If you grew up in the 1960′s, you may remember a TV commercial that advertised a mint as being, “Two, two, two mints in one.” A good friend and colleague, Joyce Driben, has a Black Labrador/Golden Retriever Seeing Eye(R) dog that is two dogs in one because he also volunteers with her in a therapeutic capacity. The setting to which they go each week is the Southwestern VA Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
“A reader told me that this VA Center was looking for volunteers, and they especially wanted someone to bring a dog in,” Joyce replied, when I asked how she and Tutor got started there.
“Though we first visited people on the Alzheimer’s unit, we then added physical therapy where we encouraged movement by having the patients pet Tutor. Now we go everywhere in the building and visit whoever wants to see us,” Joyce concluded. The vets also enjoy giving Tutor snacks–something Joyce monitors carefully.
“When I had a guide dog,” I said “I often encountered people who were so afraid of dogs that they insisted mine would bite. Have you experienced that fear with patients?”
Joyce said that some of the residents have expressed a dislike for dogs, but, regarding fear, it’s mostly the staff. “One worker even said, ‘I’m afraid of that dog’,” Joyce added.
Joyce also explained the importance of sighted assistance in what she does. “So that Tutor can interact more with the residents, I have him out of harness, so I can’t expect him to guide. Also, with many of the patients being in wheelchairs, things like food and drinks need to be lower so they can reach them, but this also makes it easier for dogs to get them. Another problem is that some of the patients with Alzheimer’s can no longer speak, so they motion for the dog to come visit–something I wouldn’t know on my own,” Joyce explained.
“What suggestions do you have for readers who might want to do similar volunteering with their dogs?” I asked.
“Part of it is exploring what’s available in your community since every community is different,” Joyce responded. Joyce also emphasized how friendly, calm, and good with people a dog has to be. “A dog also has to be comfortable with appliances like canes, oxygen, and wheelchairs,” she said. “My first dog couldn’t have done this because she was scared to death of wheelchairs. The slight hissing noise an oxygen tank makes can also scare some dogs.”
Some final points are that the dog must be clean, well groomed, and in good health if they are to volunteer in a hospital.
“Tutor is so loveable that-when I had to miss a few weeks–guess who the patients asked about? It wasn’t me,” Joyce ended with a laugh.
Have any readers worked with therapy dogs or volunteered with them in a therapeutic capacity? Tell us your experiences in Reader’s Forum.