Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Happy


I was called to assist with staffing on the hospital unit Halloween night. Holidays are often difficult for our kids. They are exciting and anxiety provoking. Sometimes it's just too much stimulation. Sometimes it's the change in routine. Other times, it's the reminder that these kids are in residential treatment, and not at home with their families.

Fortunately, things calmed quickly and I was able to enjoy some time with the kids in non-crisis. Prepared with back-up, I had Jazz with me, just in case ;) We entered the family room to join a quiet girl I had only met once before. She was sitting silently, waiting to watch Mary Poppins, which was just starting on the DVD player. I sat down next to her, positioning Jazz on the floor away from most of the debris other kids had left behind. The girl watched curiously as Jazz sneakily scoured the floor for goodies. I corrected him, repositioned him, and attempted to watch Mary Poppins. This routine continued for some time, the girl watching Jazz more than she watched the movie. After some time, I heard a quiet voice say, "He just ate a piece of paper." I looked down, and sure he enough, he sucked up a tiny piece of scrap paper I had been keeping my eye on. I pretended to scold Jazz, knowing well that he had taken opportunity of me losing focus. The girl laughed quietly and had a huge grin on her face.

After a bit, another girl, who knows Jazz, joined us as well. She attempted some obedience with him, snapping her fingers at him with every command she gave. Jazz ignored her completely. I kindly instructed the girl as to correctly giving commands, and attempted to model it for her. The quiet girl continued to watch in fascination, chuckling at the live show we were putting on for her: Jazz naughtily trying to vacuum every crumb off the floor, the other girl awkwardly trying to "train" him, and me trying to manage both of them.

Eventually, Jazz gave up on cleaning the floor, and rolled over for some tummy rubs. The two girls took turns scratching his belly, amused at how he kicked his legs in response. The girl who had been attempting to command him became fascinated by his lips and gums, playing with his face as he laid on his back and stared at her upside down with those mischievous puppy eyes. It was Halloween at the facility, and at least 3 kids were happy (2 human, one puppy).

Jazzy Greetings

Despite my lack of updating the blog, Jazz has been busy at work... mostly practicing his greetings.

Unlike Uncle Ross, Jazz is truly a puppy. He gets excited easily, and sometimes forgets his manners. He often fools me by his calm demeanor in the office, and I forget that he's still just a puppy :)

Early in the month, Jazz met a cute little girl in foster care, whose head is shaved and wears a scarf to cover it. We met her in the lobby, and Jazz was so happy to make a new friend. The next week, we saw her and her mother as we entered another building. The girl excitedly told her mother, "There's the puppy again!" Her mother kindly told her that she hadn't met the puppy before, and I kindly informed her mother that she had. She happily greeted Jazz, and he happily greeted her back. The following week, as we rounded the corner in the hall of the same building, I saw Jazz's head pop up and he started to lunge on the leash. I corrected him, and had him sit to calm. Around the corner I saw the girl with the scarf. Jazz had sighted her first, and he was so excited to see his friend again! After he calmed, I allowed him to say hello. He laid down on the floor next to her and enjoyed a belly rub.

On the hospital unit, Jazz has a favorite little boy he has befriended, who is just his size. They both get so excited when they see each other. The boy exclaims "Jazzy!" and Jazz attempts to bound on him with love. Of course, bounding isn't allowed, so I try hard to keep all of Jazz's feet on the ground while he greets. He's been known to pop his front feet off the ground though, just quick enough to cover the boy's face in slobbery kisses. Every greeting is an opportunity to practice "four on the floor."

This past week, Jazz and I were called to the unit to assist with a blood draw. I must admit, with all the blood draws Ross and Jazz have helped with, I'm slowly developing a desensitization to my needle phobia. If nothing else, I suppose it's therapeutically beneficial to me in that way... On Friday, we entered a small office where the boy was waiting with the phlebotomist, nurse, and manager, refusing his blood draw. As we entered the room, Jazz immediately spotted the boy, ignored all of the adults, and climbed into the boy's lap, covering his face with kisses. The blood draw was ultimately unsuccessful, but there was a brief smile on the boy's face in a moment of stress and fear.

The puppy raiser in me knows that Jazz needs to keep working on appropriate greetings, but the psychologist in me knows that sometimes there is nothing better than the pure joy between a puppy and a child. Two happy kids in different bodies :)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jazz's Unit Debut


Now that Jazz is 6 months old, and suddenly matured, I decided that it was time for him to make his debut on the residential units. Today was the perfect opportunity, as I had the crisis pager and Ross was always my saving grace in instantly calming the kids. I hoped Jazz could follow in his paw prints.

When we arrived on the state hospital unit, one of the little boys who we were going to check on was in the hallway. He was SO excited to see Jazz, and exclaimed in joy! I had put Jazz's Halti on, as he sulks in it, I figured it would subdue him some and prevent him from jumping on the kids in excitement when they scream with excitement at his presence. Jazz was very good. He greeted the boy happily, then laid down... and instantly pulled his Halti off with his dew claw. He proceeded to cover the boy in kisses, and he remained on the floor as the boy enjoyed his company. I took the Halti off, and put it in my pocket.

As I entered the unit, we were greeted by more excited children, who were all very well mannered with Jazz. Jazz acted as if he had been on the unit a million times. He sat with the kids, took in all of the attention, and wasn't at all distracted or overwhelmed by the activity on the unit. The girl who used to be largely nonverbal approached Jazz and began asking me questions about him. She then reached down, wrapped her arms around him, and picked him up. Just like she loved to do with Ross. Jazz, just like Ross, took it in stride and wasn't concerned at all, though the staff member who was supervising the kids became very worried and insisted she put Jazz down. I explained the history of this behavior, assured the staff that she wasn't hurting Jazz, and asked her to put him back down, which she did.

Jazz was officially initiated!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Little Jazz Time

Today, we scheduled a little private "Jazz time" for one of the boys at work. This boy has been in one or another of our programs for years, nearly as long as I've worked there. Unfortunately, his story hasn't changed much. He's a sweet boy, and he works hard to pretend that everything is OK, and most of the time, he's pretty convincing. But the truth is, it isn't OK. He has a lifetime of family problems that have resulted in multiple out-of-the-home placements. The one thing that has been consistent for him in all of these years is us. It saddens me that a treatment program is the one constant in his life, the one place that he feels secure and a success. And it saddens me that after all of these years of attempting to help him and his family so that they can be happy together, he was permanently removed from the home.

And, while he continues to present as a happy kid who is just rolling with the punches, we know differently. We know him.

Staff thought that it would be helpful for him to have some private Jazz time during this difficult transition, so his therapist brought him to my office this morning to visit.

Jazz was thrilled to have a visitor! He loves the kids, and loves it when someone will play with him (since mostly he just sleeps while I work - like a good Guide Dog). They played tug, and Jazz showed off all of his bones. He happily reared and gently planted his paws on the boy. I had to remind both of them that Jazz needed to keep his paws on the floor. But they were both so happy. Jazz pranced around and was as cute as can be, and the boy grinned from ear to ear as he played with the puppy.

If for only a few moments, Jazz helped him to truly forget his problems today, and to smile for real.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Jazz to the Rescue


Two hours after I had intended to leave the office, as I prepared to finish the last document I had to complete before I left for the day, a call came over the intercom: the hospital unit needed all the staff assistance they could get. This meant one thing: the kids were out of control.

