Friday, November 28, 2008

Photo Shoot

Ross poses for the camera at work. His photo will be featured on our agency website, advertising our "canine therapy" programs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good Morning

This morning, we arrived to work early, so that Ross could again assist a boy in completing his blood draw. The boy had been successfully completing his blood draws on his own for the last two months, after just one time of Ross helping. For some reason, he refused again last week, so I agreed to bring Ross to help again this week. Not being a morning person, we were running late. As we hurried onto the unit, the nurse caught us at the door, anxiously exclaiming, "Just in time!" The boy was with another nurse, sitting in a chair, sucking on the lollipop he was given as a consolation prize of sorts for completing his blood draw without Ross. But, we were just in time. I sat down behind the boy, and Ross sat next to him. The boy gently laid his hand on Ross' back, and sat calmly watching the nurse complete her task.

Just before getting ready to leave, I heard another client and staff enter the hall, the child escalated and staff trying to calm him down. I entered one hall, waiting for clearance to leave the building. As I stood in the hall, I heard quite the racket of the boy who was upset. Staff moved to block the hallway I was in, trying to keep me safe. The staff member then saw that it was me and Ross, paused, and said to the boy, "Ross is here, would it help to say "hi" to him?" From around the corner, I heard all commotion stop instantly, and the boy exclaimed, "Buddy?!" He then walked around the corner, calmly approached, and asked if he could pet Ross. I told him that as long as he was safe he could visit Ross. The boy smiled, caressed Ross' face, and knelt down to Ross' level. Ross covered his face in kisses and licked the remnants of breakfast off his hands. The boy smiled and cooed over Ross. Ross, tired from our early awakening, slowly slid to the floor and rolled on his side, pawing at his Halti in slow motion. The boy rolled onto the floor and laid facing Ross. Ross gently pawed at him, placing a paw on the boy's face, then laying perfectly still. While the boy and puppy exchanged affection, staff inquired as to whether Ross might be available to walk the boy to school. I let her know that we just happened to be heading that way :) The boy happily put his shoes and jacket on, and walked to school with us. He stopped at the front door, turned and bent down, exchanging a final kiss with Ross before heading inside to start his day the right way.

Coping Skill: Dog Walks


It had been a rough couple of days on our highest acuity unit. Sometimes children with severe mental illness do not mesh well with other children with severe mental illness. It's difficult to take care of yourself when others are aggravating you and you lack skills to handle stress in a healthy manner. In the average world, when a child states, "I'm going to blow out if I can't get out of here," people worry about that child causing trouble. In my world, when I hear that, I'm impressed by the child's ability to verbalize his/her frustration, concerns about needing help, and desire to have control over oneself.

As staff and I worked to keep as many children calm and safe as possible, I watched as one child paced the unit, telling staff as calmly as she could that she wasn't feeling like she could stay calm much longer. I watched as staff urged her to continue to be patient until they could do something more for her. I watched as she desperately tried to verbalize her need for help to the next person, before it was too late.

I was surprised to see her sit down on a couch, frustrated and disappointed, but still trying desperately to keep her cool. I approached and commented to the child and staff member what an awesome job she had been doing for many days, remaining safe under great measures of distress. Staff commented that she was trying to find someone to take the child out to play basketball, one of her "coping skills" (a healthy distress management tool), but that no one was available at the time due to the other kids needing their help to stay safe.

Assessing that the unit was beginning to calm and staff were managing it appropriately, I asked the girl if she would like to go see Ross, who was soundly sleeping in my office. Her face lit up immediately, and she excitedly took me up on the offer. We walked over to my office, where Ross got up from his bed to greet her. We then went into a meeting room, where Ross cuddled in her lap and kissed her face. After a few minutes, she requested to take Ross for a walk. We spent the next hour walking the perimeter of the large campus, as she spewed about things that she was anxious, upset, and happy about.

After passing the outdoor basketball court for the third or fourth time, she requested to go shoot some hoops. Upon entering the fenced area, I latched the gate behind us, took Ross' Halti and puppy coat off, and released him to "be a dog." Puppy scooties ensued, with Ross nearly spinning in place as his legs moved faster than his compressed body could follow. The girl laughed as she watched Ross race around the court, so excited to be a free puppy in the crisp fall air. As she practiced shooting hoops, she called for Ross to move, as he dumbly stood under the hoop just watching the ball. For Ross, it was a training opportunity for possible ball distractions (he wasn't at all distracted, more dumb founded), for the child, it was an opportunity to be a normal kid, playing outside with a ball and a dog. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ross is Awesome!

Today, while checking in with a child who had been in a physical restraint, Ross and I were intercepted by another client. An above-average-sized adolescent girl, known for her ability to be highly aggressive towards others, stood just inside the door. As I entered, she exclaimed "Ross!" and proceeded to kneel down on the floor and pet him. She smiled widely as she told Ross, and the staff around the room, how "awesome" he is. Soon she was sitting on the floor with him, turning her head as he covered her in kisses, so that he would lick the side of her neck. She laughed and turned her head the other way so that he would lick the other side. Soon, the two of them were laying on the floor together, exchanging mutual affection. She continued to exclaim how awesome Ross is, as she excitedly engaged staff in dog conversation and casually mentioned some upcoming situations that she is anxious about.

