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 :)