As I headed to the unit, I saw kids running back and forth, one child bolt out of his bedroom in his underwear, and staff working hard to calm and separate the kids. Straight ahead, I saw one of the older girls sitting in a chair, clients and staff surrounding her, and she had that look in her eyes that told me she was barely holding it together. She's a big kid and, when she loses control, others get hurt. She's also one of my favorite kids.

Her story is one that makes me smile... When she arrived on our unit last year, she was so depressed and angry, that I litterally didn't see her face until weeks after her admission. She isolated a lot, and when she out and about, her head was always hung, her hair in her face, and the only time she lifted it was to swear at, threaten, or spit on you. Any attempts to speak to her instantly resulted in one, if not more, of these responses.

Because of her size and assaultiveness, staff were sincerely afraid of her. When she wanted something, her way of telling you was to start swinging her fists. She was assaultive towards other kids, and she was assaultive towards staff.

She was one of Ross' many success stories. She is the child who he sat and guarded, when everyone else was afraid to approach her. She was guarded and slow to warm up to him, but Ross taught her one thing that she didn't have with humans: trust.

Over the months, she has made incredible improvements in her treatment. She walks tall now, and I can always see her face, often smiling. She approaches me on her own, and always asks eagerly about the dogs. Her aggression and depression have decreased significantly, she has built positive relationships with family members, and she works hard to make good decisions.

Today, she transitioned to a lower level of care, a positive outcome of her treatment progress. Today was a landmark in her life. And I saw it getting ready to crumble as she was pulled in by the negativity around her.

I checked in with staff to see how she was doing, and upon hearing that she was doing pretty well not feeding into the chaos, I asked her if she wanted to go visit Jazz. She jumped up instantly, exclaiming "yes!" (Actually, I asked her if she wanted to go visit Ross (I accidentally call Jazz "Ross" all the time), and after exclaiming, she flatly told me that she can't go visit Ross because he's at his new home, but she wanted to visit Jazz. Did I mention that she has also developed a sense of humor?)

We headed back to my office, where Jazz was laying down. His ears perked as he heard us approaching, and he bounced up in excitement when he saw her. She spent the next half hour playing with him in my office, talking the entire time, and laughing at his antics. She had a million questions about the Guide Dog puppies. I couldn't get any work done, while answering all of her questions, but I was so proud of this child who hardly used to speak, and had no one who was excited to see her.

Monday, August 10, 2009



I received the call today, that after flying through all 10 phases of training in a mere 8 weeks, Ross was career changed for traffic sensitivity. I wasn't surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. I had actually expected the call weeks prior, and was relieved each week to see Ross climb on the phase report and not receive the dreaded call I know so well.

I knew that the decision had not been an easy one. I knew that the staff were putting every effort into helping Ross succeed as a Guide. Had they not, he would have been CC'd weeks prior, like I anticipated. I had no doubts that Ross would excel in training, but he had developed a fear reaction to traffic when he was about 9 months old, and he never quite fully recovered. I was grateful to the training staff for all of their hard work, but I also knew that whatever Ross' career would be, it would be the right one, guide dog or not.

I was honored by the kind training report they wrote about Ross:

"Ross" is an average sized well behaved dog that is affectionate and a willing worker. He adjusted well to the kennel environment and quickly bonded with his primary instructor. He also enjoyed community run and played well with roommates. During community run "Ross" frequently will "talk" with a bone in his mouth to the staff.

"Ross" is highly food motivated and especially enjoyed learning through our clicker training techniques. He appeared very well prepared for training and was a pleasure to work. He consistently required minimal handling around distractions and is eager to please. His guidework and obedience responses progressed at an above average rate and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy learning new behaviors.

Unfortunately, "Ross" has displayed sensitivity to traffic throughout training. This was identified at the beginning of training and "Ross" was put on a traffic socialization program using high value food reward. Despite seeing some improvements when loud or heavy traffic approach him from behind, he continued to startle and show significant sensitivity. "Ross" is being career changed due to his traffic sensitivity.
"Ross" has many exceptional qualities and has an extensive puppy history of working with special needs children. He would make a wonderful Canine Buddy candidate.

I think the most difficult part about the news was that I had to make a decision. If Ross graduated as a guide dog, I wouldn't have any say in his future. But, as a career change, his future was suddenly in my hands. I knew two things: 1) I couldn't adopt him myself. I would love to have Ross for the rest of his life, but he was born to do greater things in this world than keep me company; and 2) Ross needed a kid. Unfortunately, there weren't any Canine Buddy applicants waiting for dogs.

8/8/09: Fun Day

Today was Fun Day, an appreciation day of sorts that Guide Dogs hosts for puppy raisers. Fun Day is usually just that, but today I was preoccupied by Ross' career change.

After more difficult decisions for my club members, it seemed that this year we were at Not-So-Fun Day. I was lucky to have the opportunity to "spy" on Ross while there. He was out in community run with his friends, and his big ol' head and the way he followed his trainers around and eagerly demonstrated his tricks to earn a treat or two, were a dead giveaway that it was him. I hid where he couldn't spot me, and was careful to be very quiet. As much as I wanted to see him, I knew he would be distraught if he knew I was there and couldn't be with me. And so, I watched silently and soaked in the pride of how much he had bonded with his trainers, and how happy he was at Guide Dogs.

During the day, I was informed that there might be a placement option for him, and so I went to speak with the person who knew more information. She informed me that there was a boy, who had applied for a Canine Buddy, but who did not qualify for the program due to logistics regarding his visual impairment. With the exception of the official Canine Buddy title, the home was in every way a Canine Buddy placement - Ross would be the boy's beloved pet and companion, and show the boy how wonderful a guide dog can be to have in your life. I didn't hesitate. I knew that this is who Ross was destined to spend the rest of his life with! And so, I asked about the details of making it happen. It was simple: Ross would load on the puppy truck that afternoon and make the drive to San Rafael, where he would be transported to his new home. It was very sudden, and I was expecting more time before he left me forever, but I think this was for the best. I didn't have any time to second guess my decision, and Ross would get to his little boy that much faster!

I walked back to the kennel and informed his caretakers that they should say their goodbyes, as he was leaving that afternoon. As they informed their boss, I was given permission to visit with Ross. As the conversation ensued, Ross turned his attention towards us and looked at me. I asked, "Since he's looking right at me, can I go say hi now?" The caretakers kindly let me enter the kennel area, where they moved Ross from the group to a separate area where we could visit. Ross walked towards me without hesitation, and began to sniff the kibble bag hanging from the back of my waist. He must have caught my scent in his kibble sniffing, because all of a sudden he jumped on my back in excitement! He proceeded to turn and jump on my front, erupting into great WOOFs as he repeatedly slammed his body against mine with love. A greeting usually undesired, this is the reunion that every puppy raiser secretly hopes for.

Suddenly, everything was good again. My boy was happy, I got my unforgettable reunion and time to say goodbye, and he was going to spend his life with a child. I was truly happy.

I took some pictures of Ross, and my husband arrived to say hello to Ross and take more pictures. I smiled from ear to ear, and it was genuine.

We left temporarily to finish our Fun Day activities and to let Ross' trainer have some individual time to say goodbye as well. He had captured her heart just as much as he had captured mine, and I knew it would difficult for her to let him go as well. I put Ross back in the run with his friends, and as I walked out of the kennel, he jumped on the fence and let out another great WOOF!

