Thursday, December 29, 2011

I am so excited to announce another Cabarrus County Schools volunteer...CAROLINE! CAROLINE is a gorgeous 3 year old Golden Retriever. She is an incredible addition to our staff and will be working with our children with disabilities throughout the county. I was lucky enough to meet her at the Women's Federal Penitentiary in Hazelton, WV and then again at Lakin Correctional Facility in Pt. Pleasant, WV last week where she has trained with a very talented trainer, Amber. She spent Christmas adjusting to her new home and met her coworker NIKKI yesterday. NIKKI was very enthusiastic upon their meeting and sang CAROLINE'S praises by barking excitedly! Once they both got over the initial excitement, they were amazing! When either Sharon or I would give a command, the two new best friends would obey in unison! It was exciting to see them both turn, wave, and speak together. Of course NIKKI is an experienced subject for pictures, but CAROLINE was intrigued by the experience and kept trying to sniff the camera. Afterwards, we went out to dinner to celebrate their new friendship and CAROLINE did great. She is very patient when it counts! She is also a great shopping buddy. She visited the Apple Store in Southpark Mall and many people commented on her beauty and sweet disposition. She loves to shop and is always excited to be on the "go". I've learned however, I need to keep treats with me to keep her attention on me instead of all the new smells!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

NIKKI's Bulletin Board

Does it mean you made it when you are on a school bulletin board? If that is the case then NIKKI has made it! We are on a bulletin board at the preschool where we do much of our work. This bulletin board was created by the teaching staff in one of the classes that NIKKI and I like to visit. They are always ready with questions and really love NIKKI. The bulletin board was made for the dedication ceremonies for our new preschool. I am told that all the big shots in the school district were at the dedication and many were observed checking out the NIKKI bulletin board. Here are some pictures of the bulletin board....

This is the entire bulletin board....the rest of the pictures are pieces of it so you can get a closer look.

The big sign says "Meet our favorite classroom visitors". The visitors refer only to me and NIKKI - we are the entire bulletin board!!

I know it is hard to see but the picture in the upper right is NIKKI doing her "leave it" trick...leaving fruit loops on her paws until they tell her it is "Ok" to eat them. The white paper is the questions they asked me on our last visit. I like that the class had the questions prepared ahead of time....3 and 4 year olds need a little extra time to ask good questions.

I love the "We love NIKKI" and the "NIKKI makes us smile" pictures.

I must admit I am humbled by this bulletin board. I cried the first time I saw it. Never did I think that we meant so much to this class. I love what I do with NIKKI and it is obvious that we are loved too. Thank you Mrs. Harding and staff! I am honored.

NIKKI has had a few weeks off. She has enjoyed her Christmas break. My family came for several days around Christmas and NIKKI convinced them all that she does not get any love when they are not around. She insisted on being petted and they all obliged her. She has a way of making everyone feel special.

It is back to school tomorrow. NIKKI has a light week but will get back full swing the following week. I am sure there will be more stories to tell....especially if I can convince my coworkers to blog about their work with NIKKI!
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I will see you in December

I may have been neglectful in my blogging efforts but don't think that NIKKI has not been busy. She has been working at least 3 days every week and is getting quite use to the routine of going to work with me. My office was moved this year to a new building and she has adjusted quite well to this change. This building allows her a bit more freedom to roam around and my coworkers are always generous with the snacks they have hidden in their desks. (She knows exactly who keeps snacks in their desk!!) We have been doing a lot of activities to show the kids NIKKI's skills. For December we are doing the book/CD The Twelve Dogs of Christmas. If you are not familiar with this book it uses dogs instead of things... for example instead of 5 golden rings it says 5 Golden Retrievers. When we get to this part in the song NIKKI barks! Lots of fun! But instead of going on and on with words, I will let the pictures do the talking....
I don't remember what was happening here but I thought it was just such a sweet picture!
In this class we played Simon Says with was a impromptu game to get the kids up and moving. NIKKI played too. This has led to the idea of incorporating gross motor skills into our group sessions. Can you imagine...Simon says sit...the kids and NIKKI sit. Simon says jump...the kids and NIKKI jump. Simon says get the idea. We are also working on an obstacle course for the kids and NIKKI. Many of the students in the classes we visit need work in all areas of motor development. These will be fun activities to get the kids moving!
Is this cute or what? This little guy was so excited to meet NIKKI. This was the first time in this classroom. Many of the students in this class have autism. The teacher reported the some of the kids participated more than they typically do in class activities. Dogs can be such motivators.
The adult in this picture is Lindsey. She is a physical therapist too. She is now one of NIKKI's new handlers. Lindsey is on NIKKI's favorite people list...she loves Lindsey. It is so awesome that NIKKI responds so well to Lindsey.
This is Nancy and Amelia. Nancy is also a physical therapist and NIKKI's other new handler. Amelia is one of our Assistive Technology (AT) specialists. Amelia has been helping Amy (our other AT specialist) develop activities for classes. We usually go in as a team to work on the activities. NIKKI also responds well to Nancy. With both Nancy and Lindsey handling NIKKI, NIKKI is able to work with so many more students. Hopefully I can convince Nancy and Lindsey to blog about their work with NIKKI. I am sure they too will have wonderful stories to tell.
You know I saved my favorite story for last....Sam. Oh how I love to visit Sam. Nancy (Sam's physical therapist) wanted Sam to work on jumping so she had him working on jumping into and out of the hoop on the floor. He decided that he wanted to teach NIKKI how to jump. So as you can see in the first picture - Sam is demonstrating for NIKKI how to jump through the hoop. And in the second picture she jumped through the hoop! Sam's excitement is the best part of this whole thing. We ended that session with Sam saying "NIKKI, I will see you in November." During our November visit we worked some on the playground equipment. He has regressed a bit on the equipment during the summer break and we are hoping that NIKKI can give him the courage to use the equipment again. At the end of the session we took Sam to the after school program to wait for his mom. Sam wanted to tell the kids in the program about NIKKI. So before a roomful of about 40 kids, Sam told his peers about NIKKI and then showed them her tricks! Oh my goodness! I cannot express to you how proud I was of him! And NIKKI followed every single one of his commands! Sam is truly my inspiration for my work with NIKKI. As Sam said goodbye to NIKKI that day he said "I will see you in December". Oh Sam, I wish you could only know how you touch my heart.
And yes, we will see you in December!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NIKKI goes to preschool

