Sunday, 16 October 2016

A big adventure

I have done some pretty amazing adventures: I have cycled from George to Cape Town with friends with nothing more than the kit we had with us and a final destination, I have taken photos on a dune in the Kalahari with hail pelting down on me, I have cycled the cobbled roads of Belgium, I have gone birding in mid-summer in the Namaqualand, I have hiked, I have biked and I have lived life. But, my greatest adventure is just beginning! 
As you know by my latest postings, I am busy with an adventure with therapy dogs and with this, my dogs are joining me on this wonderful experience. For the most of it, they have not featured much but I have recently had an amazing experience with Hayley that has given me amazing hope that she will eventually qualify as a therapy dog. (She is currently half way through with her Probationary visits.)
I was privileged to join Corrie, Chrissie, Stephanie and the wonderful dogs Maisie and Gremlin at a retirement village for a visit in a frail care. I was so nervous that Hayley would not cope yet I had her last good visit in my mind but her first unsuitable visit haunted my mind. Doubts flooded in my brain as to whether she would be ok at the visit. Fortunately for me, she is a total rockstar and proved me so wrong!! When we entered the village, Hayley got a bit hyper and I knew she would be ok so I changed my attitude and started telling her that we were going to visit old people and she was going to be able to cuddle them. When we got out the car she saw dogs she knew so that helped us both more. 


On entering the frail care, Hayley was uncertain (she is not used to walking on tiles) but was a little cutie as we followed the lead of the others and went from human to human for attention and cuddles. There was one lady who really adored the dogs and Hayley would have been quite comfortable to sit by her all day but alas, we had people to meet!! 
The first room we went into was quite bubbly! The lady and her visitor fussed over all 3 dogs and the dogs and their new fans had a great bonding session. This room is where I learnt a LOT about Hayley. Firstly: she got waggy tailed and happy to go in which showed me she was in a good space. Secondly, I learnt that sometimes a cute trick we teach our dogs can have practical application. And I am not just talking about the basic things like "sit" or "paw". I have taught both of my dogs a trick called "paws up" with the intention of having a cute trick but also as a way for them to do a bit of stretching. This trick came in handy for Hayley as she was able to go paws up against the bed which meant there was no need to pick her up or have the lady strain to reach her. After all 3 dogs got plenty cuddles, we moved on to the next room where the dogs got more cuddles and Gremlin got plenty attention - the bonus of being small!


Room number 3 was a toughie. Stephanie and Gremlin went in with the young lady who was an observer that day whilst Chrissie, Corrie and I waited outside but in sight of Stephanie. After a few minutes, Steph called for Hayley to enter. We had Hayley do her thing with her paws up and Steph gently helped the lady touch Hayley's paw with her hand and let Hayley give a gently touch her hand with her nose. The sweet lady tried to say something to us but we could not understand her. What we could see was the sadness in her eyes yet the happiness when her hand touched Hayley's paw. Her eyes lit up as they connected. 

We walked out of the room with heavy hearts, not knowing what was to come of the sweet lady yet happy hearts knowing we were able to put a smile in her eyes. I do not know if I am going to see this lady again but, I do promise that I will be there with Hayley next month to try putting a smile on her face if she is still there. 
The visit ended and Hayley was tired but still as calm as she ever is (so bouncing hyper on the inside yet ok on the outside). I was beyond proud of my young dog! She had proven where she fits in as a therapy dog and proven to me that she is a confident dog. I learnt that sometimes we just need to trust our dogs – in Hayley’s case, I should have trusted the fact that she adores adults and older people and that she is used to going into a retirement village. Yes, the frail care is not totally the same as walking around the area, but the smells are similar and the atmosphere is more relaxed than other areas.

Since the visit, I have seen a strange change in her. She has a bit more confidence which comes out when we are out walking as she is no longer nervous of the big alien cctv camera on the corner and she looks up at me often during walks in a comfortable, relaxed manner. She is also quite a bit more comfortable in her own space and not quite as needy. My baby is growing up.
Reflecting on the experience on going into the frail care, I wish that we had more teams to do this work! The joy those people had when we brought the dogs in was amazing! They lit up at the sight of the dogs and relished us as handlers being there too. In a frail care, the people are isolated from the outside world and by going in with our dogs, we are bringing them some love and care from the big world outside their 4 walls into their world.
If you have a friendly dog and are interested in joining us, please go to the following website: