Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hoping we can go to our first day at school!

January 8, 2011

Hello Friends and Supporters of The Planet, Therapy Dogs, and Peace on Earth!

This is my very first ever blog entry so please be kind with your comments. I started this blog to chronicle the journey of my beloved Doberman Zen as he expands his Therapy Dog work into the middle school setting. Zen is a certified Therapy Dog with Therapy Dog International.  He and I have been in nursing homes and a few other settings on therapy visits so he is not a novice at the job. Being a dog who absolutely craves human touch and interaction, and who has an uncanny way of relating to each person in just the way that they need, Zen is perfect for therapy work. He is a pretty big guy and thus can easily greet people in wheelchairs and beds as well as put his head in your pocket if you are standing! Most recently, he was invited to give some therapy to Santa at a local mall. Seriously, we were greeting children in the mall to prepare for our school orientation and Santa sent us a message that he could use some therapy! Of course, it might have been a gimmick to get me to buy the photo. If so, it worked! And, I do think Santa needed a little break and some doggie Zen. Luckily Zen has been taught not to sniff at people during therapy work - you can figure out why this is so important. He was extremely interested in Santa's costume right off the bat. I can only guess at the Pandora's box of interesting smells residing there (ahem) but he quietly averted his snozz when I asked him to "leave it". What a good boy!

In late fall of 2010 we found out about a fairly new program in the Orange County Schools that matches Therapy Dogs with classrooms and students. We first met with the founder of this Pet Pals program in early December and I can tell you that Wendy Stewart is a social worker with a vision! Zen and I have been invited to participate and matched with a local middle school! We are very thankful to Wendy, the prindipal, teachers, students, and parents who are allowing us to become partners with them.

So far we've briefly greeted lots of students (Zen had a blast with the middle schoolers!), had our orientation to the school, met with the wonderful teachers and social worker at our assigned school, and are poised to make our first therapy visits to two different classrooms this Tuesday. Woo Hoo!! We are currently hoping (HOPE HOPE) that a predicted wintry mix of ice and snow does not blow our plans for Tuesday.

Zen has demonstrated that he is steady as a rock with the high energy of a middle school and, at our orientation, he immediately mastered the art of spreading himself around so that no student gets left out in a group situation. It was so cool to watch him "work the crowd". He will give undivided attention to one student at at time and then carefully disengage and move to the next student with absolutely no cues or guidance from me. I am used to seeing how intuitively Zen works in a setting where folks are sick and I know he has that almost indescribable extra-sensory ability to relate to each person he meets. Even so, it was stunning to see his therapy powers at work with these youngsters in a totally different setting. Zen was obviously excited by the vibrant group energy that surrounded him, yet, as he greeted each individual student in turn, it was as if he and the student were the only two beings on the planet. How can he do that? It is certainly nothing that he has been taught. His breeder saw it when he was just a puppy in the litter.

At this orientation, one student who was at first quite frightened of Zen eventually overcame her fear enough to come over and stroke him. I watched in awe as he communicated to her with very soft and subtle body language that he was no threat and that he welcomed her approach. It was as if a very fine invisible thread was humming between the two of them and she just could not resist the pull from Zen. I heard the teacher standing behind me release a huge breath as the student reached her hand down to Zen's back and I saw Zen's nubbin gently begin to wag as the smile broke out on the student's face. It brings tears to remember it.

If you have never done therapy work with a dog I will tell you that it is a very spiritual experience. I am hooked on being a witness to the little miracles that happen. Well, time for bed and a last look at the weather. Boo snow. Boo ice. Bring on the rain!

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