NIKKI visited the preschool this week to meet some of the kids she will be working with this year. We visited 4 classrooms for a meet and greet session. NIKKI showed off some of her tricks and gave each student a high five or a shake. It is always so neat to see the reactions of these little 3 and 4 year olds. I will let some of the pictures speak for themselves....
This little boy could not wait for NIKKI's visit. He has been asking me to bring "my puppy" for weeks. When I told him that morning that I had her with me but that she would have to wait until they had finished breakfast he immediately said "I'm done" and wrapped up his breakfast to throw away.

Such concentration...

This has got to be my favorite picture of all time! This little girl doesn't talk but she sure says a whole lot with her facial expressions.

On the calendar for the upcoming week...Sam! Sam is NIKKI's favorite playground buddy.
I will keep you posted! Sam almost always gives me something to blog about!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Graditude and humility

September has been a long and lazy month for NIKKI. Work remained scarce since the first month back to school is filled with getting the classrooms settled and routines established. There is hardly time for a visit from a dog so NIKKI's life of leisure continued. Here is what NIKKI did for the month of September....

Many days were spent having stare downs with rabbits in our backyard. If you look really closely at the top of this picture you can see a rabbit sitting on the edge of the grass. She does not chase the rabbits but will just stare at them. They must know she won't chase them as they never move when she is in the yard. It is difficult to get her attention when she is staring at a rabbit. I am the one that ends up chasing the rabbit out of the yard! She will often look at me as if to say "Hey! What did you do that for?"

NIKKI's other favorite thing is to lay on my bed. My husband, Mark, gave her permission to do this and now she thinks this is her rightful place. When we are in the room she will look forlornly up onto the bed begging to be invited up but often when we are not looking she will make her way up there without an invitation. This picture below is one of those occasions.....

NIKKI has is quite the assertive dog. She was top dog immediately (poor Watson) and she quickly moved up the status ladder in the rest of the family. She rarely takes no for an answer and usually gets what she wants. Now I must say she is very polite, sweet and gentle. You hardly realize she has manipulated you until you have done what she wants. And her persistence for petting has also payed off for her.

The good news is that NIKKI went back to school this week! We got to visit Candace's old classroom that is now Tara's classroom. She seemed at ease in the class and resumed her typical routine. And she did not forget Ms. Flossie who quietly slips her a little peanut butter every now and again!

But it is today's story that I really want to tell. Today, was our monthly visit to the hospital. I was running late and must admit that I wasn't too sure I wanted to go. But we went and I am so glad we did! We made our rounds on the pediatric wing visiting the kids. One little girl yelled "Nikki!" when her door opened for our visit. Apparently, she had been in the hospital before and saw NIKKI then. She remembered all of NIKKI's tricks and couldn't wait to put her up on the bed. NIKKI also provided some love to some weary parents who were keeping vigil at the hospital with their sick babies. It is nice when we can provide a little distraction during a rough time. And might I add that NIKKI really likes this adult attention. She typically moves herself into position to get the petting right where she wants it! (This is when that persistence for petting pays off for her!)