At the end of the day, I went back for my final goodbye. I was able to take Ross out of the kennel for a while, and he got to visit with my puppy raisers and we took more pictures of him with nephew Jazz. Jazz was so happy to see uncle Ross again!

As I was getting ready to take Ross back to the kennel, his trainer arrived to let me know it was time. As we walked back to the kennel together, Ross pulled towards his trainer. I handed her the leash, and as we walked down the sidewalk together, Ross walked between us, turning his head from side to side to make sure both of his moms were still there. He was a happy boy.

I was fortunate to be able to stay with Ross until he boarded the puppy truck. As we sat and waited, he climbed into my lap, his hind legs still on the floor, and gave me a big kiss, just like he used to always do! He had grown in size and maturity, but he was still my big "Baby Woss."

I watched as he eagerly boarded the puppy truck, joined by many of his puppy club friends. As the truck was loaded, I learned more about the home Ross was going to. It turns out that the boy has a sister, and the sister is in dire need of a friend. Ross has two kids. And he will change their lives in ways they could never imagine.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Little Things (Continued)

Today I received a handful more of hand made thank you notes from the kids for our presentation last week. Some of the younger kids drew pictures for me. Jazz sitting near a fire hydrant appears to be a common theme ;)

The notes read:

Dear Whitney,

I loved Jazz.
He was so cute.
Thank you for bringing him.


To Whitney and Jazz

Thank you for comeing!

Made by

And the one that captures my heart the most:

(On the cover) Thanks for bringing light into our dark day.

(Inside) Dear Whitney,

Thank you for showing us the dog. I really appreciate it. I'll probably will see you around sometime. Bye!

(On the back) thanks! (with a smiley face)

The kids also made cards for Mei and Sarah & Wayne. I don't know what they say, but I don't need to.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Little Things

Today I received a hand made thank you card from two of the girls at work, for the Guide Dog presentation last week. The sincerity and gratitude for such a simple thing makes me choke up with tears of pride. The note reads:

Whitney & Jazz,

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to visit us at the [agency name], Your information was interesting and educational. I hope you continue to visit us. You brightened alot of kids days. I am confident that Jazz will be a excellent guide dog. Thanks for show us Jazz's tricks. He's sooo cute.

Thanks again!

M & N

Growing Up Guide Dog


Today was a monumental day at work, in the Guide Dog world. Just over a year ago, the Guide Dog puppies weren't welcome on campus. Today, we had my Guide Dog puppy Jazz, a guide dog in formal training - Darcelle, and a working guide dog - Rosie, all on campus together, with the kids!

With school out, we hold a summer program for all of our residential and day treatment clients. The program is intended to be educational, therapeutic, and fun. We try to do as much hands-on learning as possible, and provide opportunities for activities that we might not be able to do during the school year.

To keep it interesting, we have educational themes each week, and complete the week with fun activities that coincide with the theme. This year, we had a therapy/service dog week, and I invited my friend Mei and her German Shepherd guide Rosie to join us. At the last minute, I thought to see if anyone from the Guide Dog campus could help us out, and was grateful to have GDB volunteers Sarah and Wayne bring yellow Lab Darcelle, who is currently in phase 10 of formal training (the same phase Ross is currently in). The mix of dogs provided the kids with an opportunity to see the evolution of a Guide Dog.

We provided an impromptu presentation to groups of 10-20 kids at a time, for a total of 3 groups. With kids ranging in chronological age from 6-17, and even a greater span of developmental levels, we adapted each presentation to fit our audience.

Mei spoke about her blindness, how she functions in the community and at home, and how her Guide Dogs help her. I spoke about how Jazz and Ross have very specific rules that they follow so that they can be prepared to grow up and be great guide dogs like Rosie. Sarah and Wayne provided additional information about the formal training process, and the life of a guide dog in training.

The kids made peanut butter treats for the dogs, which we used to show how we train the dogs to not take food other than their designated kibble or treats. One kid asked blatantly, "So, we wasted our time making the dog treats?" I assured him my pet dogs at home would enjoy them thoroughly and be very appreciative! We spent lots of time explaining why the dogs could not have the treats...

The experience was wonderful! It was so great to live the progression of acceptance and appreciation for the dogs that has occurred at my work. The dogs, of course, were extremely well behaved! Jazz even outsmarted me when I tried to demonstrate how he didn't know something that Rosie did! The kids had excellent questions and demonstrated great compassion for the dogs and for my friend Mei. And most of all, I was so proud of how the kids behaved! They all sat calmly and quietly, raised their hands, and waited patiently to be called on. They were polite and appropriate, and followed directions to ask to pet the dogs. It was incredible! Most of our kids have difficulties completing any one of those behaviors on a regular basis, and they ALL did it for 45 consecutive minutes! I cannot express in words how proud I am. Our staff worked hard to prepare the kids for a positive experience, and it paid off! The kids pulled out every skill they have and shown like stars. It may not sound like much, but for these kids, it was a moment of complete success, something they don't experience often. And what a better reward than dog kisses at the end :)

Today will be a moment in time I will never forget!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Therapy Dog in the Making

This afternoon, as I took Jazz out to relieve him, we heard children screaming from the yard. Jazz's ears perked up inquisitively. As he is typically nestled away in our quiet office, he had yet to hear the sound of unhappy children. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to introduce him to his job of "therapy dog."

Jazz and I walked over to the yard, where two children, each in separate areas, were highly escalated, crying and screaming. Multiple staff were trying to calm the children. As we approached, Jazz continued to demonstrate curiosity at the situation. He maintained full confidence, and cocked his ears as if he were trying to figure out what this new sound was. The child closest to us caught sight of Jazz, and was instantly distracted, running towards us, excitedly yelling, "A puppy!" Jazz stepped his front paws up on the rail of the fence and stuck his nose between the links, giving the girl a big kiss on the face as she greeted him through the fence.

He got it right.

The girl sat down and began to pet Jazz through the fence, begging for kisses. She remained calm and safe, and followed directions. After a few minutes, I felt comfortable taking Jazz inside the yard with her, and so, we ventured in. We sat in the grass for a while, Jazz rolling around, kicking his legs wildly as she scratched his belly, and watching her intently as she made funny noises at him. The girl, who normally requires constant staff attention and redirection for her unsafe and inappropriate behaviors, sat on the grass next to Jazz, playing appropriately with him, smiling, and following directions beautifully.

As I walked Jazz back to the office to recoup from the heat and finish my work, I couldn't help but be proud. The kids have a therapy dog again :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sleeping...and Growing

Since Jazz has a bit more pizazz than Ross, he's spent more time just hanging out in the office learning how to be a good Guide Dog than hanging out with the kids. Jazz is a good puppy, he's just... a puppy. He sleeps a lot, plays hard, and gets overstimulated easily. The kids (and staff) still love him, and the biggest problem right now is that he is SO cute, and they feel so special when he greets them excitedly, that I have to be able to focus on training the people while I'm trying to train the puppy to not do what the people encourage him to do :)

Jazz is gradually learning that work means more than just sleeping on his fluffy bed in the office. He has attended some meetings, and is finally starting to settle down on his own (never mind that it's usually about 1 minute before the meeting ends). He sometimes accompanies me to therapy sessions, and keeps the mood light by rolling around, and attempting to eat any spot on the floor. He served as emotional support for an adolescent girl getting her blood drawn a couple of weeks ago. And although all he did was hang out, she was so highly amused by my stories of him eating my slippers and flip flops that she temporarily forgot about the needle in her arm.

