Stevie the Wonder Dog Spreads Love
The expression "Love is blind" is definitely true in Stevie's case. Stevie the Wonder Dog was born blind and dropped off with his siblings at an animal shelter. He was adopted by his handler Jen, became registered with Therapy Animals of Utah, and now the two of them volunteer at the Volunteers of America (VOA) Adult Detox Center where their presence truly makes a difference.
One VOA staff member said, “Stevie brings such a powerful and energizing energy to our clients and staff at Detox. No matter what has been happening that day, people come to life in his presence. They soften and open. They smile and laugh. He helps everyone remember how very important, and powerful, LOVE is.” Source: https://www.facebook.com/#!/voaut
Captain Cowpants, affectionately known as “Cappy”, and his handler, Melissa, visit regularly at the University of Utah hospital and with teens in the Teenscope program. Referring to the teens, Cappy’s handler Melissa says, “He absolutely ADORES them. Each week, he slides in on his belly, and the group just instantly diffuses. The kids always ask great questions and Captain goes around and literally sits on each of them (yes, 70 lb dog climbs into their lap like he's a 3 lb chihuahua). He spends time with each and every kid, and sometimes we have up to 20 in the group.” The adoration is mutual. “The teens just really respond to Cappy, and we always have wonderful talks with the rotating groups. On occasion, they will post things on his Facebook page about how they miss him or appreciate him. This always warms my heart because so many of these kids are hurting emotionally or having trouble connecting with others,” said Melissa.
“One day in our group at UNI, there was one young girl who was particularly withdrawn. We tried to engage with her as we do with all of the kids, but she really just wanted to fade into the background of the group. I was worried she wouldn't feel included or part of the group. At the end of the group, we reached out to her again, and she handed Cappy and I the attached drawing. I teared up pretty hard. We reached her in her own way, and she expressed that creatively, by drawing Captain. When she saw how much it meant to us, she took some time one on one to pet Captain. This was a good 8 months ago, and that drawing still proudly hangs on our refrigerator!” – Melissa
Kandie the Therapy Pittie
Kandie the Therapy Pittie and her handler, Kelly, visit weekly at Copper Hills Youth Center. Their visits have such a positive influence that the youngsters’ excitement bubbles over to the day before and the day after the visit. Kandie's visits have such a good influence that one day as Kandie and Kelly had just finished their visit and were about to leave, one of the leaders asked if they could come back and spend a few minutes one-on-one with a boy that had come in late. Kandie helps teach life lessons. One day when Kandie was visiting, an upset youngster had a tantrum that scared Kandie. This provided an opportunity for the rest of the group to move to another room, take deep breaths to relax and understand that the negativity of one person affects the whole group. Kandie inspires artistic endeavors like the coloring shown here. Kandie also gives the youth something to look forward to beyond their stay at the center, as one inspired boy said, “I’m gonna do this with my dogs when I get out of here.”
The opportunity to get Kandie to do tricks allows the boys to be kids instead of having to maintain a tough exterior in a lockdown facility. Kandie follows basic obedience commands, but she’s a little uncomfortable with the “roll over” command. The boys understand being uncomfortable with certain things, and one day when Kandie rolled over for them, the boys jumped up and down, and the group cheered as if someone had scored a touchdown. They shared in her success. Kandie also plays "watch me" with the boys. Kelly explains, "Each time one of the boys gave the command 'watch me', Kandie would look them in the eyes - and boy they would melt! It was sooo special!"
There's Nothing Like A Cuddly Saint Bernard to Lower Blood Pressure
A Saint Bernard named Dazzle and her handler, Susan, visit Ogden Regional Medical Center every week. Susan describes a visit with a patient whose blood pressure was monitored every 15 minutes. “She’d just had her blood pressure taken before we stepped into the room,” said Susan, “and after our visit her blood pressure had dropped 20 points.” Susan also observes, “Some of our best work has been with people in waiting rooms. These people are waiting for something positive about someone they care about, and when we walk in, I can feel the mood lighten. They reach out and need something big and cuddly.”
Bert Gives Patients Something Positive to Focus On
Vickie and her Golden Retriever, Bert, conduct weekly visits at Ogden Regional Medical Center. After a visit in the ICU with a young man who had had open heart surgery, the nurse contacted Vickie to tell her how thrilled the boy was with Bert. He told his family how Bert had watched over him as he was being stuck with needles. Bert sat in a chair next to the bed and when the nurse came in to check the patient, Bert leaned toward the boy so his head was about five inches above the boy’s stomach, but not touching the boy or the bed, and watched the nurse intently – never taking his eyes off her as she worked to get some blood for a test. To know that Bert was “watching over him” gave the young man something positive to focus on during a serious event in his life.
On another occasion, medical staff had asked Vickie and Bert to visit a patient that had some paralysis. The physical therapists were trying to get her to move her fingers. Not only did the patient caress Bert, but she signed “I love you” to Bert. Physical therapists are often impressed with how well the patients respond to Bert and the other TAU dogs that visit at their hospital. The presence of the animal encourages the patient to reach out and pet them and demonstrate greater mobility than they do with exercise alone.
Bullet The Wonder Cat
Here are two stories of what I have witnessed serving as Bullet's chauffeur/assistant that exemplify the deep connection and power of the human-animal bond. You will see why he is referred to as “Bullet the Wonder Cat” where we visit.
