Monday, March 22, 2010

Changing Careers = Changing Lives

By Ingrid Spies

Career change yellow Lab Chanel in the Lincoln High School production of Annie.
I had not had a dog since our dear, old golden, PB, died many years ago. I really wanted a dog again both as a pet and, as teacher of students with a wide range of needs, I was becoming aware of the documented benefits of animal therapy for stress reduction and socialization. A friend whose daughter-in-law is a GDB puppy raiser suggested I would be a good candidate for a career change dog. About six months after making my first contact, I got a very exciting call and shortly thereafter, Chanel came to live with us and began working in my classroom at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore. She has been a life changing presence for many of us ever since.

We had been told that Chanel was a bit willful and had a mind of her own, but that she had won the snuggling contest at GDB's Oregon campus! I enrolled for classes with BEHAVE Canine Solutions under Scott Raymond and learned some tips as to how to get the best out of Chanel. Also, we worked with Heather Toland at the Therapy Dog program at Dove Lewis and Chanel passed her therapy dog test last summer.

In the meantime, Chanel had already been working with me at Lincoln where she has won so many hearts. She gives of herself generously to all she meets and we are entranced by her soft spirit, compassion and melting eyes. Chanel has taught herself to greet students when they enter the classroom. She walks around and picks out those who seem to especially benefit from her brief doggy kisses and handshakes. As soon as class begins, Chanel goes back to her big papasan chair and waits until class is over, when she gets down to see everyone out. If a student is upset, Chanel jumps out of her chair and goes to lie beside the person. A social group which includes several students who wanted to make friends has formed around Chanel at lunchtime in my classroom. Supervised walks with Chanel are rewards for some students. Chanel has an instinctive knowledge about needs of those teenagers who are lonely or upset and responds without prompting. We feel the positive aspects of having a therapy dog for students are enormous. On the days when she stays at home, several young people ask repeatedly when she is coming back. Some students visit several times a day.

Social work has not been Chanel's only involvement. Last year, she was asked to play Sandy in the school production of Annie (pictured, above; photo courtesy of Lincoln High School). Karyn Munford, the career change representative at GBD, had told me that Chanel would probably never be totally trustworthy off leash, and I ignorantly assumed she would be on a leash for the play. I had done extensive work with Chanel at our farm and we were taking walks off leash together. Now she licked the noses of the horses next door, instead of wanting to chase them, and came when called, but I was horrified when the play director gave me the script six weeks before the play was to be performed and I learned that Chanel had to be alone, off leash, on the stage, walk across the stage, stop mid-way and continue. I immediately called Scott Raymond and he helped me, along with a student assistant (who proved to have a natural gift with animals), train Chanel for the part. Chanel was a smash hit, in front of full houses, and did an amazing job with the part that had multiple demands. In the middle of the show while Annie was sitting, loudly singing a solo, about sixteen kids were dancing and the school band was blaring, Chanel rolled on her back trying to entice Annie to give her a tummy rub! The crowd loved it. Chanel had plenty of energy left to gently greet the young children in the audience after the performance. My fears of an animal running loose through the crowd were not realized. What a dog!

This June I retire. Some of my students will be devastated at losing Chanel, but she has been invited back to work with the Dialectical Behavior Training Program as our psychologist, sadly, can no longer use his therapy dog due to the animal's illness. We will continue our work through the Dove Lewis program.

Our gentle, clever dog touches so many lives and enhances them. I am indebted to GDB for the privilege of having her.


  1. This was such a cute career change story! I raised Chanel's brother Chappelle. "Gentle" and "willful" are both perfect adjectives to describe him as well. He has a rather fun career change life to, though he hasn't gotten his big performing break yet. ;)

  2. I raised Chanel. I was disappointed when I could not take her back, but knowing she is making a difference in so many lives was wonderful news. I know that releasing her to Guide Dogs was the right decision, as difficult as it was at the time. I would have loved to see her play Sandy!