The other day, one of the girls at work asked if she could earn to come visit Jazz in the office, since he isn't ready to visit on the units yet (it's way too much stimulation for him at this point). We discussed a plan, and as I walked back to my office, she shouted after me, "You know what a good excuse is?" Not understanding what she was talking about, I replied, "What?" "He's sleeping," she replied back in a sarcastic tone :) (Referring to the fact that whenever I don't have my dog with me and the kids ask where he is, I tell them that he's in the office sleeping - which is true. Jazz sleeps his days away while he's growing, Ross was just plain lazy.) This is the same girl who, when Ross and I met her just a few months ago, would hang her head and refuse to speak; the same girl who he sat next to and guarded as she decompressed from an aggressive episode; the same girl who now initiates conversations, jokes with staff, and seeks out rewards for making progress in her treatment.

Jazz is a different spirit than Ross. Ross had an amazing natural talent for understanding people and knowing exactly what they needed. With Jazz, it's all about him. He loves people, mostly because he thinks it's cool that everyone is there to see HIM. He doesn't know the difference between a scared, depressed, girl and an impulsive, aggressive, boy. He only knows that they all love him and want to play with him. It's a naivety that can only make you smile.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jazz It Up!


When the kids first met Jazz, they were really interested to learn what his middle and last names were. Not having either, I didn't have a very good response for them... Evidently, my honest answer was unacceptable for 7-10 year olds. So, they decided to name him themselves. One little boy decided that his full name should be Jazz It Up. This was a hit with his cohorts, and so, Jazz It Up it is!

As Jazz and I were leaving work this evening, we ran into this little boy with his visitor. They had been playing ball in the gym, and the boy was so excited to see Jazz (It Up) as they walked out of the gym. Jazz (It Up), still developing his sit-to-be-pet skills, jumped excitedly at the boy. The boy set his large beach ball down on the ground so that he could pet Jazz (It Up), and Jazz (It Up) pounced on the ball, straddling it with his entire body, high centered on the large ball. He clumsily rolled off the ball as I pulled back with his leash, explaining to the boy that Jazz (It Up) isn't allowed to play with balls. As the boy continued to try to pet Jazz (It Up), I was able to quickly get him in a sit, which he popped out of just as quickly. We continued this game of Jack-in-the-Box as the boy attempted to pet him. Jazz eventually sat his bottom on the ground, but proceeded to climb up the boy with his front paws, attempt to grab the ball, and otherwise act like a puppy. Eventually he settled and laid down on his own. Then he started to chew on the boy's shoe lace. As I constantly resituated Jazz (It Up), the boy smiled and laughed, appreciatively stating, "I'm so glad I saw Jazz today." As I asked the boy to say good-bye for the night, Jazz (It Up) popped his head up and gave the boy a big kiss on the face.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Learning Curve

For a 15-week-old puppy, Jazz is doing very well at work! He spends most of the day sleeping on his bed in the office, occasionally waking to play with his toys and take potty breaks.

I have gradually been taking him out and about more - attending meetings, therapy sessions, and visiting the kids. He LOVES the kids (as most Labs do), and the kids love him! Problem is, he's such a puppy ;) He thinks kids (and pretty much anyone he sees in the hallway) are for pouncing on. After all, they are all there to see him, right? Visualize multiple children excitedly running towards a cute little puppy, exclaiming his name as they approach with hands extended. Ack! So..., the kids (and adults) and Jazz are having to learn appropriate greetings together. My multitasking skills are in overdrive as I put Jazz in a sit (and keep him there) while verbally reminding the kids to stop, wait, ask nicely, approach calmly, and keep their voices and bodies calm, only petting Jazz while he's sitting calmly. I keep reminding Jazz that he's a Guide Dog. He keeps reminding me that he's a puppy :) Inevitably, the kids squat down to pet him, and he reaches up to kiss them, and smiles erupt. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it.

Professional Puppy?


Arriving late to an early morning meeting, I didn't have time to put Jazz in the office first, so I decided he could just go to the meeting with me. As I entered the meeting room, I found the only open chair to be between the CEO and VP. I sat Jazz down next to me, and the CEO reached down and gently started petting him. I gave Jazz a quiet toy to play with, and asked him to settle on the floor. Within minutes he was bored. He began his favorite game of chewing on his leash, followed by the game of rolling around biting at it when I tried to correct him for it. While being sure to continue to pay attention to the meeting, I reached down and rearranged Jazz, removing the leash from his mouth, putting him back in an appropriate down, and placing his toy back in front of him. Within minutes he was rolling around again, crawling under my chair, chewing at his leash, grabbing at my hand, and attempting to chew on the VP's leather purse handle. Fortunately, I caught that one before he was successful!

After a while, I decided enough is enough! I pulled Jazz up into my lap and placed him in the "calming puppy position," careful to stroke his belly very gently, as he is rather ticklish and starts kicking with all four legs, which would have had the opposite effect. As I gently stroked his big puppy belly, he calmed and relaxed. Within minutes, he was sound asleep. He adjusted himself slightly, curling up in my arms like a baby. Then, he began to snore. Loudly. And he continued to snore, loudly.

As I pretended to not notice that there was a snoring puppy in the room, my coworkers smiled at him and chuckled with amusement. As our consultant (on videoconference) wrapped up on something we were all done listening to, the CFO teased him that he had bored the puppy to sleep.

Jazz may need to work on his professionalism a bit, but he kept us all sane through that meeting!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jazz's First Assignment

As a 10-week-old puppy, the expectations for Jazz at work have been limited: potty outside, sleep or play quietly in the office, look cute, and give the kids kisses. So far, he's been doing a pretty darn good job!

But, it didn't take long for Jazz to start filling Ross' shoes. The dreaded blood draws struck again this week! One of the girls has been refusing her blood draws, as she is afraid of needles. The draws are critical to ensuring her health, given the medication she is on. So, a request was made for Jazz to help her out. 

I wasn't sure how it would go. Jazz is a more active pup than Ross, and he pretty much is only still when he's sleeping. But, his adorable face is pretty much all that anyone needs right now. So, I figured we would give it a shot.

As I entered the unit to find the girl who was getting her blood draw, she yelled with excitement as she saw Jazz come through the door in my arms. After some calm greeting time, we headed to the nurse's office for the blood draw. The girl was scared, but climbed into the chair without much fuss. I sat next to her, Jazz in my arms, and set his paw in her lap. She gently held his paw while crying, more from fear than pain, and Jazz sat quietly in my arms.

We're off to a good start!

The Next Generation


There's only one cure for the broken heart that results from turning your Guide Dog puppy in for formal training: a new puppy.

Welcome Jazz :) A spunky little fellow with a white star on his chest. Though I have historically raised mostly yellow Labs, everyone at work wanted me to get another black Lab, as they were so in love with Ross. I worried that they would compare the new pup to Ross if he were to look similar, and equally worried that they would be disappointed when the new pup wasn't like Ross. I've raised enough puppies to know each one has their own personality, with qualities and quirks that makes you love them for the individuals that they are. But, Ross was all the kids and staff knew at work. And, it seemed that there was no where to go but downhill after him. So, I was excited when I saw Jazz's adorable star - his mark of individuality.

