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.