Thursday, October 22, 2009

The human/canine connection

Animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities (in this case therapy dog visits) benefit a wide range of populations. Monday Murphy* and I worked one-on-one with an elderly woman in a local eldercare community. Mrs. Smith had been ill recently and on this day needed to work on her mobility - using a walker - as well as range of motion, dexterity, and cognition. She finished lunch and her recreation therapist suggested she walk with Murphy down the hall to one of the living rooms. Each time Mrs. Smith paused in her walk down that long hall, we encouraged her to follow Murphy, which she did, happily. When we settled into a comfortable chair in the living room, Mrs. Smith groomed Murphy with his doggy wipes, filled his treat ball, threw the ball for Murphy, and finally walked him back to where we started. Thus ended 40 minutes of therapy that included big smiles, reminiscing, and tons of puppy love, as well as

Tuesday evening Murphy and I visited Safe Harbor Shelter whose purpose is to end domestic violence in the community. Murphy and I visit often, hanging out in the playroom with kids while their moms are in group counseling sessions. This particular night, we sat in the waiting room chatting with another volunteer when in walked a mother and daughter. When seven-year-old Lisa saw Murphy, she threw her arms around him, with the query "where have you been?" Thus began nearly 90 minutes of interaction between this little girl and the big brown dog. She drew pictures of him, learned how to spell his name, played dress-up (the pink feather boa looks quite nice on him), hugged, kissed, and talked to him. Murphy reciprocated with patience, wags, and occasional wet, sloppy kisses, which as always with little girls ... produced giggles.

*Murphy is my 90-pound chocolate Lab who, at 4-1/2, has worked as a therapy dog for three years. As members of Life's Journey Therapy Dogs, he, Dixie the GSD and Nana the Newfoundland provide comfort to individuals and groups in and around central Virginia.

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