Fortunately, no one can resist an adorable puppy! Jazz was an instant hit as soon as I walked on campus with him. The kids and staff are in love with him, and Ross is yesterday's news. How quickly people move on :)

Ross' Discharge Party


When the kids at work finish their treatment and move on, we hold a discharge party for them, to celebrate the hard work they have done, their accomplishments and growth, and their future. When it came time for Ross to complete his puppy training and duties as a "therapy" dog, as he prepared to enter the next phase in his life - formal guide work training - I thought, what better way to help the kids understand his departure than to have a discharge party for him?

In true discharge party fashion, I ordered a cake from our kitchen, and invited everyone from Ross' "treatment team" to attend. Literally, I invited the entire campus - kids and adults alike. 

At the end of Ross' last day at work, we gathered in the cafeteria to celebrate his transition to "puppy college." The kids who knew Ross well excitedly educated the newer kids about Ross' work as a guide dog, and his upcoming adventures at "puppy college." Ross laid on the floor as kids huddled around him, petting, hugging, and kissing him. A little boy who tends to be loud and aggressive quietly apologized for almost accidently stepping on Ross' tail. As the party ended, one of his long time fans pouted because Ross had not given her any kisses. As she sat down to say one last good-bye to him, he gently put his paws on her lap, stood up, and smothered her face in kisses.

As I loaded Ross into the car that night, tears came to my eyes as the finality of it all hit me. In one year, Ross incredibly changed the lives of many children, brightened the days of stressed staff, and singlehandedly changed the culture of a large mental health agency - all with his big brown eyes and sloppy tongue. Residential treatment will never be the same.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In Good Times and In Bad

Tonight I had the crisis pager, and, as usual, decided to take my trusty side kick with me. As I entered the building, Ross sat down with the first girl I checked in with. He then laid down, gazing at her as she gently stroked him. He was the ultimate of calm, allowing the girl to remain calm while she talked to me. We then walked through the state hospital unit, on the way to check-in with another child outside. As we entered the unit, the generally quiet, highly anxious, and sometimes aggressive, girl was so happy to see Ross. She chatted with me excitedly as she petted him. She noticed that he balked when she approached his face directly, and worried that she had scared him. She listened attentively as I explained how he doesn't like people approaching the front or top of his head directly, then she started petting his back, gradually approaching his face from the side.

As we walked outside, we were greeted individually by a group of kids playing ball. Ross remained focused, only interacting when the children approached him, and completely ignoring the ball. We headed to the lower part of the yard, where the boy I was going to check-in with was calming. We had never met this boy before. He watched with curiosity as a woman and a dog approached him. As I introduced us, the boy instantly took interest, placing his hand through the fence for Ross to lick. He asked me questions about Ross, and I asked him questions about his unsafe behavior. He didn't seem worried about having to talk to a stranger about his negative behavior, it just came out as he interacted with Ross.

While in the yard, a little boy came to visit Ross. He was so excited to see Ross, exclaiming his name, wrapping him in hugs, and stroking his coat as Ross covered his face in kisses. 

We then went back inside to check-in with more kids. As we walked back through the state hospital unit, Ross was greeted by more of his fans. Initially, just a child or two came to see him. They sat on the floor with him, giggling as he licked the food spills off their clothes and hands and covered their faces with kisses. As the other children realized Ross was there, they too joined us, and soon more children came in from outside, excited to find Ross inside. Before I knew it, a group of approximately 10 children, the most mentally ill children in the state, were sitting in a circle on the floor, side by side, loving Ross, who laid in the middle and loved them back. The girl who suffers from extreme psychosis spoke to him in a comprehensible manner. The other children reminded her to pet him nicely when she began to pull on his collar and poke his ears. They spoke to her in a calm and supportive manner, showing her how to pet him. Children who don't get along sat next to each other, closer than they would otherwise be allowed, due to their aggressive tendencies. They shared, they laughed together, and they helped each other out. It was a moment that I will never forget: the epitome of the difference Ross has made with these children - children who are there because humans have not been able to help them enough in the past.

As we walked onto the little kids' unit, we were greeted by a young boy who was flipping furniture. This boy suffers from Tourette's - he has frequent facial tics and swears uncontrollably. When we had entered the building earlier, I could hear his explicit ranting from the hallway. But, as soon as he saw us, he dropped the large chair he was flipping, and came over to greet Ross. I asked him if he wanted to visit with Ross, and suggested we move to another space. He wanted to show us how he could flip the chairs, but I let him know that he could only visit with Ross if he was being safe, and flipping chairs wasn't safe for Ross. The boy calmly suggested we move to another area away from the chairs. He then sat down on the floor with Ross, and stroked him gently. He was calm and polite, followed directions, and only swore once. 

Ross then took turns visiting with the other young children on the unit. One of the girls had his stunt double in her room, and brought it out to visit with him. Ross was SO excited to see his friend! He licked his nose, nuzzled his ears, and nudged him gently, encouraging him to play. He hadn't forgotten his life-sized stuffed friend!

Ross and I then went back outside to check on a child in a restraint. As we entered the yard, staff saw Ross and released the boy. He instantly walked away from the staff he had been targeting with aggression, and approached Ross. I reminded him that he needed to be calm and safe to visit with Ross. The boy instantly agreed to be safe, and sat down on the patio to prove it. He visited with Ross briefly, then became agitated again about staff and acted as if he didn't care about Ross. As soon as Ross and I left, he began hitting staff again.

As we were getting ready to leave, the young boy in the yard was out in the hallway, blocking the door and seconds from being restrained due to his aggressive behavior. He had also been asking for Ross. As I approached the door, I peeked through the window and reminded staff that I needed him to be safe for Ross to come visit. The boy instantly started to calm, moved away from the door, and followed staff directions. Ross sat in front of him and instantly smothered his face with kisses. The boy laughed and rolled around, encouraging Ross to lick him more. Ross began licking his head, and the boy laughed about his saliva being hair gel. Soon, all of his worries were gone, and the boy said goodnight to Ross and rejoined the group on the unit.

Ross and I headed back to the office, where he ate dinner and sacked out for his evening nap, a hard year's work done.

Work: A Vacation from Vacation

In mid-April, we took Ross on vacation with us, touring National Parks. He joined us on many hikes, some of which are quite strenuous. Ross was a great traveler and demonstrated footwork demonstrative of a confident guide! But, he thought vacation was way too much work, and he needed to go back to his lazy days at work to get a vacation from his vacation!

Upon returning to work, Ross got right back into the swing of things, not missing a beat transitioning back to "therapy dog." Over the past few weeks, Ross has spent his days visiting children on the units, where he gets smothered in hugs while he smothers the kids in kisses, as well as taking "office calls." Since I'm not always available to take him to the kids, the kids have started coming to him. They (usually) politely ask to visit with him, then sit on the floor and laugh as they stroke him and he prances around them, his ears back and his body wiggling, or sitting on them, attempting to be a 65 lb lap dog. Of course, big sloppy kisses are a regular bonus.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Words of Wisdom


As Ross and I headed out towards the parking lot, leaving work for our Guide Dog meeting, we were bombarded by a group of children on bicycles. As soon as the kids saw Ross, they began to shout his name excitedly and pedal quickly towards us. The kids jumped off their bikes to pet and hug Ross as we briefly stopped. One child asked about when Ross will go to formal training, and she was relieved to hear that it was over a month away. They were excited about the thought of a new young puppy, though caveated by the girl's words of wisdom: "No puppy will be just like Ross."

