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Tag: therapy dogs

How many ways can we say helper?

new-yorker-dog-cartoon

Ahhh, words. They can be almost as fun to play with as dogs — and that’s just the beginning of what words and dogs have in common.

Words, like dogs, can be used to befriend, repel or attack, depending on the person behind them. Both can inform us, frustrate us, console, entertain and enthrall us. Words, like dogs, can bite or soothe. Both need to be used responsibly.

And, given we humans created both of them, it is up to us to safeguard them and, once in a while, stand up for them — as in, for example, when they are being abused.

Generally, both words and dogs are at their best when they are unrestrained.

And yet sometimes they need to be restrained.

And yet too much restraint can make them dull and lifeless, sucking out all their natural spirit and joy.

It’s not this week’s presidential debate that’s sending me off on this wordy tangent. It’s the word “facility,” and the growing use of the term “facility dog.”

In a post last week, I lauded the University of Southern California’s decision to add a “facility dog” to the staff of its student health center — but I poked a little fun at the term.

“Facility dog” is a cold, undescriptive and institutional-sounding label, in my view, that just doesn’t go with the goldendoodle’s playful given name, Professor Beauregard Tirebiter.

Beauregard is trained as a therapy dog. Calling him a “facility dog” — no matter the reason behind it — disguises that fact. Words are supposed to clarify, not obfuscate.

I don’t like the idea of labeling a dog based on the building in which he works, as opposed to the noble work he is doing.

But, most of all, I just don’t like the word “facility.”

USC didn’t come up with the term “facility dog;” it is being used increasingly to describe a dog — generally a therapy dog — that is based in a particular hospital, nursing home, school, prison, mental institution or other … well, facility.

emotionalIn journalism school, I was taught not to use the word “facility,” because its meaning is so vague and the mere sight of it tends to put people to sleep.

But it’s also, in its vagueness, a safe word — the kind bureaucracies like, not just for their political correctness, but because it lets them avoid plain talk, clarity and specificity.

“Facility dog is an official certification as designated by Canine Angels Service Teams,” reads a comment sent into ohmidog! from someone at USC’s health center, in response to the post.

“While his credential is ‘Facility Dog,’ the University of Southern California has given him the title ‘Wellness Dog’ as his intended purpose is to enhance the wellness of students on campus.

“He does not work in a therapy/counseling setting, but rather as a staff member in the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion. As such, he is not a pet and does not violate the USC policy referenced in the article.”

(I pointed out in my post that USC has a no-pets policy, only to suggest that maybe it’s time — given all dogs do for us, given “wellness” should be achieved campus-wide as opposed to just at the Student Health Center, given all dogs, in a way, are “wellness dogs” — to give those antiquated rules another look.)

I almost hate to say it, but I’m not too keen on “wellness dog,” either. It, too, is vague and touchy-feely and fails to describe the work Beau is doing.

But it’s a little better than “facility dog.”

“Facility dog” makes it sound like Beau is manning the boilers. “Wellness dog” makes it sound like he’s dispensing medication, taking blood pressure and giving nutritional advice.

Google the term “wellness dog” now and you get links mostly to the dog food that uses that name, or pet insurance companies only to happy to provide your dog a “wellness plan.”

But “wellness dog” will surely join the ranks of terms used to describe dogs that are trained to help us humans cope.

There are already enough of those terms to thoroughly confuse the public —
service dogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, comfort dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs and seizure dogs — and my personal favorite “companion animal.”

“Companion animal” is what we used to call a pet. As in:

“Hi, I’m John and this is my dog, Bowser. Do you mind if we use the facilities?”

“You are welcome here, just make sure your companion animal uses the fecal matter containment system.”

“You mean a poop bag?”

“We try not to use that term.”

The surplus of terminology for dogs who help us is first and foremost a reflection of just how incredibly much dogs help us — with disabilities, with illnesses that range from diabetes to epilepsy to PTSD, and with all the other obstacles, fears and anxieties that get in our way.

