Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Back in Business!


Meet Guide Dog puppy # 12, Jethro - AKA Deathrow, the prison pup.

After a year and a half at my "new" job, the day finally arrived that I received permission for my pup to join me at work (a youth correctional facility)! I have recently taken on an added responsibility as serving as the unit psychologist for our new mental health unit. With a greater focus on mental health services than traditional correctional programs, our treatment staff is open to a number of treatment interventions, and Jethro was welcomed by all as the unit's "therapy dog"!

Jethro's first day was a big one! As we walked across the parking lot and approached the towering chain-link fence ahead, Jethro quickened his pace to a march and began to wag his tail in beat. He knew he was somewhere special. As we entered the unit, the boys were sitting quietly waiting for lunch, and they certainly weren't expecting a puppy! They were all very excited and did their best to politely ask to pet the pup, hoping to not get in trouble for talking on silence... Though completely unintentional, it was a bit of a set-up, and quite the challenge for many of them. It wasn't really fair, and the staff understood that. I assured the boys they would have time to visit with Jethro throughout the day :)

Though Jethro is no Ross, I continue to be amazed at that incredible sixth sense these dogs have. Somehow, Jethro picked out the young man who is least liked by both staff and his peers as HIS favorite. Jethro climbed in his lap, gently placed his tiny paws on the boy's shoulders, and gave him one of his signature "hugs". He licked the boy's face enthusiastically with those "I love you!" puppy kisses that can't help but make one laugh. For the next 8 hours, the boy spent every free minute he had sitting on the floor, with Jethro in his lap.

The manager from another unit got wind that Jethro would be coming, and asked if we would be willing to go visit the boys on his unit. When the boys on our unit were busy with another activity, we snuck over to the other unit. The staff knew we were coming, but the boys didn't. I had never been to that unit, and as I opened the door to the main living area, I was surprised by about 30 young men right in front of me. And, they were surprised by a puppy right in front of them! They quickly gathered from all corners of the unit, surrounding Jethro in a circle, some sitting on the floor, others standing overhead. They took turns petting him and getting kisses. Somehow, Jethro was keeping track. He would look around for youth he hadn't greeted yet, and make a point to say hello to each one. The boys brought him a bowl of fresh water, and he lapped it up appreciatively. They asked me questions about him and his training, how often he would be on campus, and told me stories about their own dogs. One boy even brought out pictures of his yellow Lab :) They excitedly asked each other, "How long has it been since you've seen a dog?" Wow. I really hadn't thought about it that literally. Some of them hadn't seen a dog in months, some maybe years. A dog. ANY dog. They were locked behind walls within a giant fence. As one boy sat forlornly on the floor, another boy pointed out, "He's the first visitor you've had, huh?" Just a young teenager, no one had come to visit the boy in all the months that he had been there, except Jethro.

I should have been more prepared for the institutionalization these boys have already experienced, when youth after youth honestly misunderstood Jethro's name, seriously thinking I said his name was Deathrow. When your mind immediately jumps to such negative conclusions, you know you need some puppy hugs and kisses :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jazz Decides to be a Guide Dog!

We weren't sure if he was going to do it... Before leaving home for formal training, it seemed that maybe he wanted to be a Dock Dog, not a Guide Dog. Once at Guide Dogs, they noticed that he was a bit body sensitive. Somehow, I hadn't ever noticed this. He wore his puppy coat without issue and even his winter full-length doggy coat with no more notice than the bright red flame print. But looking back, there were signs. He wasn't fond of the head collar. When I put it on, he flattened his ears, bulged his eyes and neck, and was temporarily paralyzed. It made for the stupidest face, and quite frankly cracked me up. But, he snapped out of it and worked no problem and I gave it no more thought. Turns out that his body sensitivity was severe enough that he was the demo dog at Fun Day (hence his handlers goofy outfit). The good news is that Jazz will do ANYTHING for food and it seems that he is even willing to work all day in a ticklish harness if it means kibble!