Back to Work!


As we crossed the parking lot and headed up the main path towards my office, Ross and I heard the screams of a child. As we approached, we saw a child standing on the path with a staff member, screaming at the staff. Ross' ears perked and he made a bee-line for the child. 

When we approached the girl, I asked, "What's going on? Ross heard you and he's worried about you." Ross stood, gently sniffing the child. As she reached down to pet Ross, she instantly began to calm, stopped screaming, and quietly answered my questions. Ross continued at attention, and the girl continued to calmly pet him. Within minutes, she was able to identify her concern, identify other's concerns about her behavior, and problem solve the next steps to turn her morning around and make amends. The girl then calmly returned to school with the staff member she had been screaming at just minutes earlier.

Running late for our meeting, I decided to take Ross directly with me, instead of dropping him off at my office first. As I headed into the residential building, I was greeted by the girl who rarely speaks. She immediately leaned down and began to pet Ross. She then attempted to pick him up and clumsily dropped him in her lap as she sat down. Ross remained unfazed and curled up next to her, resting his head in her lap. She sat quietly, gently stroking his head and, at one point, leaning over and nearly falling asleep as she cuddled with him.

That day, I secured a new job at the agency, and Ross has been able to continue his work uninterrupted, the kids unaware of the previous possibility that Ross may not have been there to help them with their mornings.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough

Today I received notice that my, and many of my colleagues', positions were cut. Hard economic times require employee restructuring. 

As I sat in my office, worried of what the future may hold, Ross approached me with big eyes. He sat back on his haunches and gently placed his front paws on my lap. He looked at me with a knowing, caring, gaze that required no words. As I gazed back at him, telling him I knew, he climbed up into my lap, laid his upper body against mine, and gently licked my face.

When a colleague of mine, in the same situation, arrived, and sat down on the floor with Ross, Ross climbed into his lap, standing on his legs and leaning his body against my friend's chest, wiggling and refusing to move. As my friend chuckled at Ross' antics, Ross slumped into his lap, curling up and cuddling on my friend's legs, refusing to move. As my friend attempted to wiggle out from underneath Ross, Ross remained in his position, remaining loyal and present.

Just What You Need


I continue to be amazed by Ross' change in demeanor for each child he interacts with.

One very quiet, but aggressive, girl has visits with Ross on her list of coping skills to utilize when she feels herself start to become upset. When she senses it, or staff notice it, they call or page me to see if I am available to bring Ross for a visit. Ross is much more sedate with this girl than with any other child. She startles easily and reacts severely, and he must sense her need for calmness. He simply sits with her. Sometimes he will give her a kiss, but it is rare. Mostly, he just sits.

On Monday, he sat with her while we chatted. For the most part, he sat next to her, or laid on the floor nearby as we talked about his eat tattoos, lack of armpit hair, dew claws, and foot pads. She found it all very interesting, though Ross was not impressed, as he's heard it all before. At one point, Ross scooted onto her lap, sitting like a person in a chair on her kneeling legs. After a while, he slumped to the floor, and eventually laid next to her, snoring as he rested his head on her leg. 

When one of the boys came to say "hi" to him, he rolled over on his back, and licked the boy wildly - instantly changing his demeanor when the boy arrived. The boy laughed and Ross continued licking him playfully. 

When the boy left, Ross returned to his post next to the girl. Sitting, calmly, one single small kiss offered as a goodbye.

On Tuesday, we went to visit the girl again. This time, a number of other clients wanted to visit with Ross as well. Again, Ross sat quietly next to the girl, his tongue securely in his mouth. A new girl timidly approached, having never met Ross before. Ross sniffed her and sat, gazing at her calmly, offering himself if she chose. 

When the boys arrived, he rolled on his back, lavishing the belly rubs and covering their faces in kisses. When they left, he returned to the first girl, sitting quietly.

As we left the kids for the evening, Ross walked calmly past the group, in true Guide Dog fashion, ignoring every distraction present. As we neared the door, the girl who rarely speaks ran up and began stroking Ross' coat heavily. Ross is a sensitive dog, and doesn't like people approaching his head. But, when I expected him to duck and avoid her prey-like hand motions, he stood calmly, holding his head high for her. He remained motionless as she tried to pick him up and continued to pet him forcefully. When asked what she thinks of Ross, she replied, "Cute!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update: Project Replicate Ross

With the help of many kind and generous people, I now have a very sufficient collection of Ross replicas, of various sizes, to distribute to the kids. The distribution process has already started, with stuffed Rosses being given to kids as discharge gifts, coping skills, rewards, and napping partners. With the great variety of Rosses, staff and therapists have picked out just the right dog for each child.

Thank you everyone for your support! Every stuffed dog is making a difference in the life of a child in need of a smile :)

Ross Likes Me

When responding to a page today, I checked in with a very forlorn boy. He was calm by the time I arrived, but appeared heartbreakingly sad. The boy told me about how he thinks no one likes him, and he feels lonely. He stated that he runs, hits, and kicks when he feels lonely. As we talked about his feelings and what he can do when he feels lonely, I asked him, "Who does like you?" His first response: Ross. He was able to identify why Ross likes him: he pets him, gives him kisses, and speaks nicely to him. And, he stated that I like him because he treats Ross well :) When it seemed that the whole world hates him, he knew there was at least one exception: Ross. And he was right, without a doubt. Ross licks and kisses him, cleaning him from head to toe and making him smile and laugh.

He reported that he uses his Ross replica to help him feel better at home, and that talking to Ross makes him feel better, but Ross can't talk back. His idea: write notes to Ross when he's feeling down, and have Ross write back (with my help, of course), and sign the note with his paw stamped in ink :)

Walk With Me


As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed one of the kids, an adolescent girl, wandering outside the school building. I kept a close eye on her, and soon noticed that staff were nearby. The girl circled the building, trying to stay a step ahead and out of sight of the staff who were supervising her. She startled when she heard my car door. As she turned to look at me, I called out to ask her what she was up to. Despite attempting to elude staff, she began to approach me. 

As I pretended to not be concerned about her elusive behavior, she walked to my car and asked if I had Ross with me. As I continued to speak casually with her, she walked with me to the back of my car, greeted Ross, and continued to walk with me as I went about my normal arrival routine, continuing to ask her questions about what was going on. As she stood petting Ross, she answered my questions, as if this was our normal interaction. Staff arrived, and I filled them in. The girl continued to stand with Ross, no longer concerned about getting away from staff. I invited her to walk with me as I headed towards the office, passing through the school building as it was "on the way." The girl walked next to Ross, staff within arm's reach. I continued the casual conversation about what was bothering her, and she cooperatively identified her classroom. As we stood at the door, problem-solving the situation, Ross served as a distraction, keeping the girl calm enough to continue talking and to think clearly. Without a hitch, she calmly made a plan to return to class. Ross and I parted ways, off to our office, the girl and staff checking in with the teacher.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It Takes a Ross


I had the day off - sort of. Even though it was a work holiday, I had the pager. Which meant that eventually, I had to work.

