Thursday, June 21, 2007

Therapy Dog Extraordinair

One of the good things about living in the U.S. again is getting to do all these things with Moxie that we used to do. One of those being Animal Assisted Therapy, where we go into therapeutic settings, hospitals, nursing homes, juvenile prisons, etc and work together with the therapists, using Moxie to further some therapeutic goal.

I've done this with Moxie since she was 2 years old, and she was born for it. She intuitively KNOWS when to be bouncy happy Moxie, and when to be soft, sweet cuddly Moxie. She is the consumate Therapy Dog.

Well Moxie and I had to get recertified but we finished that process and went on our first visit with Therapy Pals tonight to University Behavioral Health, a Mental Health Hospital. We spent an hour with a group of adolescents, and the second hour with a group of adult patients. Moxie was an absolute star! We got there first and spent about fifteen minutes with the kids Moxie went up to the girls, rolled over on her back, snuggled up in their laps and gave kisses on command. When the boys came in, Moxie got to show off all her tricks. Some of the boys "taught" her new tricks (with me standing behind them giving her hand signals) and were pleased as punch with themselves and all smiles. I had some treats for the kids to give her and one of the boys actually asked me, "Don't you ever feed her? She's STARVING!" Moxie is awfully convincing with her poor starving and attention deprived puppy dog routine.

The whole group was in the gym and the rest of the "Therapy Pals" team arrived. Amy, a 4 year old Golden Retriever, Sam, a two year old Yorkie, Cosmo, a six year old Havanese, and Dale, a ten year old Boxer Mix. We set up an obstacle course; some cones to weave through, a tunnel, a chute (soft tunnel), several jumps and a tire. We introduced the dog and talked a bit about dog training, about having a positive attitude, communicating effectively, teamwork, etc. Then we had the kids run the dogs through the course. Well they had a blast, dogs and kids both. The therapists were on site to make the connection with the kids between what they were doing and how it applies in their lives. We got some great feedback from the therapists about some of the kids in particular. They had had a really rough day, but seemed to really relax and open up during the session. I was so pleased with Moxie. We both had a great time.

The next hour we worked with adult patients, we did the same thing and added in some obedience work. We did sit stays and down stays and had the patients try to distract them and get them to break their stays. They really enjoyed it, lots of laughter and joking and fun. One lady came up to me afterwards and said this was the highlight of her week. Moxie was the favorite of some of the athletic young men who loved to run with her through the course. One lady was a little shy of dogs, so moxie laid down about four feet away and belly crawled every so slowly closer and closer, stopping periodically and flopping onto her back to show the lady how nice she way. At the end, the women was laying next to Moxie on the floor, loving all over her. Everyone participated in the activity, even the patients with mobility issues had a turn.

I thinks its the rare dog indeed that can combine something as exciting and high energy as agility with something that requires the self control and awareness that therapy work requires. All the dogs in this group had that rare ability and we were all more than happy to share them with these people during a difficult time in their lives. It was a very fulfilling evening for both me and Moxie. I can't wait to go back in two weeks.


Oscar Airedale said...

Aw Rachael, Moxie is such an amazing dog! I'm sure it also helped you to have a couple of hours of distraction after a tough week.

Oscar x

Ruth said...

I also have a therapy dog, Nikki, my Golden Retriever.

And you are right, she too knows what to do and when to do it :)

Some dogs just have that natural intuition!

You write a good story, I enjoyed reading it!

Melba said...

Great work.