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 NIKKI....it 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 turn....you 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!
Sharon

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!
Sharon

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!
Sharon

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! : )
Sharon

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!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Extraordinary Day

I have said it before and I will say it again...I love, love, love taking NIKKI to the hospital! I can only hope that the patients get as much out of our visit as I do! Yesterday was an extraordinary day. We went a little earlier than usual so that we can go to the outpatient unit before the pediatric unit. We had been getting there later in the morning and many of the patients were gone, sleeping or just not interested in seeing the dog. But yesterday, everyone wanted to see NIKKI. The patients were very excited to see her. We spent several minutes with each patient, petting NIKKI, talking about dogs in general and talking about their beloved dogs. What I notice when people share their dog stories is their whole body language changes. They often sit up, start to smile and then start laughing as they recall dogs of past and present. Dogs seem to be so therapeutic. It is amazing some of the stories I hear. It doesn't seem to matter if the dog is an inside dog, an outside dog, a big dog or little dog. People love their dogs. We give them personalities and we are convinced that they do what they do on purpose. And they know what we need. I am sure there are studies out there about the therapeutic benefits from being loved, showing love and laughing. And if there isn't, I don't need a study to tell me that a dog's presence makes a huge difference our lives.

Speaking of research studies...I recently read an article on how service dogs assist disabled individuals become more socially accepted. The article states that when the service dog is present people are more likely to make eye contact and engage in a conversation with an individual with a disability. I can absolutely verify this study! When I am at the hospital I wear a volunteer uniform...its not the most becoming teal smock but I wear it none the less. The reason I tell you this is because I do - as least I think I do - stand out. I consider myself approachable and I do try to make eye contact with everyone I pass. Well, when I have NIKKI with me nearly everyone smiles at me or engages me in conversation. I always plan extra time to walk between units because I always get stopped. It is wonderful and people are always so nice. Yesterday was a different story. I had my daughter come get NIKKI at the end of our visit because my husband and I had an appointment and he asked me to stay to help him move into his new office. Several times that afternoon I was walking down the hall and was very much surprised at how ignored I was!! I don't mean to imply that I am something special and everyone should be looking at me but without the dog I was almost invisible! I think I got an idea of what it might be like for a individual with a disability. Wow, it was amazing. Being a physical therapist, I am not afraid to engage an individual with a disability but I will certainly be more conscientious about it from now on!!

I do like to include pictures of NIKKI in my blogs but since I can not take pictures at the hospital I will post some that my sister in law, Karen, took a few weeks ago when she and her family were visiting us.
When company arrives NIKKI somehow gets all the attention. As you can see she certainly doesn't mind three beautiful girls loving on her!
Karen was trying to capture NIKKI's personality. I think she got it perfect in these two pictures....This last one is the "I'll take that food you have in your hand" face!!

Just 2 more weeks and I will be back to work. It will be a few more weeks before NIKKI will be back in the classroom as the first weeks of school are hectic. I am sure she will not mind the down time as NIKKI's only goal in life is to be petted ....and she gets plenty of that around here! Stay cool!
Sharon

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Just a quick story...

Just a quick story....NIKKI had the opportunity to spend some time with some folks that were in the middle of a painful and tragic situation. NIKKI - of course - not realizing the situation just was NIKKI - gladly allowing rubs and petting to any part anybody wanted to rub. I really think that petting a dog has a way of calming and relaxing people. When the moment lightened up a little bit NIKKI went through her tricks and that is when the smiles and giggles started. NIKKI is usually pretty good with her "reading" but on this particular day she was about 50% correct. On a couple of the words she went through her whole set of tricks until she got it right! It was almost like she knew these people didn't need to be impressed so much as to laugh. At the end of the session one of the girls revealed that she is terrified of dogs - normally running in the other direction at the sight of a dog. I am so glad she allowed NIKKI to visit her...I think this allowed her to forget about her situation for just a few minutes. I just wish we could have done more to change the circumstances.

Sharon

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NIKKI....royalty?!