Early this year we went in to see a young man who had suffered what appeared to be a traumatic brain injury. Knocking on the door, I asked if he would like to see my cat. He was in a wheel chair and his parents were sitting on his bed. The boy tried to answer but could not speak clearly, so he shakily nodded his head. Placing a towel in his lap, I put Bullet on it. I lifted his hand, placed it on Bullet's back and began telling him about my cat. His hand began moving back and forth just a little as I talked. I told him that Bullet had had a bath with peppermint shampoo the day before, so he might have some loose hairs that needed to be combed out. I asked if he would like to brush him with his special purple rubber brush (a cat Zoom Groom – soft & very easy to grip!). He eagerly nodded his head. I got the brush out and demonstrated, explaining that Bullet liked it when you did long slow strokes down his back & sides. He watched me very seriously, and then followed my instructions perfectly 4 or 5 times before breaking into a huge grin and handing the brush back to me. With tears in their eyes, his parents told me that an occupational therapist had spent 2 hours earlier that day – unsuccessfully - trying to get their son to use his hands!
My second story shows that, if you are open to when people need you, truly wonderful things can happen.
Bullet and I had finished our shift at the hospital that day and I was carrying him down the hallway in his crate to return home. I was almost to the exit when I saw a woman looking so distraught and defeated I felt I just had to say something to her. As I approached, I unlatched the door to Bullet's crate, opening it so she could see him as I walked up. I asked if she would like to pet him. She eagerly reached in and Bullet leaned his head to meet her hand. With tears in her eyes she told me that her young son, in the room behind us, absolutely loved cats. They had 2 cats at home.
“Well – let’s take him in.” I said. “No” she sighed with tears in her eyes, “he’s been totally unresponsive since we’ve been here.”
Just going on gut instincts, I said “Let’s try anyway – you never know!”
We went into the room which was filled with the boys’ family. I got Bullet out of his crate, placing him next to the boy on a towel. His mother – in voice that was MUCH too loud shouted “Look, a nice lady has brought a cat to see you.” I gently motioned for her to not say anything else and began quietly talking to the boy, telling him all about Bullet. I picked up his hand and began slowly stroking Bullet's fur with it. After maybe 20 strokes I stopped guiding his hand – but he continued stroking. He was still petting him a few minutes later when he opened his eyes – they were bleary and unfocused – but they were open! The family was VERY excited! When a cousin went up to the little boy he held his arms up for a hug and everyone was laughing and shouting with joy. All the excitement and celebration ensured that our quiet departure went unnoticed.
Turning Point With Liberty
In August 2009, a 9 year old boy began a 40-day stay at a local Salt Lake City hospital due to a ruptured appendix. Because his system had become septic, he had two huge incisions: one horizontal and one vertical across his little abdomen and a pump to expel the infection. His pain was so severe he cried if someone even touched the bed sheets.
Then one day in November he received a visit from Liberty, a Standard Poodle that is registered with Delta Society® (Pet Partners®) and Therapy Animals of Utah. The boy allowed Liberty to lie on the bed next to him. Liberty’s handler, Stacy Grover, a Delta Society (Pet Partners) licensed instructor and evaluator, recalls the visit with the boy and his grandmother who was there to give his mother a break. “I remember getting Liberty up there, not touching him at all, and him moving ever so carefully over towards her. Liberty just lay there like a statue, without moving, totally relaxed. As the visit progressed, her calmness seemed to dissipate through the room and everybody seemed to relax, and by the time we left, they both seemed like they felt a little better.”
A faint smile crossed the boy’s face as he snuggled next to Liberty. This set the scene for the first picture his family has of him smiling in the hospital. The next day brought even more smiles as the boy let his mother lie beside him. Referring to Liberty’s and Stacy’s visit, his mother shared, “It really was a turning point for us. Thank you for bringing us joy at such a difficult time in our lives.”
Animal Visit Decreases Patient’s Heart Rate
A local TAU team that chooses to remain anonymous were visiting at a Salt Lake City hospital when a young patient in ICU became very excited upon seeing the dog. The patient’s family member welcomed our TAU team into the room where the dog assumed a calm position lying down. The young patient placed the only part of her face that was not covered by a respirator next to the dog and stroked the dog’s fur back and forth.
Within a few moments, the nurse exclaimed, “Wow! Her heart rate went down significantly! I’ve never seen that before!” Immediately, the grateful family member asked our team if they could stay longer, saying, “This is what we’ve been waiting for,” adding that once the patient’s heart rate stabilized she could leave the ICU and go to a standard hospital room.
For more than five years, TAU member Lesly Williams and her collie, Callum, have visited the ICU and severe trauma floors at Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. The April 2010 Special Edition of the IMC newsletter, Volunteer Communiqué, featured an article entitled “Why Do I Volunteer” about Lesly and Callum, in which Lesly is quoted as saying, “Do you know he [Callum] has been recognized by a staff member for helping a patient ‘turn the corner’? The staff credits Callum’s visits by giving the patient something to look forward to and getting the patient motivated.” Lesly summed it up best saying, “We may come in as a team but Callum does the work.”
The Shelties Difference
Debbie Carr, a Delta Society® (Pet Partners®) licensed instructor and evaluator, and her Shelties, William and Mr. Parker, participate regularly in classes at ScenicView Academy in Provo, Utah, a private, non-profit school for adults with autism or severe learning disabilities. “We use metaphors and symbols, and how they apply to animals to teach the adults communication skills”, explained Debbie. During psychotherapy with an individual student and with one of the Shelties sitting where the student can easily pet him, the student has opened up and talked about things never before discussed with the social worker.
Jet, a very social black cat, visited a senior assisted living center every other week with his handler, Joyce Tegtmeier. One of the residents who visited with Jet regularly said, “Jet makes my day.” She shared that she had been upset earlier, “but everything is all right now that I am with Jet because he is so calm.” Other times, Jet provided a soothing presence to those who had received bad news and comforted lonely residents who were spending their first holidays away from their homes. One young lady who was there visiting her mother who was in a wheelchair remarked as her mother interacted with Jet, “It’s so good to see you smile again.” Even the residents who didn’t pet Jet benefitted because his presence always stimulated memories and conversations.