Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No Use Crying Over Spilled Water

There is a girl at work who is very special to Ross, and to whom Ross is very special (see Ross' Stunt Double). As an adolescent, she suffers from extreme psychosis and is virtually nonverbal. When she does speak, it is frequently incomprehensible. She is often agitated by her internal stimuli, and it can be difficult to calm her with all of the tricks up our professional sleeves. The one consistent magic trick: Ross! She loves Ross, follows directions about treating him nicely, and is so soothed by him, that she frequently falls asleep while cuddling with and petting him.

Today's visit started off as usual: Ross made a bee-line straight for her. She immediately approached him and began to pet him gently. She then tried to pick him up (which she used to be able to do when he wasn't quite so big), but set him down when reminded that he had grown and was too big to be picked up. When asked if she wanted him to sit with her, she replied, "yes." And so, she sat down and Ross curled around her, resting his head next to her lap. She silently pet him and sipped on a cup of ice water. I watched as she ignored staff as they asked her questions, dropped her head, and closed her eyes, while cuddling with Ross' head in her lap (which she made a point of positioning there).

As she napped with Ross in her lap on my left, I began talking to another girl, sitting on my right side. As I asked the girl on my right why she was pouring water on the floor, I saw something out of the corner of my left eye: the girl on my left (who had just been asleep) was pouring her water on Ross' head! Ross bounced up, startled by the sudden drench of water all over his head. We got up, and moved to another area. The girl who had been on my right moved with us, and asked to cuddle with Ross. Ross cuddled up with her as staff got a towel for us. She then helped me dry Ross' head, and he quickly settled into her lap as if nothing had happened. The first girl then came over and started petting Ross again. He accepted her without issue.

It's unclear whether she poured the water on him on purpose, but what was clear was how resilient and forgiving Ross is. I have no doubts that he will be just as happy to see her next time, but I might advise that the water be elsewhere...

The Blood Draw

Due to the side effects of some of the medications that our kids at work take, a number of the kids have to have regular blood draws to check how the meds are affecting their organs and such (forgive me for the lack of clarity - I'm not a medical doctor). Last week, I heard that the boy who Ross consoled when he didn't get to go to his foster home refused his blood draw, as he was anxious about it. Knowing how well he responds to Ross' presence, I made a plan with the psychiatrist and nurse to bring Ross in today to try the blood draw again. Ross and I waited in the family room, and Ross sat calmly next to me. As soon as the boy came in the room, Ross immediately got up and wrapped himself around the boy, laying next to him. The boy calmly pet Ross to sleep, and Ross began snoring quietly. When the nurse arrived, I tried to make a game plan with the boy: I informed him that I don't like blood draws either (an understatement), and that I find that if I focus on something else it helps me get through it. I asked the boy, "What part of Ross should we focus on? Should we pet his ears?" The boy started to pet Ross' ear while the nurse prepped his arm. He then became fascinated by the fact that his vein was sticking out, and watched in fascination as the nurse inserted the needle. I, on the other hand, immediately shifted my focus back to Ross until the needle was gone! Having Ross present to calm the boy before the procedure clearly did the trick, but I think Ross was there to help ME more than anyone during the blood draw!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Can't Help But Laugh

After Ross' late afternoon potty break, we were headed back to the office when we passed a boy and a staff member sitting out in the courtyard. The boy yelled across the courtyard at me, "Can you train him to bite someone?" I answered, "no." He then yelled, "Can you take him inside to bite ____?" I answered, "no." As I continued to walk past him, he jumped up and sheepishly asked if he could pet Ross. I told him he couldn't visit Ross if he was going to talk about him biting people. As he promised he wouldn't, Ross stopped as if to say he needed to visit. The boy knelt down and pet Ross. Before I knew it, he was sitting on the ground, his back to the bench he had been sitting on with staff, and Ross was licking every part of his face. He laughed, and Ross licked more. Ross licked his nose, his mouth, his eyes, his ears. The boy laughed hysterically and encouraged more. Finally, he was able to laugh out, "that's enough," and I gave a gentle tug on Ross' collar to back him off. Ross stepped back, and the boy continued to pet Ross. As he loved Ross up some more, Ross stepped up in his lap, sat down, and covered his face in more kisses. As the boy continued to laugh, the staff member commented that Ross came by at a good time...