When the pager went off, Ross and I headed in. I knew Ross was my only hope of keeping the work day short. Little did I know just how much work Ross had to do that day.

Things had settled down when we arrived. As I walked onto the unit to check in with a boy, he was in good spirits and excited to meet Ross, whom he had heard about. The rest of the teens and preteens were so exited to see Ross, and they took turns swarming him in groups of 3 and 4, each trying to get in some pets and kisses. The boy, who had just arrived a few days before, but who has been with us before, asked excitedly about getting a stuffed Ross. Evidently, his therapist had clued him in to Project Replicate Ross.

Just when we were about to head home, the pager went off again. Ross and I headed over to the most acute unit, where a young adolescent girl was being aggressive towards staff and had disrobed. The past few weeks have been especially difficult for her, and no human intervention appears to be improving the situation at this time. Fortunately, Ross can do things no human can. 

As we walked onto the unit, staff informed the girl that Ross was there. She quickly redressed and came out to the hall, where she sat on the floor and pet Ross. He licked her face and hands, and she giggled with glee. After a few minutes, some of the other kids, passing by, took the opportunity to visit with Ross. Ross licked the face and head of his favorite boy, spiking his hair like only dog slobber can. After a few more minutes, the girl who is largely nonverbal walked by. She caught a glimpse of Ross out of the corner of her eye, and stopped suddenly, exclaiming with excitement. She cheerfully approached Ross, where she sat down on the floor with him, stroking him and trying to pull him into her lap to cuddle. Ross laid there without concern as she tugged on his collar and neck scruff, trying to pull his 60-plus pound lying body into her lap. 

After a while, another page came. Ross and I had heard the screams and scuffles on the unit, and Ross appeared concerned. Not for his own safety, but for the children from whom he knew the sounds came. Ross and I entered the unit, where a boy was standing on the other side of the room, visibly upset, but currently not a danger. He declined visiting with Ross, and I reassured him that Ross was there if he wanted to visit with him, and Ross was concerned about him, but he didn't have to visit with Ross if he didn't want to. Ross stood, patiently waiting, as the humans attempted to help the boy with our words. Eventually, the boy calmed and walked over to Ross. Ross did something strange - he turned his back to the boy and ignored him. In an effort to prevent the boys' feelings from being hurt, I had Ross sit, so as to prevent him from moving further away from the boy. Ross sat, then laid down. The boy stated calmly, and with concern, that Ross was probably worried because of how he had been acting. Ross laid perfectly still, and the boy stroked him. As the boy stroked Ross and asked questions about his Guide Dog training, Ross began to perk up, and eventually leaned in for a kiss. The boy then calmly and happily moved on to eat lunch, a transition that had him very upset just a few minutes prior. I had no idea what Ross was doing when he turned his back to this boy. But Ross knew. Ross knew that this boy needed a different approach than the other kids. He needed to reach out to Ross and to prove to himself that he could make the choices that showed others he was safe. Ross was ready, waiting, and he knew.

And despite how much I was amazed by Ross' intuition and ability with this boy, I was not prepared for what came next.

On the other side of the door, a large pre-teen girl was still escalated. She was desperately attempting to pull the plexiglass covers off the windows, from the outside. Ross has been a relatively new intervention for this girl. It took her a long time to even notice his presence, but once she became aware, she became a fan. She rarely speaks around him, and instead just sits and soaks up his love. I spoke to her through the door, informing her that Ross was there to see her when she was ready and could be safe. She ignored me, moved away, and began to sob. Just when I thought she might be ready, she got up and again began to pry at the windows. Ross and I visited with the now calm boy, while we waited for the girl outside to calm. After a few minutes, I saw her sitting motionless on the other side of the yard, her back against the building. As Ross and I prepared to go outside, a concerned staff member asked if we wanted him to go out too. This girl has a history of being very aggressive towards others. But I wasn't concerned. I knew she wouldn't do anything to hurt Ross, or me (the person who brings Ross). 

As we crossed the yard, I told her Ross was worried about her. And, as we approached her, her eyes lifted slightly. I saw Ross zone in, and I warned her that she was probably going to get a big kiss. Sure enough, Ross stepped in and gave her one big lick up her face. For just the briefest moment, I saw a glimmer in her eye. And then, it changed. She hung her head and sat motionless again. And Ross knew. He sat next to her, perched as if on guard, watching their surrounds, aware of everything going on outside around them. He sat, and watched, and guarded. I'm not sure what he was guarding her from, but he knew. I stood nearby, simply holding the leash and observing. Watching, but not so much knowing. Ross did not lean in for any more kisses. He did not lay down or turn his back on her. He sat and guarded. As long as she sat, he sat right next to her. Confident, when she was not. Every once in a while, she slowly reached out and gently stroked his back. He turned to glance at her, assuring her it was OK, and quickly returned to his position. Another boy, outside the fence, threw a large stick inside the yard, calling to her to use the stick for unsafe reasons. With her guardian at her side, she ignored the boy, sitting, her head hung, reaching out to gently touch the dog that understood - the dog who knew that she didn't have the strength to do it on her own. This time he didn't turn. He didn't need to. She knew. (This girl's therapist has already picked out a Ross replica for her.)

As we headed out of the building, I checked with staff to see if the little kids could visit with Ross. They had been singing his name from inside the building as he had been on guard outside. It wasn't a good time for the whole group to visit Ross, but one little boy, the boy who dubbed him "Rossy" and who falls asleep with his stunt double every night, was so eager to see him! Staff brought him out to the hall, where he wrapped his arms around Ross. Ross covered his face in kisses, and the boy slid to the floor, giggling and encouraging more. Ross paused, then stepped in to smother him with more kisses. The more he kissed, the more the boy giggled, and the more Ross kissed. The true, wholehearted, laughter that Ross brings out in these kids is more heartwarming than words can describe. It's a laughter that is rarely heard when Ross isn't around.

And, just when I thought it was time to go home, the pager went off again. The day had come full circle - the page had come for the same boy who we started with that morning. This time, Ross stayed on his bed, where he was exhausted from the days' work. When I arrived, the boy eagerly asked again about the stuffed Ross. He was able to tell me exactly how the Ross replica would help him: When he feels sad, it makes him mad (very common for our kids). And when he gets mad, he starts acting unsafe. But squeezing something really hard helps him. Something that he can squeeze as hard as he wants without having to worry about hurting or breaking it. Something like a stuffed Ross :) (Thank you to all of our Project Replicate Ross donors, I was able to immediately go pick out a stuffed Ross to his liking.)

Not-So Honorable Guest


Ross and I were invited to attend the Guild Meeting for our campus - an event in which the Guild and Auxilary members receive updates from employees as to the services we are providing, campus improvements, and agency updates. Initially I thought, Wow! I must be someone big now - I was invited to attend the Guild Meeting! Then, I realized that it was really Ross who was invited, but since he can't speak or drive, the invitation came to me ;) And, it turns out, Ross was not only invited, but the guest of honor!