Ah...summer vacation. Quite frankly I am not sure there is anything better than summer vacation. For me it means no place to be, no time constraints, just time to relax and do the things that I have neglected during the school year. For NIKKI, summer break means just plain relaxing. She takes this relaxing very seriously...so seriously that she doesn't even lift her head when I ask her to go for her daily walk! Her eyes shift toward me as if to say "Are you serious, its summer vacation...I am not going for a walk". But her life is not all about sleeping, chewing bones and staring down rabbits in the back yard. We have resumed our weekly work at the hospital. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record but I love, love, love taking NIKKI to the hospital. There is nothing more rewarding than to make a sick child smile or allow a cancer patient the opportunity to share a story or two about their beloved dog. Even walking down the hallways evokes smiles and positive comments. Just last Friday a man said that NIKKI looked like royalty walking down the hallway! And you know - she does. She holds her head up, her tail out and she has a little spring in her step when she is working. Dogs just have a way of drawing people in and making them smile. NIKKI even makes my husband smile. For those who don't know Mark - he is not exactly a "dog lover" but NIKKI refuses to allow this to get in her way of winning him over. Mark works at the same hospital that NIKKI and I volunteer at. As a volunteer I get a free drink each time I work. On Friday, I went to his office to ask him to keep NIKKI while I went and got my drink. He decided he would go with me and keep her in the hallway while I went into the cafeteria. When I came out he was surrounded by women and his smile was from ear to ear! All I could hear is "Is this your dog Mark?", "She is just beautiful Mark", "Does she work here Mark?"....need I say more?! Mark seemed quite proud that day holding that leash! (By the way - if you happen to see Mark - don't tell him I told you this story...he will deny, deny, deny!! Just trust me it really did happen!) It is hard to deny the therapeutic effects of a dog. I think just the sight of a dog evokes a strong emotional response. If that emotional response is coupled with an interaction with a dog I really think that all that positive energy is somehow healing. That reminds me of one more story from the hospital. I woman stopped me in the hallway and asked if I could bring NIKKI to visit her husband. "He would just love to see her" she told me. We followed her back into the room and the man's face lit up. He told me that he had been in the hospital for 84 days - 50 of them in the intensive care unit. He told me that what was keeping him going is that his wife promised him a new dog when he got out of there! He smile and just went on and on about the dogs of his past and the kind of dog he was going to get when he got discharged. If that isn't a powerful story of how therapeutic dogs can be I don't know what is!

I only have the hospital work lined up for NIKKI this summer. I am certain I will have stories to share as there is always something magical about each visit. So stay tuned....

Sharon

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NIKKI the Dirty Dog


The school year is finally drawing to a close. I must admit that it has been one of the best school years ever! I am so grateful to my coworkers for all their support and help to make this dream of using a dog in the classroom a dream come true. What is even better is that we are already talking about ideas for next year and ways to make what we did this year even better! I can only imagine that the sky is the limit! The NIKKI video was viewed by the administrative folks in the Exceptional Children's department and was received very favorably. Apparently there was even a few tears! I am humbled by the number of views for the video too...last I looked it was over 750 views! Not quite "viral" yet but I am happy that someone is watching it!

I now have the pictures from the Bubble Bath for NIKKI with my preschool class. I think the pictures tell the story a little better than my words...


This is me getting NIKKI ready for her bath. I am trying to make some suds so the kids can feel the bubbles.


This is little guy needs support to stand and walk. He used his gait trainer to walk over to NIKKI and help with lathering her up.

This boy is working on standing on his own....this activity was perfect for independent standing.

This little girl is blind and needs support in all positions. The teacher is helping her experience "giving a dog a bath"!

Here is a few pictures from another preschool classroom. We modified the "NIKKI Goes to School" activity to be appropriate for preschool. I love the preschool kids. They are so excited to see NIKKI and they really like to participate.




At the end of the story, NIKKI gives everyone a high five.....here she is giving a few a modified high five...more like a "give me five"!

And one of my favorite things to do is to ask the kids to get NIKKI some water. I usually have several very willing volunteers. I love these pictures of the kids carrying the water bowl. They are always so careful not too spill the water! Often, as in the picture above, the tongue is out!

NIKKI has had a super busy weekend. Yesterday she passed her CGC test with nearly flying colors! YEAH! Her sit, down, stay, come, passing the stranger and dog and her separation from me was flawless. She almost met the friendly stranger with a little too much enthusiasm and got a little distracted on the loose leash walk but came back to me before the leash got tight. Today she and I went to the hospital. As I have said before this is one of my favorite things. I love seeing the excitement on the patient's faces when they see the dog. I especially love to show the kids NIKKI's tricks. I usually can get a smile on even the sickest kids. Below is a picture of NIKKI this afternoon.....exhausted!

We have just a few classes scheduled this week and we will have wrapped it up for the school year. NIKKI and I will resume our work at the hospital every week. We will go to the hospital on Fridays so we can go back to the outpatient chemo unit and the pediatric floor. We will also go back to the outpatient pediatric PT clinic now that we can go during the day. I am really looking forward to summer!

Sharon













Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Best Buddies


NIKKI has been doing some work in the schools but as I said in my last post it is a busy time of year in the school and squeezing NIKKI visits in is wanted but difficult. Last week NIKKI did get her bath by the 3, 4 and 5 years in one of my preschool classrooms. They had been "studying" bubbles and bathing NIKKI was the perfect activity to go along with this. As soon as I have the pictures I will post them. It was an awesome activity where the kids had do what they could do to reach NIKKI. For some that was walking up to NIKKI, others needed their gait trainers and others just needed help reaching out to touch NIKKI. I think the kids enjoyed it and I am thankful for the help of the "red room" staff who always love NIKKI's visit and are willing to do whatever to make the visit fun!

Today we got to see Sam again. I just love visiting with Sam. He always says something sweet. Today he said something about NIKKI being his "best buddy". I wish I could describe how incredibly cute NIKKI and Sam are together. I don't think my words can adequately describe his interactions with NIKKI. Unfortunately we did not get to go out to the playground because it started to rain. Nancy, his therapist, wanted to have Sam work with his new braces for his feet. She wanted to work on stooping (which is different when wearing braces) so we had Sam put NIKKI's treats onto the floor for NIKKI. He helped NIKKI work on her "leave it" command for her upcoming Canine Good Citizen test. Needless to say both did well - Sam and his stooping and NIKKI and her leaving the treat until he gave her the OK command to eat it. We also visited 2 of our regular classrooms and read the our story of NIKKI going to school. It was fun and the kids really responded well to NIKKI today.