Ross laid down in the boys' lap, and rolled over on his side, soaking up the love. As I commented to the boy that Ross and I needed to get back to work, and he needed to eat his dinner that was waiting for him, Ross looked up at me as if to say, "Speak for yourself, I am working. This is my job."

Lunch in the Courtyard

Today was a beautiful summer day - with a high near 90 degrees, despite the fact that it is actually autumn now. With the great weather, many of the kids ate lunch outside today. As we passed by the kids, headed back to the office to eat at my desk, one of Ross' biggest fans asked to say "hi" to him. We stopped to visit, and as that child sat and loved up Ross, more kids kept asking to say "hi." They did a great job waiting their turns, and not totally hogging Ross so that other kids could visit him too :) One boy, who has only visited Ross once before, forgot to ask his turn. Staff, and the other kids, reminded him. He then stood off to the side, patiently waiting. When it was his turn, Ross (now laying down) rolled onto his side. The boy laid down on the courtyard patio, facing Ross, in nearly the same position Ross was in, legs stretched out on the warm concrete. As the boy pet Ross, Ross reached out and put his paw on the boy's arm. The boy, in return, reached out and scratched Ross' shoulder. There they lay, two boys on the patio, arm-in-arm, gazing peacefully at each other under the shade of the flowering plum.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thank You Note

Today I received an email from a staff member, sent for the boy who Ross visited in the school hallway yesterday. It read:

(Child) would like to thank you and the black Lab from yesterday. Later that evening he said that the dog really helped him get out of his funk and work on his goals.


P.S. He also said that you were; ‘pretty cool too’

Thursday, September 25, 2008

One of Ross' Biggest Fans & the Miracle Intervention

Shortly after Ross first started going to work as a "therapy dog," I had an idea. It was a stretch, but an idea. There was a boy at work who had a history of animal abuse towards small animals (but not large animals). The boy had seen Ross and was really interested in him, and had asked if he could have pet therapy too. After discussing with his team, we agreed that it was worth a shot, as he would always be closely supervised and was motivated for the time with Ross. My schedule limited me from scheduled appointments with him, but instead he got to visit Ross when we walked by during activity times or I stopped by the unit. From the first interaction, he was very good with Ross! He was calm and followed directions, and talked about how much he loves dogs. It didn't take long for him to talk about how much he loved Ross! He would sit on the floor, petting and cuddling Ross, smiling from ear to ear, and laughing as Ross licked his face.

The same day that Ross helped the boy who didn't get to go to his foster home (see "A Little More Bearable"), Ross was a miracle intervention for this boy! As I was outside the building speaking with the other boy's DHS caseworker, I heard screaming from inside the building. After about 10 minutes, the screaming had not stopped. I excused myself to check on the situation. When I walked inside, I saw four male staff standing around the boy, providing him with a fair amount of personal space, while trying to verbally calm him down. The boy was standing at the end of the hallway, screaming and crying. His eyes were wide, and he looked like a cornered animal. The staff members tried hard to give him space and talk to him calmly, but the boy was in flight mode, with no where to run. I took the chance to try a new approach. I stepped in front of the men and approached the boy. I knew he trusted me because I was Ross' mom. As I approached him, he began to mumble, but continued to be too upset to think clearly. He thrust his head into the wall, leaving a hole, then began to pace, clawing aggressively at his own eyes. I continued to speak to him softly, and asked him if he would feel better if he got to visit with Ross. At the sound of Ross' name, his body began to relax immediately. He paused, and mumbled, "I love Ross." I reminded him that he needed to be safe to visit Ross. He continued to calm, drank the cup of water one of the male staff had offered him quite some time before, and sat down and talked to me about why he was upset. I informed him that I had many meetings that afternoon, and it would be a number of hours before Ross could come visit, but that I needed him to be safe the whole time. He agreed that he could do this, and developed a plan with staff to stay safe while he waited for Ross' visit. As he walked back to the unit with staff, I knew that I hadn't saved the day - Ross had, even though he wasn't there. Just the mere thought of Ross was enough to make him feel better.