As we were leaving the pediatric wing we ran into a family who had just left the one of the critical care units. You could see the stress in their eyes. The mom asked if I could take NIKKI into the unit to visit her adult son who had been critically ill for several weeks. She said he had recently lost his beloved dog and knew that seeing NIKKI would make his day. Wow. What an experience. This is one of those situations that I am not sure who got more out of our visit - me or the patient! We set up a few chairs for NIKKI to get up on so she was closer to the bed. NIKKI was wonderful! She didn't hesitate one bit. She jumped up onto the chairs and stood patiently allowing all the time this family needed. She showed no sign of distress with the machines or all the people. She just amazed me. To see this very sick man smile and reach for her with such great effort just humbled me. When we left the room the mom began to cry and thanked us for our time and patience. She knew it meant so much for her son to see NIKKI. It is these opportunities that I am so grateful to the patients and the families for allowing me to share just a small piece of their lives.

Kyria sure had this right when she started p4p way back when. Visiting patients with a dog really does make a difference. I am a better person for this wonderful job that has been bestowed on me. I am so humbled by and grateful for the opportunity to work with p4p, NIKKI and so many patients and their families. I think its time for me to end this blog here....I feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes...again!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

NIKKI's reputation

I am not too sure how it happened but NIKKI is getting a reputation at the hospital. It seems like we see different people every week and granted we do repeat the same tricks each time but I didn't think it would come to this. It seems she has a reputation as "the praying dog". When I go to the patient floors someone will ask "Is this the praying dog?" or I go around the corner and I hear someone whisper "that's the praying dog". But last week NIKKI's reputation finally got her an invitation to a church!! We were walking down the hallway to visit the patients and there was a group of people sitting with their pastor. NIKKI quickly won favor with all the folks as she allowed them to pet her...for those who know NIKKI this is not exactly a sacrifice for her. They all just seemed to be so impressed by her calmness and willingness to be petted. I guess I was surprised at how much they liked her for just allowing them to pet her so I said "You really haven't seen anything yet." There in the middle of the main hospital corridor NIKKI did a little demonstration of her skills - she turned, high fived, sat pretty - you know all the usual things. I pulled out her words and showed them how she can "read". By then there was a crowd gathering around us! I usually am a little cautious with her "say your prayers" trick as I don't want to offend anyone but since I did see that the pastor had a bible I figured it was safe to "pray". That is when she got the invitation to come to their church! All I envisioned was NIKKI up at the alter praying with the congregation! All kidding aside, meeting these people and having a few minutes to connect is the whole reason I take NIKKI to the hospital. Like I have said before, you never know what you will get when you go to the hospital with a dog and this day was no exception. Meeting these people warmed my heart. I have emailed the pastor and sent him NIKKI's video link. Who knows - perhaps we will visit a church one day.

Last week was my final visit to the hospital for the summer. I will resume my once per month visits starting in September. I must tell you that NIKKI does know her way around that hospital. She knows where the volunteer office is and eagerly enters the door to get attention from Beth and Katherine. She seems to know the floors we visit and she definitely knows how to get to my husband's office. Once she figures out we are done visiting patients and headed in his direction there is no stopping her. For some reason my husband Mark is her favorite. As soon as we round the corner to his office she is pulling harder than ever and doesn't stop until she has found him! From there our routine is to go to the cafeteria so that I can get a drink. Mark walks with us and waits outside of the cafeteria with her. He never fails to draw attention from the hospital staff. He is more than patient explaining NIKKI's work and always includes that "this is my wife's dog". I don't think Mark will ever admit to even liking NIKKI but - and don't tell him I said this - he really does love her - it is written all over his face! After the cafeteria, Mark will walk us to the exit and we say our goodbyes. It is at this point that NIKKI starts checking back to see if by chance Mark has changed his mind and is coming with us. So it is no wonder that on the way out she crashed into one of the pillars of the covered walkway! Yes, crashed into the pillar while leaving the hospital! I was walking and had just happened to look down at her when I notice that she is inches from the pillar and was looking back! There was nothing I could do but laugh (and send Mark a text message that NIKKI crashed into a pillar while looking for him!!). This did not stop her though she continued to look for him all the way to the car. I figured that once we were in the car she would finally get over him but - take a look at this picture....
She is sitting in the back of the car - looking in the direction of the stairs - still waiting for him! A genuine display of a loyal dog. Surely this will win Mark's heart!! (Sorry for the poor quality - I took it with my cell phone!!)

I will miss my weekly visits to the hospital. It truly is a blessing to meet so many neat people. NIKKI really does make a difference for the patients (and visitors) - sometimes more than others but none the less I believe she always touches someone's heart. I have asked them to keep my weekly spot for next summer as I am already looking forward to resuming this work with NIKKI.
I was just thinking...maybe Mark should start bringing NIKKI to the hospital??! What do you think?
It's back to the real world (work) tomorrow! : )

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Talking about NIKKI

NIKKI and I had the opportunity to meet with these folks last night. We had been invited to talk about what we do as a therapy dog team in the schools and in the hospital. NIKKI absolutely loved everyone as the affection was freely flowing! We had a good discussion about NIKKI's training and she showed them many of her tricks. We also talked about why she wears her vest and how to greet a working dog. NIKKI's "reading" was a hit. Almost everyone had the opportunity to give NIKKI a command and to ask a lot of great questions too!