NIKKI has also been working hard at dog class and preparing for her upcoming Canine Good Citizen test (CGC). I had my daughter come with me on Saturday to take some pictures. So below are pictures of NIKKI and I working on our skills....

NIKKI does amazingly well considering that class is right next to a very large dog park. In this picture above she is watching me. I wish I could say it is because she wants to please me so much that she is so attentive but I do have a piece of cheese in my hand and she is crazy for cheese.
Here NIKKI is working on a stay. Again very attentive because of the cheese!

NIKKI is awesome about sitting when we stop walking. She really does well in the class except.....

sometimes she gets tired of waiting for the next activity and as you can see here she starts barking! If you look closely at her she has her nose up in the air and she is barking! I am trying to give her a calming signal by turning away from her but as you can see on my face - that is not working! We have decided that the cheese might just be too high level of a treat for her since she loves it so much. When we first started class I think she needed this level of a treat in order to tune out the other dogs and the dog park and attend to me. Now that she has the routine down I think I need to lower the intensity of the treat. Next week I am going to try something bland like Cheerios!

Dog class has been really great for NIKKI and I. We have learned a lot and even earned the title of "Student of the Month"! Dog Haven (who we take class from) has created a link from the home page of their website linking to a little story about NIKKI and I and to NIKKI's video! You can check that out here. If you look around the site you can also find a little story about MaryLou and Annabel another p4p volunteer.

Thank you all for checking out NIKKI's video on Youtube....we have over 600 views!! I have gotten wonderful feedback from teachers and parents of the students in the video. Today as NIKKI and I were walking down the hall at one of the schools I can hear people behind me saying "There is that wonderful dog in the video." That just makes me smile! It makes me so incredibly happy to help others through this wonderful dog. Here is the link again to the video - please please share it!!

Sharon


Thursday, May 13, 2010

NIKKI's Video

This time of year is always slow for a working school dog. The kids have so many other things to occupy their time....end of grade tests, field trips, assemblies, field days, etc. And for me, I am inventorying equipment, attending what seems like endless IEP and transition meetings, planning purchases for next year and working on transitioning the kids to their new schools. When a physically disabled student moves from one school to another there is a lot of planning behind the scenes - installing equipment, modifying the learning environment, planning meetings, moving equipment and work orders, work orders and more work orders! Since all this activity doesn't leave much time for a hard working therapy dog and not much to blog about - let me show you what I have been working on! Click here to view NIKKI's video! If you are one of my blog "followers" you should recognize some familiar faces.
But before you think that NIKKI is getting too lazy relaxing at home...know that she is going to school tomorrow to get a "bubble" bath by a bunch of 3, 4 and 5 year olds! It should be fun and hopefully I will have some pictures to post!
Sharon

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It was worth it...

NIKKI and I went to the hospital yesterday. I went a little early as my daughter had a dance recital rehearsal and I thought if I went early I would get out early so I could get there to help set up for the reception after the recital....I thought wrong! Normally, NIKKI and I go to the adult psychiatric unit and the pediatric floor, but today we had a special request to visit a patient on the med surg floor. We stopped in to see this patient but he was still eating so we went to the psychiatric unit. Typically when we arrive on this floor the patients are by the nurses station resting - having just finishing breakfast and having their morning medication. We don't usually stay long since most are sleeping but yesterday there was a lovely lady wide awake and definitely all about dogs. We talked for a few minutes as she pet NIKKI and all of a sudden an alarm goes off! The nurses start running and the lady tells me that someone must need help in the shower. I look around, no nurse...just me and a few patients. Hmmm...a little uncomfortable but I decided I had better wait until someone got back....not that I would know what to do if something happened but I thought it would be best...just in case! What I didn't remember was I was stuck on the unit anyway as the nurses have to "buzz" me out of the unit! Fortunately for me this sweet lady told me about her 3 husbands while we waited for the nurses to get the shower situation under control! I returned back to the med surg floor and visited with the elderly gentleman who had requested a dog visit. He was very weak and his lovely wife was there taking care of him. NIKKI got up on his bed so he could pet her. It was a really sweet visit...the gentleman told me that he was married for 58 years! When I asked him what his secret to this long and happy marriage - he looked to his wife and said "Her". Very sweet. Once again I take NIKKI to the hospital to give of myself and the patients give more to me than I give them! I am always surprised how this works! On our way out of the room another lady stopped and asked if I would take NIKKI in to visit her father. She explained that her dad had had a rough night and a visit from a dog would just brighten his day. I do think it worked as he grinned (toothless) from ear to ear when NIKKI jumped up on the bed and laid her head on his lap. He told me all about his dogs. It makes people so happy to talk about their beloved dogs. I am glad I got to meet this man. I hope we made his day just a little brighter.
NIKKI is always popular in the hallways of the hospital and yesterday she was exceptionally popular! We must have stopped every five feet so someone could pet NIKKI. NIKKI loves these interactions as she lives to be petted! People are always so kind to ask if they can pet her....I always tell them that NIKKI would be disappointed if they didn't! By now we are at the hospital for about an hour and have yet to see the kids. I could still get out in time to get to the dance rehearsal but I never like to rush the kids. Off to the pediatric floor we went. Angel, the child life specialist, met us at the nurses station and we started our rounds. Mark, my sweet husband, was also at the hospital working. He has never seen us work before and wanted to see what NIKKI does with the kids. He quietly joined us on the pediatric floor. Unfortunately, Mark could not stay with us long as NIKKI adores him and when she saw him she lost her focus as to why we were at the hospital! Focus regained, we resumed our visits. There was a little 21 month old with the same color hair as NIKKI who loved giving NIKKI treats. The young man who only could lay on his side as he was in pain but could pet NIKKI at the side of the bed. And the mom who must have seen us before because she said to her son "This is the praying dog"!!! NIKKI is always quite impressive with her tricks! But the best part of yesterday was the little girl who was walking in the hallway as we were walking out of another room. She was crying and her mom and the nurse were trying to help her walk. The little girl was hanging onto her mom and her mom was sort of forcing her to walk. I always carry a few things with me just incase things like this happen so I pulled out my extra leash and offered for her to "walk" NIKKI. She took the leash, mom stepped back, the crying stopped and we made 2 more laps around the floor walking NIKKI! It is funny how something so simple could make a difference. I had to apologize to Angel for just jumping in like I did - it was sort of a reflex....it was the kind of thing I do in my real job! But all was well and everyone seemed grateful for my intervention.
By this time were were at the hospital for 2 hours. - 45 minutes longer than normal! So much for getting out a little early! I had to skip lunch to get to rehearsal but you know what...it was well worth it....making a few peoples days a little brighter is far more important. : )
Sharon