As I promised (and after Ross helped save the day with the other boy), we went to visit this boy on the unit that evening. He had calmly been waiting for me for many hours. As I entered the unit, I heard staff telling him that I had probably gone home for the day. He hadn't forgotten. And neither had I. I entered the unit with Ross, and the boy came over, smiling. He proudly told me about how he had been safe all afternoon, and had used his skills to stay calm and safe. As usual, he sat on the floor, cuddling with Ross, petting him, and cooing, "I love Ross."

Ross Goes to School

Today, I received a page at 11:45am that one of Ross' biggest fans was in a physical restraint. Normally, when I receive such a page, it is one of my job duties to check on the child to make sure that staff are performing the restraint correctly, that the child is not hurt, and that the restraint was necessary to ensure safety to the child and/or others. But when I heard who it was today, I had another plan (in addition to the regular plan). I woke Ross from his nap (snoring and dreaming), and we headed down to the school building where the child was. I walked directly to the time out room, where I heard the child screaming, and saw staff restraining him (correctly and safely). I calmly told him that he had a visitor, but he needed to be safe. Staff turned so that the boy could see Ross sitting in the doorway. I heard a faint "Ross" and the boy began to cry a little. He quickly calmed, and staff released him from the restraint. He sat down as staff had asked him to, and I walked Ross over to him. Ross immediately crawled in his lap and began to lick the tears off his face. The boy cooed about how much he loves Ross, while I checked in with the staff about the incident. Within seconds, the boy was smiling and laughing as Ross continued to lick his face and hands. His arms were wrapped tightly around Ross.

After a few minutes, the boy was calm enough to walk back to the unit with staff for lunch. As I prepared to leave as well, I saw another one of Ross' fans sitting in the hallway. His head was down, and he looked sad. He did not acknowledge either of the two staff in the hallway with him. I asked him if he wanted to say "hi" to Ross before we left the school building, and he quietly said, "Yes." I walked Ross over to him, and Ross immediately laid down in front of him. He quietly pet Ross and answered some of my questions, but continued to refuse to acknowledge the other staff. As we hung out in the hallway, the teachers started to come out of their classrooms and admire Ross and ask questions about his Guide Dog training. At one point, Ross sat up, put his paw on the child's lap, and gave him a big kiss on the face. The boy laughed, temporarily forgetting that he was upset.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ross Goes to Recess

On Tuesday, a couple of the kids had asked me when Ross could come to visit. I told them that I would try to bring him by later in the afternoon. It turned out to be a very busy day, and I had to leave without having a chance to take Ross to visit. On Wednesday, I had the same great intentions, with the same disappointing result. On Thursday, Ross and I were at our other campus. So, today (Friday) I was on the same unit, and one of the kids asked when Ross was going to come visit. I told him that I was going to try to bring him by this afternoon. He replied, "You said that the other day." In turn, I replied, "You're right, and I'm still trying." :) Darn smart kids keeping track!

So, I made a plan with the kids and staff that if they did well at dinner, Ross would join them down on the playground afterwards. One girl wanted to know if he could chase them, when I told her he wasn't allowed to play chase, she asked if he could climb on the play set with them. Of course, I told her that he wasn't allowed to do that either.

Keeping my end of the deal this time, I got down to the playground just in time! The kids were all playing a game, but came running when they saw Ross had arrived. I put him in a sit in the grass, and they huddled around him, all trying to hug and pet him at the same time. Ross started licking their faces, and the next thing I knew, there were 5 heads surrounding his, laughing as he licked their faces and hair. The boy who kept track of Ross' lack of visits loves it when Ross licks the back of his head, resulting in a hair style resembling bed head. Ross laid in the grass with the mob of happy kids until it was time for them to go back to the unit. We walked back with them, where they chorused goodbyes to Ross as we headed back to my office. It was a great end to an otherwise stressful week!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ross' New Office

Today, we moved offices. Ross and I had a very small office to ourselves, but now we share a larger office with a coworker. Fortunately, he's a dog person :) Fortunately, he doesn't mind that I have so much stuff it takes up every spot in the office, leaving only his desk for him. Or, he minds, but he kindly keeps it to himself :) But, he gets to share an office with an awesome dog, so who can complain?!

During the moving process, I had given Ross a Nylabone to chew on while I was at a meeting. While I was at the meeting, the maintenance man thought Ross didn't have any toys, so he took one of my therapy puppets out and gave it to Ross. I wondered how that puppet had jumped out of its box onto the floor by Ross' bed! Fortunately, it appeared that Ross never touched the puppet :) What a good Guide Dog puppy!

