Seeing the moment..
In my last post I spoke about therapy dogs and the connections they make with people. At the last visit to Teddy Bear Clinic, I was on the other end of the lens – I was a handler – and I once again saw this happening and once again, it moved me. There was a kid who kept returning to the dog I was handling, this little guy (for the sake of this blog, let’s call him Jimmy) was at first nervous to give George (the dog I was handling) a treat but after showing him how to hold the treat, Jimmy was a rockstar and even showed other kids how to do it. Jimmy kept brushing George, talking to George and even held the spare lead when we did our walk about, Jimmy really took George on as his own and connected with him in a way that one would expect a young kid who knows the dog and who owns the dog would connect. Not in the way of a kid who has just met this dog!! At the end of the visit, Jimmy walked up to George and said “George, I love you”. This really was a special connection made in the short period of time.
Other connections made that day with George included a little girl who was quite nervous of dogs. This little girl wanted to give George the treat but was nervous, even after Jimmy showed her how it was done. So, I told her to hold her hand under my hand whilst I gave him a treat. She beamed as George took the treat from me!!! I then gave her a treat and Jimmy and I assured her that George is gentle. She giggled excitedly as George gently took the treat from her hand! This little girl kept returning to George and although she had initially been nervous, it was clear she had bonded with him when I caught her having a silent moment of understanding with him. You could almost see him telling her to be strong.
Another awesome experience I had was the visit to Clearwater Mall. Here the dogs go to get a bit of publicity for the work that they do and to recruit more interested people. I watched as the dogs interacted with people young and old with no bias to age, colour or gender. The dogs happily interacted with the fans whilst the handlers explained to the people what the dogs do. One nice interaction from the morning was a lady coming up to us and asking about the dogs. When she learnt what we do, she was amazed and said that she thought that therapy dogs were only in America. She was quite happy to hear that the work is also being done locally.
As if I was not busy enough, I went to the most awesome talk on Therapy Dogs at Fourways Vet. The talk was by Dr Conor Hughes and Louise Thompson and was beyond insightful.
Conor spoke about what are therapy dogs, the basis for canine therapy, and then spoke about some of the regular visits that the dogs do. In the topic of “What are therapy dogs”, she brought out something interesting: Therapy dogs are companion animals – so, your dog at home is essentially a therapy dog. Therapy dogs bring comfort when a person canttalk it out – so think about the last bad day you had and you just cuddled with your dog. Your dog was acting as a therapy dog. Working therapy dogs do a bunch of activities such as: Animal Assisted Therapy (here the dog and handler work with a professional therapist such as a physio with the client); Animal Assisted Activities (people interacting with dogs such as at retirement villages, hospitals etc); and Animal Assisted Interventions (these are programs such as the reading programs).
The next topic was the basis for canine therapy. Being quite scientifically minded, this part was super interesting for me!! The dogs help on a neurophysiological level, a psychological level and a social level and since I am not an expert on this, here is the summary: dogs help control our stress hormones (such as cortisol, norepinephrine and aldosterone) and help increase our pleasure hormones (such as dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins). From a psychological perspective, they help on a bunch of levels such as touch (humans need touch as it increases the immune system, helps with trust and also overall well-being), engagement (decreases boredom, increases cognitive activity and counteracts institutional routine) and motivation (helps with getting people motivated to do stuff like walk or speak). On a social level, the therapy dog visits help start communication. The client talks to the dog and to the handler, then to other clients about the dogs, then to the staff and friends and family. People actually start speaking to one another!! On a social level, dogs also help with trust as they are non-judgemental; do not care about your history or motivations which help people to learn to trust again.
Louise then went on to speak about what makes a good therapy dog handler and dog and then onto the process of getting qualified. I am going to just speak about the first bit.
So what makes a good handler?
What makes a good therapy dog?
Giving back – remembering why I am involved….
On a personal note: not so long ago, a friend mentioned friends and acquaintances that had recently passed away and said we too needed to give back to others like they did. For those of you who did not know them, you missed out.
Lisa Mulley was my awesome neighbour who had her life revolving around helping others in her work and her personal life. She was always there for people with a cuppa tea when they needed it or to take people to the doctor or emergency room, she was also actively involved as a CHOC Cow and put great effort into raising funds for kids with cancer.
Delene Mulley was Lisa’s sister and was an amazing friend to anyone who allowed her quirkiness into their lives. D was that person you called or messaged to chat to on good days and bad. She never judged and always had sensible logic to anything she said and more often than not, she would make some or other funny comment to get a smile on people’s faces. She was also the first out of my friends to become a CHOC Cow and like her sister, she put great effort into this project. As if being a cow was not enough, Delene was also active in raising funds for Border Collie Rescue which was a cause close to her heart. Despite battling with her own fight against cancer, Delene always remained positive and gave of herself to others in need. In a last minute attempt to bring a smile to her whilst she was in hospital earlier this year, I tried to arrange for a Top Dogs team to see her, but sadly, she passed away before we could organize something. Being a dog lover, Delene would have LOVED the cuddle time.
The last person I want to mention is someone I only met once but was a really inspirational person: Gugu Zulu. Gugu was one of those people who lived life to the full!! Always doing something for others whilst making sure he was still a great husband and father. His untimely death was a major shock to all.
So… like these 3 people, I don’t want to sit around and do nothing but admire people like them. I want to be like them and give back to others in a special way and by working with Top Dogs, I am able to actively help others and actually see the results first hand.
For anyone who is interested in experiencing what I am experiencing, I encourage you to visit the Top Dogs site and get involved! www.therapytopdogs.co.za