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Amazing Sam

This has been an exciting week. My supervisor asked me to put together a picture video of the work we (me and my coworkers) are doing with NIKKI. She wants to share it at the end of the school year luncheon that she attends with her boss and other administrative folks. I am so happy that I can showcase some of the cool things that NIKKI and some of the p4p dogs are doing in our school system. I spent all last Sunday putting it together and with the help of Amy it is coming together nicely. The video shows her work as a rehabilitative and educational assistance dog. I am hoping that I will be able to post it on the p4p youtube site. (I am verifying all my parental permissions!) And maybe I can put one of those "links" on this blog like Kyria and Karen do on their blogs.

I needed a few more pictures of Sam. Sam is the boy who has gained playground skills because of his work with NIKKI. (See some of my previous blogs for more on Sam.) I wanted to get some pictures depicting all that he can do now. So his therapist, Nancy, and I went back out to capture the things that NIKKI helped Sam do - like:

Stepping up.... and:


Stepping down...and:


Sliding down the slide.

Sam slides down the slide so well by himself now that we had a hard time capturing Sam using NIKKI's leash to do this. But the best part was when we went to the bus steps to capture how much Sam has improved going up and down steps. As you may recall from previous blogs, Sam holds one of NIKKI's treats in his hand so that he will only use one hand on the rail. Nancy usually stands at the bottom of the steps verbally giving some encouragement as NIKKI sits beside her waiting for her treat. But again we wanted to capture this for the video so I handed Sam the treat and positioned NIKKI. Nancy was working the camera and as she was getting it ready Sam went up and down the bus steps - like right now...with no verbal prompting! Nancy and I were so excited! He just went up and down - no problem. NIKKI was the only one who seemed to have the complete confidence that he could do this. (I am sure it had something to do with the treat in his hand!) And then - even better - he repeated it so we could get these pictures:


I know these pictures look like any other kid going up and down the bus steps but this was truly hard for Sam. The coolest thing about this is that Sam does not practice this skill everyday - he does not ride the bus to and from school as his mom is a teacher at his school. So practicing this with NIKKI is the key to his success!

One more funny story about NIKKI. As some of you know I have another dog and a cat. The older dog has never bothered the cat food that I keep in the laundry room. It is not that he doesn't want to eat the food - its because he is a little freaked out about walking on the tile floor in the laundry room. When I got NIKKI in June 2008, Terry told me that NIKKI was highly food motivated and that I would need to block off the room. So I put a baby gate on the laundry room doorway. Over time we all got slack on putting up the gate. Eventually, we took the gate away completely. NIKKI never bothered the cat food. After NIKKI's diagnosis of seizures and starting on medication, I brought the gate back out as one of the side effects of the medicine is increase in appetite. This side effect did not seem to be any worse then usual for NIKKI so I've kept the gate but was getting a little slack with putting it up. Well, I am not sure what happen last Friday but she decided that it was time to eat the cat food! I am sitting in my kitchen and I hear this strange noise. Initially I ignored it. But it persisted so I started looking for its source...there she was chowing down on the cat food! I mean chowing down! Later that day the cat came in, meowed and looked at me as if to say "someone has been eating my food." Lesson learned - the gate is up - sorry kitty!
Have a good week!
Sharon








Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Super Smart Dog




Words can hardly describe yesterday. NIKKI returned to the classroom after a long and relaxing spring break. My coworker and friend Amy planned an activity called "NIKKI Goes to School". We were visiting with a group of middle school intellectually disabled students. This is a challenging class as some of the students don't speak English, some are nonverbal and a few are just afraid of dogs. Amy - who plans most of NIKKI's academic activities - always finds a way to allow each student to participate in the activity at their own level. For example, for the nonverbal student she provides an augmentative communication device so the student can express - via the device - his thoughts and answer questions. For the 2 young men afraid we separate them from the area where we work with NIKKI but they are still present in the classroom and can hear what is going on. So let me get on with the story.....As soon as we walked in we were greeted by a sweet girl who does not usually speak and if she does speak it maybe in Spanish. She was obviously excited to see NIKKI and Amy asked her "Who is this" and she said "NIKKI"!!! Not only did she speak, she answered a question posed to her in English!! That is huge! Next we encountered one of NIKKI's biggest fans....Mikayla. Mikayla is usually very chatty and we sometimes need to pry her off of NIKKI but today she was much more subdued. (More on Mikayla later.) Amy started the activity of NIKKI going to school. We wanted to showcase some of NIKKI's tricks so we started NIKKI's school day off with a "moment of mediation". We knew we couldn't have NIKKI "say her prayers" in a public school so we went with the moment of mediation so NIKKI could do her trick of "saying her prayers"! Next was reading class. The students helped hold NIKKI's reading cards and NIKKI "read" for them. This is always impressive - even if she sometimes needs to "guess". Next, NIKKI went to Math class and we asked the students to help NIKKI do her math assignments. We had several word problems - like NIKKI had 5 bones and ate 2 how many does she have left. The students did the math on the board with the help of their teacher. Next was PE class....NIKKI chased her tail (turn), retrieved the ball, and went for a walk. After PE she needed some water so one of the students got her some water and then everyone had the opportunity to feed her "lunch". So you get the idea. The kids are engaged and interacting with NIKKI but also doing some learning. Now the cool part....The whole time Mikayla is sitting at her desk drawing a picture of a huge dog and a very small person (she said it was me and NIKKI). She was paying attention but not interacting like normal. Amy starts asking some questions about what NIKKI did at school and Mikayla blurts out "NIKKI is one super smart dog"! And the boy in the back of the room who was afraid to be near NIKKI - he was answering everyone of Amy's questions! Eventually Mikayla came around to NIKKI and laid her head on NIKKI's side and curled up into the fetal position and became totally relaxed. The teacher told us that Mikayla's mom has been diagnosed with cancer and Mikayla is very upset about it. On this day she just needed NIKKI to help soothe her. It was truly beautiful.



We allowed Mikayla to lay with NIKKI for a long time. As this was happening, the nonverbal student using the augmentative device in the back of the room started hitting the buttons on his device to let us know he wanted to talk about NIKKI. He answered several questions that the teacher assistant asked of him!! And finally the verbal student interacting from the back of the classroom because he was afraid....well let me just let his picture tell his story!


This was one of those days that makes all this worthwhile. We touched so many in such different ways. Amy said to me today that as she was reflecting on her day yesterday that she realized that what an impact that NIKKI can have on these students. It is awesome to be a part of this. I just wish I could be in more classrooms with NIKKI. Mikayla is right- NIKKI is one super smart dog!









Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nikki is a crack up...


NIKKI has had some fun times the last few weeks....here are some of the highlights:
Once again my wonderful coworkers have come up with some awesome activities for NIKKI and the kids. Since it is the Easter season we decided to have an Easter Egg hunt with NIKKI. We read the kids an egg story and then gave them some ideas on where to hide
the egg for NIKKI. We were working on the positional concepts...under, over, besides. The first class went really well. NIKKI obediently found the egg after it was hidden and promptly gave it directly to me without opening it. (We used one of those plastic eggs - just incase you were wondering.) I would give her a treat each time and the kids thought is was great that NIKKI could find the egg! The next class wasn't quite as successful. One of the kids opened the egg and NIKKI got a glimpse at the treat inside. I am not sure if the the egg was not put back completely but from that point on NIKKI decided she would rather the treat inside the egg then the one I gave her for giving the egg to me!! I must admit that I did have a yummy treat in the egg since I assumed she would use her nose to find the egg. She got pretty good at "cracking" the egg! Luckily I don't think the kids saw my panic each time she cracked open the egg...They seemed to enjoy it regardless! I will use the clicker next time!

We had another opportunity to visit a friend's daughter in the hospital. After getting permission to make an extra visit to the hospital and visiting all the other kids on the floor we got to spend about an hour with Ashley. Ashley has been sick for a few weeks and her mom was hoping that NIKKI could help get her mind off of being in the hospital.
I think it worked! NIKKI and Ashley had a wonderful time. Ashley helped NIKKI practice all her tricks...I think she especially liked when NIKKI "said her prayers"! They even played golf! Ashley would hit the ball and NIKKI would chase after it! It was a great set up...NIKKI is a great retriever it! I have included some pictures (and no jokes about my nifty smock I have to wear as a volunteer!) NIKKI was also there when the nurses had to take some vital signs and give Ashley her IV antibiotic. I think just having NIKKI there eased Ashley's anxiety with these not so fun things. The nurses were glad and even asked NIKKI to come back in a few hours when the process had to be repeated! I am sure they would just love to have a dog on the floor at all times for some of the not so fun things they must do to monitor the kids.