Ross and the CEO

At the end of last week, I had taken Ross out for a potty break at work. We have a couple of usual spots, out of the way of most people's view, and far from any place that they children will play. As Ross was doing his potty circle, an employee, two men in suits, and the CEO walked around the corner on a path that is rarely used. The employee requested to say "hi" to Ross. Fortunately, he had not started to potty yet! As she pet Ross, the others gently approached him and said "hi" as well. Then, the CEO requested that I bring Ross to a board meeting to tell the board about all the great work Ross is doing with the kids! I assured him that we would be delighted to attend any meeting he would like us to!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Little More Bearable

A few weeks ago, there was a child at work who was supposed to discharge to a therapeutic foster home. He was very excited about it, and when the day came, was literally all packed up and ready to go, with his shoes and jacket on, bags at his side, and discharge gift in his hand. For multiple complicated reasons, during this moment, it was decided that he would not be leaving that day after all. In fact, we weren't sure if he was going to leave any time soon. Understandably, we knew that this was going to break his heart, and I had to tell him...

I managed to buy some time while we worked out a few details, but the time came when I had to tell him he wasn't leaving that day, and I wasn't sure when he would be leaving. How do you tell a child that he can't leave residential treatment after all, because the adults messed up? Of course, there were appropriate clinical reasons that he was not leaving, but for a child who has been told that he gets to go, it doesn't make sense, and it's not fair. Nothing I could say was going to make it OK, or even better.

I had planned to break the news to him after Ross had a visit with another child. When I walked onto the unit to visit the other child, the child who wasn't leaving was sitting in the hall, talking with a staff member. When he saw me walk by with Ross, he jumped up and ran towards us, excitedly pleading, "Can I pet the dog?!"

I asked him to please sit down quietly, so that Ross could come over to visit him. He quickly sat back down and waited anxiously for us to walk the 10 feet back to him. Ross approached, and with permission climbed into the child's lap. Ross laid his head in the child's lap, and licked his hands and face. The boy petted Ross, while examining him and his equipment. I showed him the tatoos in his ears, and he noticed that the tatoo had the same letters and numbers as the ID plate on his collar. He tried to tickle Ross' feet, and was amazed at how Ross laid there perfectly still, not at all bothered by the tickling. As he examined his feet, I showed him Ross' dew claw and explained how it is his "thumb."

While he was petting Ross, I broke the news to him. I informed him that the adults still had to figure some things out, and that we would let him know when we had more information, but for now, he was staying. I told him that I understood that he was angry, and that I would have been too.

As I tried my hardest to say anything reassuring that I could, he interrupted me to calmly state, "Ross makes me feel relaxed." I knew then that Ross had just saved the day! The child's calm demeanor had nothing to do with my attempts to break the news softly, it had everything to do with Ross' gentle touch. (So much for those 10 years of higher education...)

A few days later, we had a meeting to decide this child's treatment plan. It was decided that he would stay, and enter a new program. He was anxiously awaiting the decision that the adults were making about his life. We decided that we would tell him as a group, including two different therapists, his father, and care coordinator. We also decided that Ross should be there, hopefully to save the day once again.

The rest of the group arrived to meet with him before I got there with Ross. They had started to tell him, and he got up and left the room. As I entered the building, he was on his way out of the room. I told him that Ross was there to visit with him, and without any hesitation, he turned around and went back in the room with the group. He sat down, and Ross cuddled up next to him, laying his head in his lap, as if to say, "I know you hurt." The boy sat and listened to the adults as they told him he had to stay and work on his behavior some more. He calmly sat and stroked Ross, and made no more attempts to leave.

A few days ago, a couple of professionals came to interview this child for his new program. Not usually being the one to make these arrangements, I forgot to prepare him for the visitors. Once they arrived, I had to go get him from school. I knew that he would not want to go talk to strangers, so I took Ross with me. The boy was outside with staff, as he had been having a difficult day at school. When he saw us, he excitedly asked if Ross was there for him. I informed him that he had some visitors, and that Ross came to take him to the visitors. Without looking back at the staff, he immediately began walking with me. Although we were not part of the meeting, we stuck around for a while so that Ross could ease him into the interview. Ross cuddled with him, and after a few minutes began to snore loudly (he sometimes does this even while awake). I took the snoring as an opportunity to excuse myself and Ross, telling the child that Ross needed to go back to the office for his nap. He was compliant with us leaving. I later found out that he basically quit talking after Ross left the room.

