Saturday, March 29, 2014

Of Puppies and Prisons

Yes, it has been almost 2 months since I last wrote a post. Shameful. But there was quite a bit going on dog-wise in my life, even as Winter refused to let go its grey, icy grip and let Spring soften the land.

In early March there was Graduation Day at St Francis Service Dogs where 13 dogs were matched. Well over half were matched with children and youth: several with autism, one with Downe's, one a facility dog at a school for children with autism, one a seizure alert dog for a college student, a teenager with CP, one a child with severe and chronic medical problems who actually had PTSD and the dog calms her fears. One a judge with MS where the dog goes to court every day; another went to a lady Episcopalian pastor. Several of the people, or the parents of children, spoke about how their lives have been transformed with a service dog. Needless to say, I ran out of Kleenex about halfway through!

Piper is doing well, but he has some energy and does need exercise, so I hope that works out for who he is matched with (assuming he gets matched). One year old this Sunday, Piper is a big beautiful Lab teen now. However I will not be there to celebrate Piper's birthday with him. We have had a puppy swap, or puppy camp as it is sometimes called. Piper is at the kennels at St Francis Service Dogs over the weekend and from there he goes to Bland medium security prison to spend about 2.5 weeks with one of their advanced inmate-trainers.

On my end, I have Skyler, an endearing black female Lab from the puppy prison program at Bland. She is about 13 months old and her hormones are going berserk-o right now. From mid-February thru March she was in heat, then the day I got her, she was found to be having a false pregnancy, as evidenced by her swollen nipples. Wrangell, my handsome yellow male therapy dog of 9 years, is entranced with Skyler. He basically told me, "I have a great idea. Let's keep her for good and Piper can stay wherever he went. Deal?" The old gentleman tried mounting her a few times, but Skyler had that one figured out. She simply sat down...and that was that. Smart girl!

Since Skyler was raised in the prison system, there are many things that are unfamiliar for her. Like loading into a car. Because prisoners can't drive, of course. Once I got her to put her front paws up, and then tried to help her from the back, she resisted and dropped to the ground. Eventually, she got the idea and settled in her car crate nicely. I find myself trying to imagine what must be going thru her head as she takes in my world, which is so different from her world in the prison.

Yesterday we went to Gretna Health and Rehab where my plan was just to sit in the lobby a few minutes and watch the comings and goings of visitors and patients, letting Skyler take it all in. She was quite excited but not the way some dogs exhibit excitement with panting and pulling and general restlessness. Instead she sat quite still, with her head straight up, brows and ears up, neck tense, swiveling her head, watching all the people, wheelchairs and canes, with great intensity. Once she got used to the lobby, I decided to take her to the first nurses' station, where the plan was to turn around and head for the exit. Well, we got cornered by dog-loving staff and residents within seconds. Skyler circled away from outstretched hands and stationed herself between my legs and the wall, where she peeked out, as if to say, "Not now, thanks." I explained to her admirers that this was her first time here and she wasn't ready for petting. They were understanding. Total time in the facility was about 15 minutes and it was a good session for her.

She loves the fun walks with my two dogs. She is a sniffer so her nose naturally spends a lot of time on the ground exploring. I can imagine the smells in rural Virginia fields, woods and country roads must be very different than those within a prison compound. So she is having an olfactory fiesta.

My therapy dog group is really growing. We are now involved in visiting 8 nursing/rehab/assisted living homes, 3 libraries, a school for children with autism, a day facility for mentally handicapped, and starting this month, a regional hospital. As the acting liaison between the therapy dog teams and the facilities this is all very exciting and challenging for me. There are a wide range of needs and a wide range of dogs (about 15 teams) to meet those needs. Trying to keep abreast of who goes where and when keeps me on my toes!

I hope this helps explain why I've been a delinquent blogger. 

1 comment:

  1. Greetings! My name is Vicky Morrison, and I'm a reporter for the Danville Register & Bee. I was hoping to talk with you about your regional hospital therapy dog work. We received a release today from the DRMC about the pet therapy program, and we were hoping you might be involved. Editor Robert Benson recommended I contact you. Please give us a call if you are able. The office number is 434-791-7981. Thanks!