We only had one other thing happen that day at the hospital....Candace. For those of you who don't know, Candace is NIKKI's most favorite person in the whole world. Nobody can get NIKKI as excited as Candace. NIKKI and I were on our way out when we started talking to some ladies in the hallway. Just then I hear my name and look up to see Candace coming toward us. Immediately I realized what was about to happen. Candace walked up and NIKKI didn't recognize her at first. For one brief second I thought that maybe we were ok but it was only for one second and NIKKI recognized her! NIKKI escalated from level 0 to level 10! Needless to say we moved on very quickly. It took her several minutes to calm back down! Not sure what it is about Candace but NIKKI just loves her! The only other time she does this is when we have some down time at dog training class. She will start barking! At dog class I can get her back by giving her commands and treating her for correctly following through. I think I will carry with me some high value/really special/not used often treat so that when this occurs I can get NIKKI's attention back on me. Since she is so food motivated I think this should work. I am not sure there is a treat out there that would distract her from Candace though!!

NIKKI gets the next couple week off....we don't have any classes scheduled this week, our visit to the hospital next weekend is postponed and then the following week is spring break. Now that NIKKI knows how to crack open the plastic eggs....I am hoping that she doesn't steal the eggs out of my kid's Easter baskets! Happy Easter everyone!
Enjoy this beautiful spring!
Sharon

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sweet NIKKI

I just wanted to give you a quick update on NIKKI. I am happy to report that she has not had any seizures - that I have seen - since we started her on medication. All the side effects she was experiencing in the beginning have seemed to subside and she is the same old sweet girl that she has always been. She is back to work and doing very well. This past week we visited several classrooms and NIKKI did her usual great job! On Friday, she helped the kids in the preschool count - she did tricks and they counted how many times she could do them.... 5 high fives, 4 turns, 3 speaks, 2 puppy push ups and 1 rollover. Not only did they work on counting but also number recognition. And the coolest thing is - NIKKI is consistently taking commands from the kids! That makes them very happy when she listens to them! (I do have to use a few hand signals every now and then when the kids aren't too clear!) Earlier in the week she helped some special middle schoolers work on verbalizations and matching. And her usual Wednesday job of spending time in Candace's classroom is always fun....especially when Candace's assistant Flossie makes the peanut butter crackers. Today NIKKI visited the kids in the hospital. I have to admit that this still is my favorite thing to do with NIKKI. I don't know what it is but it always makes me so happy to be at the hospital. There wasn't too many kids in the hospital today (which is a good thing!) so NIKKI had an opportunity to brighten the day of a few nurses. Even the nurses can be easily impressed with just a few tricks!! NIKKI is also still going to her weekly advanced obedience class and doing well. We are working on the skills she needs to pass the Canine Good Citizen test this summer. I think at the beginning of this blog I said - just a quick note - but I seem to be rambling on! So to sum it up...I am cautiously optimistic that NIKKI's seizures are under control and that our work together can continue as we have always planned!
Sharon

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Update on NIKKI

The last month as been a little tough for NIKKI. I have been reluctant to blog as I have been a little sad about what has been happening. NIKKI started to have seizures in January. I have been around for 3 of them but I don't know if she has been having more when I am not around. The seizures have lasted less than 5 minutes and she has tremors. Her eyes remain open but she seems dazed and cannot move. I have consulted with my vet all along and we finally made the decision after the third one to put her on a low dose of phenobarbital once per day. While phenobarbital is a common treatment for a fairly common problem in dogs, it is the side effects of this drug that could quite possibly impact NIKKI's ability to work. Two of the most common side effects are increase in appetite and increased lethargy. Additionally, her phenobarbital levels will need to be monitored to make sure it doesn't damage her liver. My vet decided to give her half of what he would normally give a dog her size. If she continues to have seizures he will add that additional dose. He said that typical dogs spend much of their day sleeping so that is why the larger dose is ok for them. For NIKKI she needs to be alert and ready to work several days per week. She has now been on the phenobarbital for a little over a week. It takes a week or two to build up in their system. It has definitely caused some of sleepiness and at times I think she has lost her balance. It is sort of like she makes a turn and her back end keeps going! The increased appetite was the one side effect that I most worried about. The vet indicated that some dogs become so hungry that they will steal food off the table! NIKKI is already highly food motivated and to increase this could have huge consequences when working with children! All I can imagine is her grabbing the fruit loops out of some unsuspecting child! But so far she still has her manners and will wait to be told to take the food. We have taken some precautions at home - such as blocking off the cat food - but this doesn't seem to be an issue right now. The vet did say it would take about 2 weeks for NIKKI to acclimate to the medicine and perhaps the side effects will lessen or disappear. I am hopeful that all will be well.