The other day, the psychiatrist and I had to interview this boy for the new program that he was entering. He has a history of yelling and swearing at the psychiatrist who was part of the interview. I requested to bring Ross, and he was gladly welcomed. Staff brought the child to the office, and he was very resistant to being there. I informed him that Ross came to visit him while we ask him some questions, and he compliantly followed Ross into the office. They resumed their usual position: child sitting, dog's head in his lap. The boy was very quiet, and avoided answering questions as much as possible. He spent the entire time looking at Ross as he gently stroked his soft black fur, sometimes mumbling answers so quietly I could not hear them. Ignoring the psychiatrist's questions, he whispered and signaled to me, "Are his eyes closed?" After a very short interview, instead of leaving the room, he moved out from under Ross and kneeled in front of him, trying to tickle his feet. I had him show the psychiatrist Ross' tattoo and tell him about his dew claws (or "thumbs"). The boy perked up immediately. He started to make eye contact, and his voice was suddenly audible. He told the psychiatrist all about Ross.

First thing the next morning, before either Ross or I were even really awake, he asked when he could see Ross :)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ross Meets his Stunt Double

I waited anxiously for Ross' stunt double to arrive in the mail. I had searched the internet high and low to find JUST the right dog - one that was life-size, realistic, and looked just like Ross, and I found him! I was so excited!

When he finally arrived, I tore the large box open like a child at Christmas! Under a wad of packing paper, I found a large stuffed dog sealed in a large plastic bag. As I started to tear the bag open and pull him out, I noticed Ross watching from the doorway. Watching in horror as I pulled a dog out of a bag, out of a box! Watching in horror as the dog stood staring intently at him, not moving a muscle! Ross growled, barked, and scurried away. He slowly stalked back, only to retreat again! He was sure that the dog was real! (Wow, I did find a good one!)

I coaxed Ross closer, using my confident "there's nothing to be afraid of" voice, while gently petting the stunt double. Ross gradually inched closer, staying back on his hocks for a quick retreat. Eventually, he inched his way close enough to sniff the dog. Evidently he smelled OK, because Ross decided that the stunt double wasn't going to attack, but he must not have smelled stuffed...

I took the stunt double to work, where I sat him outside my office while he waited to be presented to his child, as my office is way too small for two large dogs (even if one is stuffed). I spent the day mostly behind a closed door, frequently overhearing gasps, screams, and comments about how people thought the dog was real! (Wow, I did find a good one!) I must admit, it was rather amusing :)

The next day, I drove to our other campus. During a call later in the day, I found that people had continued to be startled by the stunt double in the hallway, and the medical director kindly asked that I put him somewhere else until he was to be delivered to his child. The following day, I found him in a meeting room, where he had evidently been startling people as well :)

Despite many professionals being scared by a stuffed dog, Ross decided that his stunt double wasn't so bad after all, and might actually be his friend. Ross began to lay in the doorway of my office, gazing at his friend just outside the door. When he was off duty in the evening, he decided that it would be a great opportunity to play with his friend, while mom continued to work for free after 5:00. Ross got his tug ring for his stunt double. He sniffed his stunt double in the rear, and invited him to play, prancing around him with his tug ring. Ross pawed at his friend, and nudged him with the ring, continuing the invitation. Initially, his friend ignored him, just as his brothers do at home, but after a couple of minutes, his friend actually grabbed the tug ring as he lay on the floor (Ross accidently looped the ring over the stunt double's muzzle after knocking him to the ground). Ross was SO excited! His new friend wanted to play! He pulled hard, and low and behold, he won the game of tug it pulled loose from his friend's mouth! Ross was so proud of himself, and he continued to prance around his friend, nudging and poking him to play some more.

