Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Christine's New Career

Submitted by Cathy Gregory

Cathy is the proud custodian of retired breeder, Christine (Christine is the mama of the famed F litter pups that we write about often in this blog). Since Christine's retirement from the Breeding Program, she has gone on to do other great things. We'll let Cathy take it from there...

Daisy and Christine
Last September, Christine became certified as a therapy dog. I feel strongly that I want to help veterans Injured emotionally by war’s trauma so we began volunteering at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto. Usually we go with my good friend Gretchen and her 10 year-old lab, Daisy. Every visit is a new set of challenges.

The “twin” labs as they have come to be recognized, come into their workplace through two locked and monitored doors. The vets inside are at risk—so they aren’t allowed outside their ward. On the upstairs ward, there is camaraderie; vets wanting to talk about the dogs they have known, their wartime experiences and sometimes their plans for the future. There is also some interest in getting involved with Paws for Purple Hearts—a vets helping vets dog therapy program. We visit the common lounge and eating area, and then work our way down the two halls. The recreation therapist, who is always with us, knocks on each door and says “do you want to see the dogs today?” Usually Christine and Daisy take turns approaching the patient in bed. Some of these visits last only a few minutes. When a patient smiles and breaks the silence, the dogs will move in a little closer. Daisy is a masterful licker if given the go ahead.

After an hour is up, the four of us head toward our second stop, downstairs. The rec therapist tells us that today might be a short visit. We go through the locked doors and it is quiet inside. It turns out that half of the patients are in the patio. The sun is breaking through the clouds and there is an afternoon warmth in the air. The exterior walls are several feet taller than the basketball hoop at one corner. The dogs do their best to engage. I’ve had good conversations with some of these men on previous visits, but today the tension is palpable. Soon we are back inside. and we tour the lounges and bedrooms. By holding onto Christine’s leash one patient has annoyed the others so much that our visit concludes.

The last couple of months at the VA Hospital has shown me how pet therapy is a positive therapy. One guy upstairs who followed us for much of a visit one afternoon told me “we don’t need these fancy doctors they give us, we just need a dog.” Even when it is difficult, as yesterday was on the downstairs ward, I have seen how the dog’s attention can engage the person inside, however fragile their exterior may be.

The attached picture was made into a poster for the two wards we visit, with a short bio about each dog.

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