As far as the cause of the seizures...that is not known. We did try to link the seizures but only the first two seizure had a link and the last did not share anything with the first two. The first seizure occurred after facing a smart board in a classroom and the second after facing the computer at home. The third happened in a darken room with no computer. The only other change I have noticed in her over the last few months is a slight increase in separation anxiety. I had attributed this to us working together in our weekly obedience class and on her tricks. Now, in retrospect, I wonder if she has been having these seizures, they frighten her and she wants to be near me. I am just not sure. It is frustrating that finding the root cause is not really a goal. I would rather eliminate whatever is causing the problem than to medicate it!

On the flip side, NIKKI now has a connection to many of the students that she works with. My friend Amy says that NIKKI is a special dog working with some very special kids. Seizures are common in many of the kids I work with. Maybe there is a reason for NIKKI's seizures that has yet to be seen. As for me, this gives me a different understanding of the families and students I work with. Watching NIKKI have a seizure is heart wrenching. I can't imagine what it would be like to watch your child have a seizure.

But I must, must, must end this blog on a happier note! NIKKI did work this week. As you would suspect I am watching NIKKI very closely. I don't know if she is different or if I am watching so closely that I am seeing things that have always been there and I wasn't paying attention!! After the first seizure I switched NIKKI from Fruit Loops to Cheerios. After all, I justified in my mind, I wouldn't give my children all that sugar! (We use a lot of treats when in the classroom.) What I noticed this week was that she really was not excited to do her tricks. I would have to ask her to do something twice and she really wasn't listening to the kids. Of course I immediately attributed this to the seizure medication....but then I had an idea. I did have some apple flavored treats in my pocket. Once I brought these out - there was the old NIKKI! Ears perked up, eyes widened and she was right on with her tricks. I guess the Cheerios have no value to her and quite frankly I can't blame her! Without sugar, Cheerios taste like cardboard. Lesson learned...I must use high value treats with my food motivated dog! Yesterday I let the kids give her the cereal and I gave her a really smelly dog treat and she did great!

I am now optimistic that NIKKI will adjust to the medication and she will be able to continue to work. She really does make a difference with the students and I feel we were really just getting started! I will keep you posted..... : )
Sharon






Monday, January 25, 2010

NIKKI's Magic Leash


NIKKI is rapidly becoming the best physical therapist assistant around! Again today she helped a very reluctant preschooler become more proficient on the playground. The very timid 4 year old does not really care for the playground. Lindsey, her physical therapist, tells me that this little girl typically tries to find every excuse in the book as to why she can’t go on the playground. Today NIKKI was brought in to see if she could coax the 4 year old to do a little more. Lindsey used NIKKI as a motivator, asking the little girl “What do you want to show NIKKI next?” This sweet little girl climbed steps (reciprocally!), ladders and pulled up onto a very high step. Lindsey reported that the improved mobility on the playground that we saw today was not typical. Sliding down the slide was also made easier when NIKKI’s leash is available for holding (instead of a hand). When nothing else works…try the magic leash.

For NIKKI’s next act, she gets the award for the dog with the most patience. We took the NIKKI Gets Dressed activity from last week and dressed NIKKI instead. The educational activity working on concepts such as color, sequencing and the use of augmentative communication devices was a hit. Words can’t describe this activity so let me just post the picture of NIKKI “dressed” and ready to go out to play in the "snow". I know, I know, she looks like she is about to go to the Eiffel Tower instead of out to play in the snow. But she was a good sport and the kids loved it! Au Revoir! Sharon


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thanks for the Golden Retriever Day....






“Thanks for the golden retriever day”…these are the words of Sam as we finished our session today. He is the little guy I wrote about in the blog titled “Golden Trader”. NIKKI and I visited Sam again today to continue work on the playground. Nancy, Sam’s physical therapist, tells me that since NIKKI’s last visit when we worked on the playground Sam has maintained the skills that he demonstrated with NIKKI. Nancy also tells me that when Sam is walking in line with his class his teacher will occasionally remind him to walk like he did when he had NIKKI and her leash. Apparently this little reminder helps him to increase his speed and keep up with the class. On the playground Sam no longer needs to hold on to Nancy or other adult to climb the ladders and slide down the slide. Nancy said that it seems that once he realized that he could do these things with just NIKKI’s leash he started to do more. So today Sam maneuvered the uneven terrain of the playground and the equipment with just a little verbal prompting. He was happy to have NIKKI watch from the bottom of the slide or ladder. Since NIKKI seems to be such a motivator for Sam, Nancy wanted to work on the bus steps again. She wanted Sam to use just one hand on the banister to come down the steps. Since holding the dog and leash are difficult in the tight space, we gave Sam one of NIKKI’s “favorite” treats to hold in his left hand while using the banister with the right. He then could give her the treat when he was off the steps. The top step was the hardest but the last 3 he did really well and with just one hand on the banister. It was really neat to see the improvement that Sam has made on the playground and with walking in line with his class. Perhaps NIKKI gave him just the little confidence he needed to be more independent.