Ross was not feeling very honorable though... The meeting was hosted at the very lovely home of one of the guild members, and a request was made that her hardwood floors be protected from Ross' nails. Having hardwood floors and dogs myself, I understood her concern. Unfortunately, Ross is going through a nail clipping phobia, so that option was not an option. Which only left one other option: dog boots. Fortunately, I have a very nice pair of Vibram soled boots for my dog who hikes and snow shoes. And, on this night, he was kind enough to lend his very cool boots to Ross, who did not think they were cool at all, much less honorable. 

In an effort to provide some desensitization prior to the meeting, Ross practiced wearing the boots at home, where he could be humiliated in the privacy of his own house, with the curtains drawn, and only his family to laugh at him (with love, of course). By the time he had to wear them for the Guild Meeting, he did not walk quite so funny, but he hung his head in shame. Eventually, he laid at my feet and slept through the meeting. 

Ross, of course, was a perfect guest. My coworkers and I spoke of the amazing work Ross does with the kids, and the importance of Project Replicate Ross, given that Ross is not available at all hours of the day and night. Two days later, a box of Ross replicas arrived, with an anonymous note from "a friend." 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Looking Out for Number One


Today, Ross and I got up early and arrived at work first thing in the morning to be available for a girl who has been refusing her blood draws due to a needle phobia. Ross can be very soothing in such situations, assisting the kids in remaining calm increasing compliance in the process, while I, also needle phobic, turn and close my eyes :) When we arrived, I was informed that the girl was still refusing her blood draw, despite knowing Ross was coming. But, her reason shocked us all: she told the nurse that she always yells, screams, and grabs things when she has to have her blood drawn, and she didn't want to scare or hurt Ross. Even though he was there for her, she was looking out for him!

Keep Those Puppies Coming!


To date, I have received donations of 25 stuffed puppies, the majority of which are black Lab "Ross replicas"! 22 of these donations came from one single person!

Thank you to everyone who has spread the word, is searching for Ross replicas, and who has donated so far! While I have not yet started the distribution process, one of our staff found a donated pup to be very soothing when Ross was assisting a child and wasn't available for him :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Good Bye

As Ross and I walked across the parking lot this morning to the office, I heard a honking from behind me. I turned around to see one of Ross' kids in his dad's truck, waving excitedly. The boy was discharging and heading home.

Knowing he would want to say good-bye to Ross, I turned around and headed to the truck. Unable to reach Ross from the window, I had him open the truck door so he could say good-bye to Ross. As soon as the door opened, Ross stepped up into the truck, his hind feet remaining on the sidewalk, his front paws in the boy's lap. Ross gave the boy big kisses across his face, then, as quickly as he had climbed up, he climbed down and turned towards the office, as if to say, "My work here is done. Good Bye my friend."



As we were headed out of the office for the night, Ross and I stopped by one of the units to drop some papers off. When we arrived on the unit, the girl who is largely non-verbal immediately came over to pet Ross. She was quickly surrounded by other kids, all of them petting Ross and leaning in for kisses. After a few minutes, two of the kids ran across the unit, calling for Ross' biggest fan, exclaiming, "Ross is here! Ross is here!" His friend came out of his room and joined the group. Ross immediately covered his face and head in big sloppy kisses. As the kids swarmed around Ross, lavishing him with love, the girl (now sitting on the floor) pulled him into her lap and wrapped her arms around him. Ross took the opportunity to stand in her lap, his paws on her chest, covering her face in kisses as she slid to the floor laughing.

As we left the building, we were greeted just outside by the little kids, walking back to the building in a nice single-file row. Shouts of joy filled the cold night air as they sang Ross' name, one little guy exclaiming, "Rossy!!!!" Ross greeted each child as they passed, and when he reached the young boy, hardly taller than he, he slapped a big wet kiss right across the boy's face!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Project Replicate Ross

Last night, I sent the following email to friends and family: 

Many of you have either heard me tell stories, or have read Ross' blog,

about the amazing effect that Ross has on the kids at my work. Today, I was thinking about how much even the stuffed "Fake Ross" helps the the kids at work when he's not available. Currently, we have an entire unit of little kids who use "Fake Ross" to calm them or to help them fall asleep at night. It got me thinking: wouldn't it be wonderful if we had more than one stuffed Ross to go around?

We typically have about 50-60 kids in our residential and day treatment programs. The residential kids live there. Away from their homes and families, and even their own pets.

Unfortunately, as a non-profit organization, our funds are limited for buying "extras" such as stuffed animals for the kids. It got me thinking about how I might be able to get more stuffed Black Labs donated for the kids, and I finally thought to start with the people who I know, and who

know Ross :)

So, I'm dubbing it "Project Replicate Ross." I would LOVE to fill our attic (where we store donated supplies) with stuffed Black Labs of varying sizes for any kid who wants one. Then, those children will have their own stuffed dog that can go with them when they discharge.

The responses were overwhelming! Friends have searched their own homes, stores, and websites looking for Ross replicates, as well as spreading the word with others. I am so excited about the possibilities of donations we may receive. It is truly incredible the effect that Ross has had on the kids, so much so that even a stuffed look-alike makes them feel better!

If you would like to participate in Project Replicate Ross, please contact me privately. All donations are tax deductible.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year


I decided Ross needed to start the new year off doing something other than sleeping, so we decided to head to the little kids' unit to visit. When we entered the building, Ross was immediately greeted by the girl who rarely speaks. She stroked Ross, then wrapped her arms around his belly and picked him up (one of her favorite tricks). Ross hung limply, just waiting patiently. She set him down when reminded that he's too big for that now :) Ross laid down on the floor, and she sat down with him, gently stroking him most of the time, and every once in a while tugging on his fur. Ross laid motionless, unbothered by her investigation. She spit on the floor (her meds make her over-salivate). I gave her a paper towel, and she wiped up her spit on the floor, then gently wiped Ross' leg, making sure he didn't have any spit on him.

We then entered the little kid's unit, and Ross was loved on by one of the older girls on the unit. The rest of the group then transitioned back inside from playing. Each little kid sat in front of his/her bedroom door, and waited patiently for Ross to visit. Ross and I walked around the unit, greeting each kid individually. Ross sat for each kid, washing their hands and covering their faces with kisses until they laughed so hard they could barely squeak out, "Enough!"

Christmas Kisses


I received a page on Christmas night that one of the kids at work had been in a restraint. She was upset that she was unable to visit with her family on Christmas as scheduled, and escalated to the point of endangering others.

When Ross and I entered the building, we were immediately greeted by a staff member. I then heard the familiar, "Buddy!" as one of Ross' biggest fans realized he was there. Kids poured out of every room, huddling around Ross, preventing either of us from being able to move from the entry. Ross covered the kids' faces with kisses, making them laugh and smile on Christmas night, despite being separated from their families.

Even the young girl who rarely speaks stood over Ross, gently stroking him, and stated, "He's sweet."  It was the first time I had ever heard her verbalize emotion regarding him.

As we entered the unit, Ross came upon a quiet girl sitting on the couch. They hadn't met before. Ross immediately walked over to her, sat at her feet, and rested his head in her lap. She asked questions about him while gently stroking his head. It didn't take long for Ross to start licking her hands and face, and a smile to appear.

Ross reluctantly left his new friend to visit the girl I had received the page for. She was sitting in front of her bedroom door, trying not to think about the things that had gone wrong that day. Ross gently stepped into her lap and covered her face with kisses. He sat with her, gently licking her, as she told me about how she missed her family, what had happened that day, and all the things she was worried about.