Those distinctions become important because different dogs, depending on their label, have different rights.

service-dog1Under the legal definition, service dogs are those trained to perform tasks for an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental disability.

A service animal is entitled to accompany that person anywhere members of the public are allowed.

Emotional support dogs, comfort dogs and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Assistance dog” is a catch all term to describe them all, and is not a legal category.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need all those distinctions — and any dog that is helping a person cope would be allowed to accompany that human to a restaurant, workplace, etc.

But, in an ideal world, the word “facility” wouldn’t exist, either.

Canine Angels, the outfit that provided Beauregard to the university, says on its website that it trains and provides service dogs, “social dogs” and “facility dogs.”

It defines facility dogs as those that “are placed with teachers and health care/rehabilitation professionals whose clients/students can benefit from the therapeutic qualities that a well-trained dog can offer. These dogs can provide emotional and unconditional support and can be used by their handlers to motivate and reward clients/students. Facility Dogs live with their handlers and are only allowed public access to the specific facility at which their handler is employed.”

Sometimes, those handlers are called … wait for it … facilitators.

I doubt that there is any significant difference between what a therapy dog is trained to do and what a facility dog is trained to do. Similarly, I’d go out on a limb and say a “wellness dog” and a therapy dog likely receive identical training.

Therapy dog is a perfectly fine term, and there’s no need to put a mask on it.

When a university decides it wants to have a writer on campus, allowing him or her to pursue their mission while their brilliance rubs off on the student body, they call him or her “writer-in-residence,” not “facility writer.”

Dogs deserve at least that much respect.

How the therapy dog sees it

How do things look from a therapy dog’s point of view?

To see things from Hank’s perspective — maybe even better, given Hank’s shaggy bangs — his owner mounted a video camera on the back of the Old English sheepdog.

hankandwhalenThe five-year-old dog makes his rounds every other week at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, with his owner, Tom Whalen, according to a hospital blog called “On the Pulse.”

Whalen said hospital stays — especially those lasting weeks or months — can be overwhelming for children. Hank helps bring them some joy and motivation.

“We are able to give them a new focus aside from what they are currently feeling. It’s amazing to see the positive shift in energy for both the patient and their family after Hank walks in,” Whalen says.

Hank and Tom are one of nine dog-human teams that take part in the hospital’s visiting dog program.

As a child, Whalen says, he spent a lot of time in a hospital when his brother was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I remember how my brother loved having visitors,” he said. “This is part of the reason why I love visiting kids at Seattle Children’s. I’m able to see the amazing affect Hank and I can have. I’ve even seen patients whose parents have told me that their child had not smiled or laughed in days or weeks, but as soon as Hank walked in, they lit up with sheer joy.”

Zelda-and-Hank7-croppedThe visits do require some preparation, though. The hospital insists visiting therapy dogs be bathed 24-48 hours prior to a visit. That’s no small task with a 78-pound sheepdog, but Hank (if not Tom) always looks forward to it.

He knows it means a visit to the hospital is coming — and he gets even more excited when Tom places a bright orange Seattle Children’s bandana around his neck.

“Some of the reactions I’ve witnessed are remarkable,” said Whalen. “We once visited a patient that had been unresponsive, but a gentle stroke of Hank’s hair encouraged movement and interaction that their family hadn’t seen in days…

“I am just in awe of Hank’s ability to help heal and I am honored to be on the other end of his leash, helping to brighten these kids’ day.”

(Photos: Seattle Children’s Hospital)

Funeral homes find dogs comfort mourners

lulu

Funeral directors are increasingly turning to dogs to help comfort mourners, the Associated Press reports.

Therapy dogs, they’re finding, not only help soothe grieving friends and family members, but they can serve to lighten up the overly somber atmosphere that is the norm in many a funeral home.

When a dog joins a group of mourners, “the atmosphere changes,” said Mark Krause, owner and president of Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Milwaukee. “In a funeral home, people are typically on edge, uncomfortable. But everyone lights up, everyone has to greet the dog.”