After 5 months, my gorgeous headed, skinny butt, boy is all grown up and proportionately huge! He has been matched and is already at his new home with his new partner. We got to go visit him before he left, which was great fun. My current puppy recognized him right away and they greeted each other enthusiastically as only dogs do. Jazz said "hi" to my husband and, as I held his leash, I asked Jazz if he was going to say "hi" to me. He immediately flung around at the sound of my voice, looked up, and soared into the air, his front paws landing on my shoulders and his tongue soaking my face with exuberant kisses! Ah, he remembered me :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blog Update

In late 2009, I made the very difficult decision to change jobs, and leave the agency that Ross and Jazz had become such an important piece of. Professionally, it was the right choice, but the thought of my pups no longer being there for the kids was truly heartbreaking.

Currently, Jazz is focusing on his work as a Guide Dog puppy, rather than as a "therapy dog." We do drop by the previous job a few times a month for some consultation work, and Jazz is always excited to be back to visit his friends, and they are equally excited to see him :)

I hope that someday the blog will be back up and running with new adventures in my current employment setting - youth corrections. Until then, please enjoy the memoirs of all the children these two amazing dogs have helped in the last two years! And, thank you for caring enough to follow along with us in this incredible adventure we have had!

The Runaway


As I glanced out my office door to see who was headed up the stairs, I saw a child followed by a woman from HR. Since children are rarely on the second floor, and never supervised by HR staff, I immediately knew something was awry. The woman from HR said that the child was looking for my boss, and then the boy asked for my previous boss. I let him know that she no longer worked there, and tried to get more information about what he needed. The boy was resistant to provide much information, but did offer his name, and I recalled that he had been a resident of ours previously. He had run away from his foster home, and wanted to readmit to residential.

The boy was anxious and appeared ready to bolt at any minute. Knowing that we needed time to track down his legal guardian, and an incentive to keep him around long enough for someone to arrive for the boy, I asked him if he had ever met Jazz. He hadn't, but he had known and loved Ross. As I spoke with the boy in the hall, Jazz peeked his head around the corner and looked inquisitively at the boy, as if inviting him in to come visit. I invited the boy into my office to visit with Jazz, and so he did.

The boy remained anxious, and wandered back out of my office and into the hallway. I was worried that he might try to run again, so I kept a close eye on him. So did Jazz. The boy hovered in the hallway, and eventually I let him know that Jazz was worried about him. Jazz never took his eyes off the boy. The boy came back in my office and began petting Jazz again. Eventually, he began to ask questions about where Ross was, and I explained the process of Guide Dog training and how Ross went to live with a family who needed him. The boy asked questions about Jazz, and got to know him too.

Eventually, people arrived to help the boy, and by that time he was calm and cooperative. With the great help of my coworkers, quietly making phone calls while I distracted the boy, we were able to keep him located and safe until someone arrived for him - thanks to Jazz!

And, I sent him off with a Ross replicate :)

Jazz the Q Dog


Today I was covering the "Q" pager for my coworker. When kids are physically restrained, staff have to page the "Q" to receive authorization for the restraint and to ensure the safety of all involved. I learned early with Ross that having my puppy with me when I arrive on scene calms the children immediately, and typically results in an immediate deescalation. Today, as Jazz and I walked across campus to respond to a call, we passed one of my coworkers who greeted us with a smile, "Hi Q Dog."

Later we responded to a call from the hospital unit. As Jazz and I walked onto the unit, we saw a girl outside the door on the patio, yelling at and verbally threatening staff outside with her. Having worked with her many times before, I knew she would be immediately distracted and calmed by Jazz's presence. I knocked on the full-length plexi-glass door to get her attention, then pointed down towards Jazz. To my surprise, she responded by flipping me off and continued to yell at staff. I realized that she didn't see Jazz was there. I then cracked the door enough to tell her that he was. A look of surprise came across her face, and she immediately stopped yelling and stepped back from the door. Without me saying another word, she exclaimed, "I'll be on track!" and she backed away further from the door. True to her word, she followed directions, and calmly sat down and petted Jazz. Within minutes, she debriefed with staff and moved on with her day. Crisis diverted.

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.