As you may know, I'm currently training with my dog, Smudge, to be a Therapy Dog team.
Some people think it's a great idea. Others give me a strange look. Still others have actually come out and said, "Why on earth, would you do that?" (Okay, only one person said that, but a few have asked, "Why?")
We had our first nursing home visit last night and Smudge did GREAT. Seven or eight residents, with varying degrees of disability, pet her. The smiles on the residents' faces is exactly why I wanted to become a Therapy Dog team. It was so rewarding to bring a couple of moments of joy to strangers.
This is something I've wanted to do for a long time. I'd hoped to do it with my dog Phoebe when I lived in NJ, but circumstances changed.
When I went looking to adopt another dog, I knew I wanted one I could eventually train for therapy. I had this grand plan about how long it would take and how many dogs I'd have to meet before I met my match. The last time I'd adopted, it had taken a long time (two animal shelters, probably a dozen one-on-one meetings and a waiting list) to find that perfect match.
I studied all the dogs on the website carefully and then went to the local SPCA with a written list of those I wanted to meet. I slowly walked through the kennels, stopping to watch and talk to the dogs who were on my list. (Okay, I stopped for them ALL, but spent extra time with those on my list.) They were some great dogs.
But my best match from the list wasn't in the two rows of kennels. I had to keep searching. Finally I found her in another room that held ten or twelve cages. I visited all of those dogs too, spending extra time with my best match.
One of the volunteers came in and asked if I'd like any of the dogs taken out of the cage.
I found myself saying, "That one, please," while pointing to a scruffy mutt who WASN'T ON MY LIST.
The volunteer brought Grace and I into a private room. I sat down on a bench, prepared to wait a little while until she was ready to greet me. Usually, freed from a cage, a dog runs around the room sniffing and exploring before it focuses on the new human. Not Grace. She immediately came up to me so that I'd pet her. A moment later she'd jumped onto the bench and rested her head on my shoulder, staring up at me with warm brown eyes.
Yeah, my heart melted on the spot. My grand plan went out the window. If a dog could be this friendly in a shelter, she'd probably make a good therapy dog.
I was pretty sure this was the dog I wanted, but I tried not to get my hopes up. She had to pass an important test. She had to get along with Teddy, the dog I already owned. (Teddy was the big reason it had taken so long to find the last dog I'd adopted. He didn't like other dogs. He never met a dog he didn't growl at, including Phoebe, who we took home since she just ignored his growling, unlike the other dogs we'd met who all growled back (or worse, lunged at him).
The next day I brought Teddy to meet Grace. We did the meet-and-greet in an outside pen, with me telling the volunteer to hold on tightly to Grace's leash since Teddy had the habit of bringing out the worst in other dogs.
Teddy didn't growl.
I was so surprised I didn't quite know what to do. I was sure it a mirage or something. The volunteer and I sat down and made small talk, watching the dogs interact for about twenty minutes.
Teddy never growled.
Grace came home with us and I changed her name to Smudge.
That was at the end of June and last night, she did the job she's been trained for and brought pleasure to strangers. How awesome is that?!?!
So proud of my imperfect match!