When I first started to get to know my dog, Sadie, it was clear that she was a pretty special pooch. I’ve never met a dog with such a gentle nature, and it seemed, without fail, that she would meet humans and they would say some variation of “what a sweet dog!” I would bring her to my former office, she would park by the door, and without fail, everyone who saw her at the door would smile.
Back in Feb/March, I made an idle inquiry at our local dog guru’s place about this thing called “Therapy Dog” training. Turned out a group was taking classes in preparation for a test to become certified Therapy Dog/human teams via a group called Therapy Dogs International or TDI (there is also another group called Delta Society – I don’t know the difference as TDI is the only one I’ve worked with). It’s a pretty regulated volunteer organization: lots of paperwork, strict rules (dogs are not allowed off leash unless doing tricks, dogs must wear proper id, visits must be arranged in advance, etc). The regulation, it seems, is the result of unscrupulous folks using therapy dog training to get their dogs into places they shouldn’t be and generally abusing the privilege of being a volunteer.
Anyway, because she’s a rockstar, Sadie passed the TDI test with flying colors…and then, well, my life got interesting with the whole “job transition” thing. It took me a long time to actually get myself set up for a “visit”. In fact, tonight was my/our first.
We went to visit some folks at a local social service agency. We interacted mostly with kids, and Sadie was a hit. The little ones flocked to her, and she stood rock solid as many little hands patted her, pulled her tail and twisted her ears.
Everyone had the same variation on the same question: “But what is she doing here? Do you just bring her to places and let people pet her?”
“Yes,” I would answer. “Sometimes it’s just nice to have a dog to pet. They make you feel good.” The humans would look at me for a moment, trying to understand, and then just shrug and say “well, ok.” Then they would pet her with a smile.
For me, as the human handler, it was a neat experience. My job, my only job, was to hang out with my dog and interact with the humans who wanted to pet her and/or talk with me. I didn’t once look at my phone, and I didn’t want to. Sometimes I sat alone, sometimes I was surrounded by kids, but either was ok. We coaxed the shy kiddos to get over their worry and pet Sadie, and we helped the exuberant ones learn to “be gentle.” We talked about past pets, or not having pets. One little boy told me that sometimes pets get away and get hit by cars, so we have to be extra careful. I agreed.
We didn’t save the world or anything epic tonight, but I loved sharing my sweet pooch with other people, people who weren’t expecting her. I was so proud of her, and so glad that she was as awesome at being a therapy dog as I thought she would be.