Last fall I saw a posting for an informational meeting about becoming a volunteer with Therapy Dogs of Vermont. Doing this work is something I’ve long thought would be a fun way to give back but I never followed up to figure out how to make it happen. An informational meeting at the local library was too easy to pass up and I left determined to become certified.
Sage is generally more interested in people but as a classic second dog was a little more “undertrained” than Strider so we decided to focus on him for now. In preparation for the test I took him to Burlington a few times with a napkin tied around his neck (to mimic the bandana) and taught him the command “working” which means – pay attention, be polite, and always ALWAYS keep four on the floor!
On a Saturday in the fall I headed to Williston for the certification which is basically an exercise in seeing how your dog reacts to various stimuli – rough handling (picking up his lip, gently pulling his tail, scratching him everywhere), unfamiliar sites and noises (children’s popping machine, guy dressed up funny and moving strangely), other dogs (interested? playful? agressive?), etc. Strider did great and was very attentive the whole time – he never barked and his one mistake was partially our doing – we taught him to “give us 10” so when you clap your hands and then put them out he jumps to give you 10! Thankfully he jumped next to the trainer and she didn’t seem too worried since he passed the rest of the test!
Next step was deciding where to volunteer – when I noticed that the pediatric unit of Fletcher Allen was looking we started that process which ended up taking a few months between a TB test, volunteer orientation, pediatric orientation, and finally me shadowing another team.
But in late February we finally had our first visit and we’ve been going once a week since then! Depending on the number and interest of the patients and visits can last anywhere from 1 minute to 15-20 minutes. On Monday one seven year old girl was DELIGHTED to see us and eventually made Strider don a cape. He in turn eventually just lay on the floor and went to sleep but she wasn’t too worried and loved having him in there.
It makes me proud of Strider to see people’s reactions to him and the joy he brings. It really isn’t a difficult process to get certified so I’d recommend it.
For more information VISIT THE WEBSITE
When we’re working Strider has to wear his official bandana and ID card at all times – pretty cute!