Krause bought Oliver, a Portuguese water dog, in 2001. His wife had Oliver trained to be a therapy dog at schools, nursing homes, hospitals.

“Then my wife said, ‘Why can’t he do this in the funeral home?’ and in the 10-plus years we had him, he probably touched a couple thousand families,” Krause said. Oliver seemed to “sense grief and who needed him.”

Krause remembers one 7-year-old boy who had lost his 3-year-old sister and had stopped talking, even to his parents.

“The minute the dog came in, the boy started talking to him about his sister,” Krause said. “This little boy tells the dog, ‘I don’t know why everyone’s so upset, my sister said she’s fine where she is.'”

“I don’t suppose Oliver understood, but he looked at the boy as if he did,” Krause added.

When Oliver died in 2011 — about 150 people attended his funeral — the Krauses bought another Portuguese water dog, Benny.

While no statistics are kept on dogs in funeral homes, Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association, said, “We hear from members that more and more of them are bringing animals into funeral homes … whether it’s a certified therapy dog or just an extremely well-behaved family pet.”

At the Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, N.Y., Sandy Del Duca was mourning the death of her father when Lulu, a goldendoodle, came down the stairs and greeted her.

“That dog looked into my eyes and I was done,” Del Duca said. “She seemed to know just what I needed. A funeral is a funeral, it’s not a great thing. But that dog gave the service a family atmosphere and made it more of a celebration.”

When mourners come to the funeral home to make arrangements, owner Matthew Fiorillo asks if they’d like to meet Lulu and tells them she’s available — at no extra charge — for wakes and funerals. Almost all have accepted.

Funeral directors say dogs can lighten the awkward, tense atmosphere at a wake or funeral service, and sometimes seem to know exactly who needs their help.

Gayle Armes, owner of the Armes-Hunt funeral homes in Fairmount and Marion, Indiana, says his dog Judd, a golden retriever, serves a vital function by giving mourners “something else to focus on.”

“The ones who need it, they tend to go over to him, maybe kneel and love on him and he loves on them,” Armes said.

(Photo: Lulu, a goldendoodle who works as a therapy dog at Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, N.Y.; by Jim Fitzgerald / The Associated Press)

Therapy dog booted, based on his biker duds

San Diego’s most famous therapy dog has lost his certification — and all because of his biker outfit.

Chopper the Biker Dog was certified by Pet Partners, and over the past five years he has visited thousands of people in hospitals, schools and senior living centers up and down the West Coast.

But suddenly, after all that time, his biker duds have been ruled “innapropriate,” ABC 10 News reported.

Pet Partners has informed his owner, Mark Shaffer, that the certification was suspended because it did not approve of Chopper’s biker outfit. Chopper wears a leather vest and a bandana and, when he’s on his motorcycle, a helmet and some pretty cool goggles.

Shaffer got the news after he and Chopper returned from an 11-day trip to Oregon, stopping at VA hospitals and police departments every day along the trip.

chopper“Disbelief,” Shaffer said of the decision. “There was anger and there was a lot of hurt.”

In a statement, Pet Partners explained that “the use of costumes and clothing in an animal-assisted therapy environment raises a number of concerns for the animal, the handler and the clients or patients being seen … Pet Partners harbors no ill will towards motorcycle enthusiasts. Holiday costumes, tutus or clothing other than a scarf are also not allowed.”

“We wish Mark and Chopper all the best and hope that they will continue to bring smiles to the people they meet. Mark did receive written warning to correct the behavior before the suspension to follow the appropriate protocol. He is free to dress Chopper as he pleases, just not while volunteering at facilities as a therapy animal team.”

Shaffer said that — rather than taking Chopper out of his biker outfit — he will seek certification from another therapy dog organization. He’s getting a lot of support for his decision on his Facebook page.

“They claim they don’t allow dogs in costumes,” said Shaffer. “This is not a costume,” “This is his persona. This is what he is.”

