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.)

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