I was actually sad to take the stunt double to his child - I knew Ross would miss his friend (whom he still had not figured out wasn't real), and I would miss Ross' sweet naivety as he smelled his stuffed cotton rear and poked him to play :)

Ross' Stunt Double

One of Ross' first "pet therapy" clients was a child who suffers from psychosis. Her functioning is very low, and there are few activities that she can effectively participate in throughout the day. While she appears to comprehend much of what she hears, her speech is very difficult to comprehend, and her behavior appears very impulsive. She reportedly loved her family dog, so we decided to give it a shot and see how she would respond to Ross.

Initially, I wasn't sure how effective it would be for her, or how positive it would be for Ross. During her initial session, she picked Ross up completely off the ground, and plopped him in her lap, sometimes poking and pulling at him. What I was amazed by was Ross' response. He held completely still - not scared still, but calm still. He flopped in her arms as she fumbled to get him in her lap, he allowed her to mold him like a clay figure as she got him in just the right position, and he ignored her as she poked and prodded. It was truly incredible! I knew then that Ross had a special sense for kids with needs, and if any dog could serve these kids, he was the one!

What was even  more amazing is the effect that Ross has had on this child. Despite her disorganized behavior the rest of the day, she is a completely different child in Ross' presence. She quickly learned to follow directions to be more gentle with him, responding to reminders about him needing to be "safe" or to not "hurt" him. Clearly, she cares about him, even if she doesn't have the words to tell anyone. When she is having a difficult time focusing, she responds to requests to show Ross something, or for Ross to walk her back to where she needs to be. When Ross is around, she more frequently answers questions with logical responses, typically one word, but comprehensible and calm. The shift in her behavioral presentation and cognitive functioning is incredible. But what leaves me in awe more than anything else, are the many moments when she has cuddled up with him, stroked his fur gently, and fallen asleep with him in her lap. The moments are short, but they are some of the only moments of peace in her otherwise chaotic and confusing life.

It is because of Ross' incredible affect on this child's life, that he has been welcomed back to the office on a daily basis.

Despite Ross' leisurely work schedule, mine is not quite so flexible. So, we purchased a stunt double for this child to cuddle with when Ross is not available. We do not pretend that the life-size, real looking, dog is Ross or any other breathing creature. He's just a reminder that Ross is around for her, and will be back soon.

A Day in the Moonlighting Life of a Guide Dog Puppy

April 28, 2008: Ross' first day at the office. In anticipation, I had already prepared my tiny office with a dog bed, tie down, water bowl, and basket of supplies including Febreeze, a brush, towels, wash cloths, poop bags, kibble bag, and toys. 

At just 5 1/2 months old, Ross was a perfect office dog from Day 1. He started his day off on the dog bed, where he laid for about 8 or more hours, occasionally getting up to stretch out on the carpet or say "hi" to a visitor stopped by. He never made a peep, had an accident, or bothered anyone. People had to stop by and look around my file cabinet to know he was there.

Now, at 9 1/2 months, his days don't look much different. We arrive in the office, I take his leash off, and he goes directly to his bed, where he sleeps for the next 8+ hours. I wake him to visit kids, and visitors wake him to say "hi" in the office. Sometimes he opens his eyes for them. When visitors come in for appointments, he sometimes gives them a sniff and flops at their feet, not minding the fact that they can't move their chair or get up without having to step over him. He doesn't care. From 9-5 it's sleep time. It's a good thing he works for free - or he would definitely get fired for sleeping on the job!

Recently, Ross has decided that the work day ends at 5:00pm sharp. I'm not sure why - it has never ended at 5:00. Sometimes 6:00 if we're lucky, often closer to 7:00, even 8:00, 9:00, or later. That's the joy of a salary middle management job in a non-profit organization. The work day ends when the work is done, which it never is. If you're human, you eventually give up and go home, hoping you'll have time to finish it tomorrow. If you're a Guide Dog puppy, you have brothers to go home and play with, and it's important! After all, no one is paying either of you to stick around past 5:00!