(Photo: From Chopper’s Facebook page)

Recognizing a gift when it lands in your lap

Nala isn’t an officially certified therapy dog.

Her presence at a Minnesota nursing home, apparently, didn’t require her owner to navigate a bureaucracy or fill out mounds of paperwork.

She was never trained to make people feel better. She just, like many a dog, magically does.

The tiny teacup poodle, who comes to work with her owner — medications assistant Doug Dawson — makes the rounds daily at the Lyngblomsten care center, somehow figuring out not just how to ride the elevator to get from room to room, but who at the nursing home might most need a visit from her.

It’s another one of those feel-good stories about a dog bringing comfort, hope and smiles to residents of an otherwise impersonal institution.

Let’s hope this one doesn’t get crushed.

On Wednesday, we told you about Ivy — a Siberian husky whose owner, a janitor at a University of Rhode Island dormitory, brings her to work with him everyday. And how Ivy, through bonding with the students who live there, has made it, in the view of most, a better place to be. And how the university, after the school newspaper ran a feature about the dog, banned Ivy from campus — even though she is certified as a therapy dog — citing things like rules and liability concerns.

Today we bring you Nala, who, fortunately, is spreading her magic at a facility that — rather than fretting about pests, bites and liability — seems to recognize a gift when it sees one.

Dawson brings Nala to work with him each morning, then lets her go her own way.

She spends the day popping into the rooms of residents, hopping in their laps and getting petted and nuzzled before moving on to the next room, according to this report by KARE 11

“She’s an angel,” 90-year-old resident Ruth New said. “I love her and she loves me.”

Nala, Dawson says, seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing who needs a visit, and knowing how to get there, even when it involves riding the four-story building’s elevator.

nala“There’s something about her,” said Dawson, who inherited Nala after she failed in her debut as a potential therapy dog at another facility.

He says Nala was too young at the time, and had spent too much time in a kennel.

Now 5 years old, Nala has redeemed herself at Lyngblomsten.

“If you put her down she’ll pick out the person with Alzheimer’s,” said Dawson. “She has a way of picking the sick.”

After the recent death of one resident, Nala entered her room and stationed herself at her side.

“She had died earlier in the morning, but Nala knew and went and sat with her,” said Sandy Glomski, a Lyngblomsten staffer. “It was wonderful and we were all in tears.”

Dawson says he’s constantly amazed by both Nala’s compassion and her ability to navigate the nursing home’s floors on her own.

“She’s here for a purpose,” he said. “She really is doing God’s work.”

That’s kind of what dogs will do when humans — and especially bureaucrats — don’t get in the way,

When a feel good story has feel bad results

ivy

A heartwarming little story in the University of Rhode Island student newspaper — about a janitor who brings his dog to work — has apparently led to a cold-hearted response by administrators: Ivy must go.

Mike LaPolice, who keeps Peck Hall clean, started bringing  Ivy to work with him soon after he adopted her a year and a half ago.

The Siberian husky followed LaPolice, who has worked for the university for 25 years, as he performed his duties at the dormitory, and she quickly became popular among students, who enjoyed petting her and taking her picture.

LaPolice got Ivy certified as a therapy dog — though in reality she was probably bringing students comfort and relieving their stress even before she got her degree.

Then, last Thursday,  The Good 5 Cent Cigar, which is the student newspaper,  ran a story  about the janitor and his dog.

Almost immediately, LaPolice received word from the university’s Department of Housing and Residential Life that — if he wanted to keep his job — his dog needed to leave the campus and not come back.

“Nobody will tell me who has a problem with Ivy,” LaPolice told the student newspaper in a follow-up piece. “All of the … staff that I’ve talked to keep referring to some person who doesn’t like her being here, but I don’t know who that is.”

Even before Ivy got banned from campus, LaPolice was aware his dog’s presence was a concern among some administrators. That was part of the reason he got her certified as a therapy dog. Dorm residents knew the dog was an issue, too. Last year they presented a petition to school officials, urging she be allowed to stay in the residence hall.

