Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections of our summer job

Friday was Nikki’s last regular weekly visit to the hospital. I go back to work this week and Nikki will start back too once the kids start back to school. Hopefully, we will still go to the hospital once a month on Saturdays. I have to say that volunteering at the hospital with Nikki was one of the best experiences of my life. I don’t think the people we encountered at the hospital have any idea how much our interactions meant to me. I thought I would take some time today to reflect back on some of the more memorable moments of our summer job….

First let me start with expressing my gratitude to the folks in the volunteer office. They believe wholeheartedly in the dog visitation program and the power of dogs on the wellbeing of the patients. I know there are probably many hoops they have to jump through to get dogs into the hospital environment but they willingly do this for the benefit of others. Thanks so much Katherine and Beth.

Walking down the corridors of the hospital was never dull. A dog walking down the hallway is an unusual site in the hospital and it usually evoked smiles and double takes. Nikki could draw a crowd in a minute. Once she was showing off some of her tricks to some young children who were visiting the hospital and when I turned around there was a group of at least 6 adults watching the happiness of the kids around this amazing dog! There were the hospital administrators that stopped to inquire and the medical supply sales woman that “can’t walk by a dog without petting it”. And I will never forget the look on that baby’s face when his mother thrust him into Nikki’s face. That, I must admit, made me a bit nervous! But mostly I will remember the patients. Like the lady who cried when she saw Nikki. She hadn’t seen her dog in 2 weeks and said she just needed to be around a dog. She brushed Nikki for 20 minutes. By the time we were done she was smiling. How about the man who asked “Can Nikki just sit with me for awhile?” He just wanted to pet her – and Nikki loves being petted so it worked out well. There was the lady who loved how Nikki put her paw on her lap while she petted her. Each time we saw that lovely lady she told her friend who was sitting with her that day about Nikki and how she put her paw up. On our last day we had a request to visit a very sick man. He seemed to be sleeping when we tip toed in so I whispered his name. He opened his eyes but sat up immediately and smiled when she saw Nikki at my side. He was in awe of how much she reminded him of his own dog and he couldn’t wait to tell his wife about his visitor. He asked for her to get up on the bed so he could talk and pet her some more. He was so appreciative of the few minutes he shared with Nikki.

But what I realized over the last few months is that everyone has a dog story. Everyone. Many times I heard about how their dog would make a good therapy dog too. Even the sweet lady who told me that her Rottweiler would make a great therapy dog even though she keeps him chained outside because he doesn’t like strangers! I guess our dogs – no matter what they do – are our therapy dogs. But what I recognized is that when people shared their stories with me they got a smile on their face. Talking about their beloved dog brought a flood of emotion – always happiness. It was this happiness that really was the “therapy”. Nikki just was the instigator of a few brief moments of distraction from the real reason they were at the hospital. So yes, Nikki is a “certified” therapy dog – but in reality – all our beloved dogs provide us with that unconditional love and acceptance. That’s therapy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My first blog!

So ...I am not too sure what to do here. This is a first for me. Never blogged nor read too many blogs...and not too sure who wants to read my blog! But I will give it a try because I will tell anyone who is willing to listen about my dog Nikki!

Nikki is a 2 year old golden retriever. She was raised and trained by the inmates of a Federal Penitentiary in Hazelton, WV with the paws4people organization. (Thank goodness - because I could never have done what they did!) Nikki is a certified Rehabilitative Assistance dog as well as a certified Educational Assistance dog. Basically that means she can work with me (a physical therapist) in the public school setting! Nikki has been with me a little over a year. We work in the schools with students with multiple disabilities from age 3-21. We also work in an outpatient pediatric physical therapy clinic with kids with cerebral palsy. Recently we started to work at the local hospital visiting the the outpatient chemotherapy patients and the patients on the adult psychiatric unit. Hopefully over time I will share with you our stories. But today, I just want to say that what I do with Nikki is a life long dream come true for me. I have loved dogs all of my life (I know Mom and Dad -I do remember that one time I wouldn't go to school because that dog was barking at me from his house - I didn't like that dog). I have always been intrigued by service dogs and what they could do for people. I always wanted my dogs to be so well behaved that I could take them anywhere. For those of you who know me know that my other dog (poor Watson) - well - isn't exactly anywhere near that well behaved dog. A good dog but not necessarily well behaved...maybe stubborn would describe him. Anyway, Nikki is that well behaved dog (thanks to all the p4p folks!). I love taking her places not only because she is a beautiful dog but because she always seems to know just what to do. Like recently one of the patients said to her "Nikki, you have made one cancer patient happy today". Thats what it is all about isn't to others? Nikki just does that naturally. I want to be like my dog.