is only room for her.

Baxter has only gone a few times but has taken to these visits quite well. He is naturally obedient and wants to please. Some of the men like to see the bigger, less fluffy dogs sometimes so he has been a hit.

Lest you be misled, I need to make the point that these visits could not be pulled off with just any dogs. I only take my obedient and trustworthy dogs. Dogs that I have confidence in. The other dogs stay home. And even so, you must continually read and watch your dog. There may come a visit when one isn’t feeling well or is not up to it for some reason. It is best if you figure this out before the visit. This is not always possible. If a dog acts up, you must be ready to end the visit. Sometimes a break is enough. Other times you may have to give it up and go home. This hasn’t happened to me often but I can recall at least one visit where we went home after 20 minutes.

The lesson is Know Your Dog! After all, you are a team.