But for the past seven months, the issue seemed to have subsided, and it appeared school officials were willing to overlook Ivy’s presence in the dormitory, which, technically, is a violation of school rules.

Somehow, the newspaper story reignited the drive to remove Ivy from campus.

“I’m trying not to regret running this piece, because we never could have anticipated this outcome,” the newspaper’s editor, Allison Farrelly, said in an interview with CollegeMediaMatters.com. “I feel sick about it though, that we could have played a hand in negatively impacting not just this man’s life, but the lives of all the students Ivy touched.”

“It still doesn’t make sense to me that HRL could have reacted so strongly to our article, but I don’t feel defeated yet because I don’t think we’ve done everything we can to right this. I told my staff this, but I think there is a good chance if the student body gets behind our reporting, we can right this.”

LaPolice told the student newspaper he might talk to his doctor to figure out if he can be permitted to keep Ivy with him because of a medical need.

“I’ll go to a psychiatrist if I have to,” he said.

Another petition is being talked about among those students who want to keep Ivy in Peck Hall — many of whom say they’ve benefited from her presence.

The Department of Housing and Residential Life issued this statement yesterday:

“Staff members of the University’s Department of Housing and Residential Life became aware of an employee bringing a dog to Peck Hall late last summer. Since that time, housing staff has met repeatedly with the employee to ask him to leave the dog at home. The University does not permit its employees to bring their pets to work, unless they are service animals.

“While we understand the bond students may have formed with an animal brought into their residence hall, the University must consider the precedent that this sets and the welfare of the entire community, including potential liability in the event of a dog bite and issues around sanitation, pests and allergies.

“There are avenues for addressing employee accommodation requests under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the employee was referred to Human Resources for that process. To date, Human Resources has not received an official request from the employee for accommodations under the federal law.”

There are no reports of Ivy biting anyone, provoking any allergic reactions, or bringing any “pests” into the dorm.

Instead, students say she has brought comfort and cheer.

“In September, a relationship that I was in came to an end and hit me pretty hard with the feels,” said one. “Ivy jumped up on the couch and laid down next to me with her head on my chest because she could sense that I was upset.”

“On a particularly tough day, Ivy wandered into my office and just put her head on my leg,” said another, who serves as a resident assistant at Peck Hall. “How could I possibly stay focused on such negativity in my life with that beautiful, loving dog looking right up at me?”

(Photo: By Donald Reuker / The Good 5 Cent Cigar)

California mom finds the shelter dog she adopted can help detect her seizures

When Danielle Zuckerman adopted a pit bull named Thor from a California shelter, she was seeking a companion for herself and her son.

She has gotten that, as well an early warning system.

Zuckerman, a former Navy nuclear scientist who has seizures as a result of a spinal cord injury, says it was just days after she brought Thor home that the otherwise quiet dog jumped in her lap and started barking.

“I didn’t know what was going on, I thought something was maybe wrong with him, and about 10 to 15 minutes later I had a seizure,” she said.

Seven more times over the next two months, Thor did the same thing, and each time Zuckerman was on the brink of a seizure.

Thor, as far as anybody knows, never had any training as a service dog, or seizure detection dog.

The early warnings from Thor allow Zuckerman to take a new medication that cuts the length of her seizure from five minutes to 90 seconds.

And his presence gives her a sense of security she didn’t have before.

“I feel so much more comfortable, going out in public and going to do things, because when you’re an epileptic, you don’t have control over your own body,” said Zuckerman, who lives in Nevada County.

Thor was adopted from Sammy’s Friends in Grass Valley. Cheryl Wicks, who runs the shelter, told CBS 13 in Sacramento, she was thrilled when she heard about Thor’s skills.

“My hair stood up, I got chills, I got teary eyed,” she said. “This woman adopts a dog to have a pet and then she gets all this. It can, like, change her life.”