I have to tell you that I work with some really awesome people that totally support what I am doing with NIKKI. Amy is a speech therapist and assistive technology specialist. She has created many of the educational activities that we have been using this school year. She has developed a social story to teach the students in a special education classroom how to approach a dog. She has developed several activities that focus on the educational and speech goals of the students that NIKKI visits that don’t have the need for physical therapy. Today, along with Julie, a speech therapist who is also very supportive of NIKKI, we worked on prepositional concepts – like over, under, beside and inside. Amy read a story about clothing items that we wear in the winter (in the format similar to Brown Bear Brown Bear). The kids hid the Cheerio in/under/beside the clothing item and Julie prompted the students to use an augmentative communication device or their voice to command NIKKI to “find it”. Once NIKKI found the Cheerio, Julie prompted the students to say where NIKKI had found the Cheerio (under the sweater, inside the shoe). It’s a wonderful and fun way to learn those needed concepts.

Another wonderful person that I work with is Amelia. She is a teacher of children with autism. Amelia has developed some really awesome activities for her students and NIKKI. My favorite and one I have used over and over is the Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is two large circles that intersect in the middle and is used as an educational tool to sort items (in this case what humans can do, what dogs can do and what they both can do). Amelia developed card that depicted all of these different things and the kids sort them into the appropriate circle. She even further developed this activity for the Smart Board. Today’s activity focused on winter clothing, colors and where the clothing items belongs on the body….in this case the model of NIKKI. The students listened to a story set to a familiar song. They had to find the colored clothing item and “pin” it on the dog. This activity was awesome.

So today was a “golden retriever day”. Golden because I got to use a cool dog to help kids gain needed skills. Golden because I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with such wonderful, creative people that truly love the students and their jobs. And golden because we made a lot of kids smile today. Just another golden retriever day.

Sharon



Friday, January 1, 2010

Reflections....


New Years Day. Always a good day for a little reflection….and sleep. It is 6:30am. Only 6 ½ hours ago that glass ball dropped. I am certain NIKKI and Watson (my black lab) were up watching that ball drop too. I guess that ball thing means nothing to them– even when I took them outside late and gave them a small treat/bribe to let me sleep in a little longer. I think it is a conspiracy. Watson – the older dog lays there, often sighing loudly as NIKKI pokes her nose in my face. I know he wants me up as much as she does but he is going to allow her to do the dirty work. So I am awake. Why not blog…..right? And since it is New Years Day, I will reflect on the past year just a bit and declare some resolutions for the New Year.

NIKKI and I became a real team this year. She and I really learned each other. We seem to sense each others needs better. She watches me more intently and I am clued into her cues. In most ways this is wonderful. She and I know each other so well I am confident that we can work in any situation. A trust has been built. But with this, a little separation anxiety has developed. To accommodate this, I plan our visits so that she can be by my side at all times or I take her home.

We have been taking some advanced obedience classes and I really think the information gained through this class has led us to be where we are today. I learned a ton about positive dog training and how to handle NIKKI without yanking a leash and firm commands (my previous method of dog handling!) I also learned how to teach NIKKI some new tricks. Tricks are really good when working with the kid’s….and adults too. It really doesn’t take much to impress people. The kids just think it is cool and most adults are amazed by the obedience….often reflecting on their own dog’s inability to do any of the things that NIKKI can do. My intention for the New Year is to teach NIKKI a few new tricks….like playing dead (a frequent request), balance a treat on her nose (this will be a challenge – NIKKI does not like this!), to find a hidden treat and to put hand signals to her tricks. (I am sure there will be more…it is just too early to think about what else we can learn!)

And I hope to increase our work as a rehabilitative assistance dog. NIKKI has proven to be a motivator for kids during their therapy sessions. I don’t think the research can prove this but it is very obvious that kids work harder when the dog is around. Every speech or physical therapist that I work with tell me how much harder the kids work when NIKKI is around. Dogs certainly have a place in a therapist’s bag of tricks when trying to help kids learn new skills. Kids talk louder and more with NIKKI. Kids walk faster and will try more with NIKKI. Kids can learn things like positional concepts when working with NIKKI. Not so normal kids become the coolest kids in the school when they have NIKKI’s leash. If we make a difference – even a small difference -then it is worth it.

So before I mislead you into thinking NIKKI is the perfect dog….let me tell you about a few of the other things I have learned about NIKKI this year. I have learned that NIKKI loves to stare at rabbits. When there is a rabbit in the yard it is a stare down until I go and chase the rabbit away. NIKKI doesn’t like to go for her daily walk. She prefers to go back to bed when the leash comes out. I insist on these daily walks. Once I find her and get her out there she is a fabulous walking companion. NIKKI likes our cat Sammy. She loves to torment this 13 year-old cat. Sammy is usually tolerant – until the other day when she got a double swat with the clawed paw. NIKKI (and Watson) love to let us know when someone is at the door, walking by the house or if a leaf blows outside. They bark in unison and feed off of one another. Luckily NIKKI knows “quiet” but Watson has yet to master that term….he responds better to the frustrated “shut up!” NIKKI is also highly food motivated. This love for food has gotten her in trouble – twice. Let’s just say that I learned how to induce vomiting this year and I think this new skill will come in handy with NIKKI in the future.

It has been a wonderful year. NIKKI is wonderful dog and through NIKKI I can give of myself. Giving of myself to others is what I believe is my purpose in this life. Stay tuned….I will try hard this year to keep this blog updated with NIKKI’s new tricks and some of the cool things she is doing with the kids. Happy New Year!

Sharon