She and I have known each other for years, and despite her difficulties in trusting adults, we've always had a good working relationship. But it will never compare to the honest, nonjudgmental, all encompassing, love and compassion of a silent black puppy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Board Meeting


Today was a monumental day. Ross and I were invited by our CEO to be the guest speakers at the Board of Directors' meeting this morning. Well, I was the guest speaker, Ross was the guest sleeper.

The meeting was earlier than we usually arrive to work, and Ross was feeling it. When I sat down at the table, he sat in front of me, rested his head in my lap, and looked at me as if to say "It's too early to socialize." His act was received in turn with "oohs" about how sweet and engaging he is. It took no more than those heavy eyes to win The Board over instantly!

Ross presented as a perfect Guide Dog puppy, sleeping silently at my feet as I told the many incredible stories of the work he does and his effect on the kids. Frequently, The Board members leaned and bent to sneak a view of Ross sleeping peacefully, and I was politely interrupted with comments about how well behaved he was. It was a perfect opportunity to tell The Board about Ross' primary job as a Guide Dog puppy, and how he knows the difference between his work as a Guide Dog (sleeping through meetings and ignoring adults) and as a "therapy dog" (cuddling with and covering kids with kisses). 

Ross and I then assisted with taking The Board members on a tour of the campus. Ross of course was on his best Guide Dog behavior, walking calmly next to me, ignoring the bustle of people around him who were now bombarding me with questions about Ross and telling me of their experiences with caring dogs.

When we entered the second residential unit, Ross stood calmly next to me in the hallway as The Board members listened patiently to the tour speech. After a few minutes, Ross turned to his right, then pulled eagerly towards the family room door. Inside sat a group of kids and staff. Ross immediately approached the children on the floor, saying "hi" to each one, and covering their hands and faces with kisses. These were kids we hadn't met before, but Ross recognized the moment. His ability to distinguish between his two jobs is amazing. For it is in this particular room that Ross has soothed many children in distress.

Like a good Guide Dog, Ross easily redirected his attention to the tour upon my command of "Let's go." He again stood quietly with the adults. As we entered the main living space of one of the units, Ross waited until the touring adults moved on, then with permission, visited with more children. These kids he knows, and they are old enough to remember to ask permission to visit with him and to wait for my OK, and Ross knows the routine as well. As they approached to visit, Ross licked them lovingly. One boy sat on the floor, and Ross stood in his lap, covering his face in slobbery kisses. 

We continued on the tour, and Ross continued to present as a model Guide Dog, waiting patiently and ignoring the distractions around him. As children he knew passed, he watched them as if a protector, ever the while maintaining focus on me. Frequently, shouts of "Hi Ross!" were heard across the campus, and occasionally a child stopped for a quick visit. With only an ounce of understanding of the work that has occurred for Ross to become the incredible dog that he is, the board members smiled as they watched Ross carefully balance his two very important jobs - presenting as if nothing less could be expected.

Birthday Ross


Ross turned 1 today! It seems just a few weeks ago when I met the oversized lump of a puppy who sat at my feet, too scared to move, at 10 weeks olds. He is still a baby at heart, but it won't be long until he enters the adult world of Guide Dog training.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bumblebee Ross

Personally, I am not typically one to advocate for dogs being dressed in clothing or costumes, and despite the fact that my puppy at the time did win the costume contest at a puppy raising Halloween party about 5 years ago, I haven't felt the need to make it a habit.

But, this year I couldn't resist! The kids get to celebrate Halloween at work, and I KNEW they would get a hit out of Ross being dressed up. I picked a costume that I thought a black Lab could pull off, and boy was he a trooper! The costume is actually a human bumblebee costume, but it worked perfectly! I attached the wings to his puppy coat, so the elastic straps wouldn't bother him. I attempted to make stripes with yellow crepe paper, but Ross kept turning around and licking his stripes, causing the crepe paper to instantly dissolve and the stripes to fall off. So, instead Ross was left with his glittery wings and bobbing antennae.

He was SO good about the costume! He frequently pouted and often looked ashamed, but put on a happy face for the kids and trotted around campus, showing off his costume to all. He managed to get his antennae off a time or two, but really didn't make much of a fuss and eventually just put himself to bed with his full costume on, antennae and all!

Community Connection

Check out the October issue of Guide Dog's Community Connection newsletter - Ross is the cover story!

The story is a summary of Ross' work as a "therapy dog" and refers to stories told in more detail in early postings of this blog. In fact, it was writing the story for the Community Connection that inspired me to start the blog. Initially, I sent an email to a puppy raising list serve with some of the stories of Ross' work, as I wanted to share them with others. After sending the email, I thought to send it to Guide Dogs to consider for the Community Connection. I am so honored that they included the story, and even more honored that it made the front page!