And so, 5:00 is met with a nudge, a dance, and more frequently these days - a "talk." All of this is met with a tie-down. Which, in turn, receives a glare, or terribly sad puppy eyes that actually appear to have tears coming from them (the glare is for me, the sad puppy eyes are for any sap that might stop by), but shortly thereafter - a snooze. More than once Ross' sleep time has been made evident by the loud snoring apparently coming from the file cabinet.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Puppy Who Started it All

On January 27, 2008, I received my 9th Guide Dog puppy: Ross. Ross is special for many reasons, which have become even more apparent every day. Initially, Ross was deemed special because he was in the first group of puppies at Guide Dogs for the Blind to participate in the clicker training trial. Guide Dogs has been using clicker training with dogs in formal training for a while, but up until now, had not permitted puppy raisers to utilize this training method. I was eager to participate in this trial, as my many years of graduate school in psychology convinced me of the power of positive reinforcement in shaping behaviors. Ross was one of an elite few (30 in total) to participate in this trial.

I later learned that Ross was special for another reason. Ross received his name as part of the grand prize for a fundraiser raffle at the Oregon Fall Luncheon. The winner got to name a puppy and fly to San Rafael, CA to meet the puppy that was named. Ross was named by a member of the Lake Oswego Lions Club, after a prominent and well respected Lions Club member whom had recently passed away. Ross had big shoes to fill, and a lot of people eager to watch him grow and succeed as a guide.

Along the way, I also quickly realized that Ross is very special because of his personality. He is a very "soft" or sensitive dog. He is generally calm and unsure about the world. He wants to please, but is sometimes unsure how to do so, and will choose to do nothing instead. Most of all, he really worries about doing something wrong, and punishment is devastating for him. Fortunately, this made clicker training a great technique for him, as he learned through positive reinforcement, instead of punishment. 

Along with Ross' "soft" personality, he is incredibly sweet and lovable. He sometimes lacks the confidence to explore the word on his own, and he is comforted by the presence of people, primarily me (his "mommy"). Ross is often by my side, and he loves to cuddle. Ross' personality deems him special because it lends him to be better behaved than the average puppy, even the average Guide Dog puppy. Ross is calm, quiet, and unlikely to cause any trouble. Instead, he'll loyally lay by your side and give you kisses when he gets the chance.

Another special attribute about Ross is that he has been the first of my puppies to be allowed at my work. (see Introduction) Ross' behavior at my work is critical, not just in his representation of Guide Dogs, but in paving the way for future Guide Dog puppies to be permitted, and in the level of welcoming and acceptance they receive. The pressure is on!


I work at a residential treatment facility for children with severe mental illness, and our agency has a policy that permits certified Therapy Dogs on campus. Unfortunately, my dogs aren't certified as Therapy Dogs, but I do raise puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

For four years, I sought permission to bring my well behaved Guide Dog puppies to work, only to be repeatedly told that only certified Therapy Dogs were permitted. I attempted to educate the powers that be as to the difference between a service dog and therapy dog, including the greater expectations, rules, and training oversight that Guide Dog puppies have over Therapy Dogs. Unfortunately, my efforts remained futile, and I had to make other arrangements for my puppies during the work day.

I was fortunate, a few months ago, to receive assistance from some colleagues in changing the policy at my agency to include service dogs in training as permitted on campus, with the same rules and expectations that Therapy Dogs would have. Upon the change in policy, I followed the policy to request permission for my Guide Dog puppy to attend work with me.

I was thrilled to initially receive permission for my puppy to attend regularly. However, after a week or two, I was informed that I was only to bring my puppy two days a week for scheduled "pet therapy" sessions. In an effort to work collaboratively with my employer, I followed their directions. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I hoped that it would just be a matter of time for them to realize just how well mannered my Guide Dog puppies are, and to embrace their presence on a daily basis. I was not alone in my disappointment - many of my colleagues were as well.

While I regard 8 of the 9 Guide Dog puppies I have raised thus far to have been excellent representatives of the high standards that Guide Dogs for the Blind has for their puppies and puppy raisers, I was especially fortunate in the timing of the policy change to be raising one of the most incredible puppies ever: a large black Lab named Ross. Ross is the ideal puppy to warm people's hearts to the presence of a dog in the work place. Especially in a therapeutic work place. 

Due to Ross' incredible presence as both a Guide Dog puppy, and "therapy dog" (I use the term loosely, as he serves as a therapy dog through the nature of my job, and he is not certified through any animal assisted therapy program), he has started making big changes at my place of employment, demonstrating the "power of the puppy" that no human can duplicate. I am pleased to report that due to Ross' incredible work, he is now permitted daily on campus, so that he can be available to the children when they need him, not necessarily when it's convenient.