First of all, thank you for all the well wishes you sent Bear and I for our first day as Pet Partners! They were soooo appreciated by us both.
As it turned out, our first day was Tuesday, not Wednesday. A change in schedule at the nursing home we were supposed to visit on Wednesday would have meant Bear and I wouldn’t have worked until next Monday, so Marty (who heads up the Pet Partners program in Albany) ok’d Bear and I to tag along to Easter Seal on Tuesday instead.
After another big drama of getting into the Ford (Ted finally had to bodily pick Bear up and put him into the vehicle), we were on our way. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to get past this “Ford fear”. Bear stayed stressed the entire trip to Albany, pacing and panting for most of the 45-minute ride. Five minutes away from our destination, he climbed into the front seat with me (which I could do nothing to stop, one-armed against an 85-lb. dog), spread out across the console with his head in my lap . . . and relaxed. But – that is not a safe way to travel, and I can’t allow him to continue to do that. I’m going to try a home-made version of a pet barrier for our next ride and see how that works out.
We arrived at Easter Seal for our 12:30 p.m. visit, and as soon as Bear’s feet touched solid ground, he turned into Mr. Perfect. We spent 30 minutes visiting an adult care center in one building, then crossed the road to another facility to visit for an hour with a group of developmentally challenged adults enrolled in a work program.
I wish I had photographs to show you, but on our first few visits I know I will really have to pay strict attention to how Bear is reacting to everything – and everyone, and I can’t get sidetracked thinking about taking pics. I promise I’ll have a few soon – just need to wait for the right place and time.
During the first 30-minute visit, there were only two teams – Marty and her yellow lab, Happy Jack, and Bear and I. Marty has been doing pet therapy visits for years – first with her yellow lab Hero, who went to doggie Heaven a little over a year ago, and now with Happy Jack – so everyone knows Marty and her partner (who some of the folks we visited still call Hero). The group in the adult care center ranged from individuals who were really excited to see the pups to a couple of folks who did not interact with them at all. The workers welcomed us warmly, met Bear, and then introduced him as the “new kid on the block”. We spent our time going from person to person, picking up signals from each one on how much time they wanted to spend with the canines. One young man (I’ll call him Stan – I won’t be using real names in any of these posts without permission), sitting in a chair, wanted to pet Bear. I walked Bear over to him, and Bear put his head in Stan’s lap and stayed in that position for a couple of minutes, while Stan stroked his head. When Stan began to lose interest we moved on. One gentlemen, Doug, said he didn’t want to pet the dogs because he was clean. We explained that the pups had all had baths and their ears cleaned and their teeth brushed. Doug smiled, and when I walked Bear by him going to the back part of the room, he reached out to pet Bear’s head. When we got closer, Bear touched Doug’s shirt sleeve with his nose, and Doug said, “No. Clean.” He wanted to pet Bear, but wanted it understood that Bear was not to touch him anywhere. Another young man, Frank, was listening to music and drawing. He called Bear to him, and they really enjoyed their visit.
At first Bear seemed a little shy (tail tucked under his body), but he warmed up fast. I was happy he didn’t get overly excited, in fact he remained very calm and collected, even though this was certainly new territory to him – a new place, new people, with several folks in wheelchairs. He took it in stride, and I think he picked up calming signals from Happy Jack, who was perfect in his interaction. He was more friendly than Bear was at first – entering the room with tail wagging and a big happy “smile” on his face. Hopefully we will get to that point soon also.
When we crossed to the other facility, a larger group was waiting. These were all developmentally challenged young to middle-age adults. A young lady I’ll call Shelley, who I learned later did not usually like large dogs, happened to be in the hall when we arrived. The staff introduced the three teams (Pat and her dog Charlie – a medium-sized “Benji” dog – had joined us for this visit), and Bear, because he was new, got a lot of attention. Shelley put out her hand to pet Bear’s head, and Bear did that special “lean in” he does. He remained standing, but placed his head against Shelley’s hip and pressed. I explained to Shelley that if she sat in a chair and patted her leg, Bear would usually put his head into her lap. For the next hour, Bear was Shelley’s pal. We walked together around the room, with Shelley patiently explaining to each person to “sit down and pat your leg, and Bear will put his head in your lap”. Pat sat in a chair at the front of the room with Charlie beside her, and over the hour everyone migrated there to pet and love on Charlie, who is just about the cutest thing ever (I’m a real sucker for Benji-dogs). Happy Jack was just that – the happiest, calmest, sweetest lab I’ve ever seen. He takes everything in, computes it instantly, then rises to whatever challenge he’s presented. He is a great mentor for Bear.
Toward the end of the hour I showed everyone that Bear could “shake hands”, and that started a whole round of hand shaking with several folks.
During our training, Marty had mentioned several times that after a while the dogs get tired. I never understood that – what could be tiring about being petted? After yesterday, I understand. At the end of the two visits, all three dogs went into “down” on their own and were content to be still and let anyone who wanted more petting come to them. Bear, Charlie, and Happy Jack “looked” tired, and Pat explained that it’s more of an emotional tiredness than a physical one. For the last hour-and-a-half, they had been touched, petted and rubbed. They’d had their ears scratched, their muzzles smoothed, and they’d been given kisses on their snouts and heads and shoulders. And they’d been hugged repeatedly – all of this by 20 different people. They were tired.
At the end of the visit both Marty and Pat praised Bear for a “good job” his first time out, and I can’t tell you how proud of him I am. We can’t wait till Monday, when we’ll work for 2 1/2 hours at a hospital. Then on next Thursday, we’ll visit two assisted living homes. More to come soon . . .
P.S. One of the young men in the work program had to bodily pick Bear up and put him in the Ford at the end of the afternoon. He wasn’t too tired to pace back and forth the whole way home. As soon as his feet hit our carport, he was instantly Mr. Perfect again, full of himself and ready to play. I D O N ‘ T G E T I T!