Sunday, March 30, 2014

This calls for the Class A uniform

Come a little closer. I can't lick you yet.

I reach for the light blue bandanna on the kitchen counter and turn to Micron.

Dress, I say to him.

My big yellow dog lowers his noggin and slips into the open loop. He looks up at me, expectant. The Tail of Wondrous Beauty is slowly wagging.

You know what, big guy? I say. I think tonight's event calls for full Class A uniform. Let's put your working cape on and get you all official looking.

Getting ready
Micron turns the dial on his tail from Slow to Oh Heck Yeah as I put the logo cape on him. He knows we have an adventure coming up. What is it? Micron has no idea, but from experience he's pretty darn sure this is gonna be a good time.

Because he's going to work.

Once attired in full gear, Micron runs to the Toyota and prances at the car door, looking back at me.

C'mon two-legger! Let's go! he says. We're burnin' daylight here.

And so I secure the therapy dog in the back seat, turn the key, and we hit the road to meet us some Cub Scouts to talk about the jobs of working dogs.

I didn't expect any real challenges for the evening. After all, Micron is a true professional, highly trained in the skills of pet therapy and the like. So with confidence and a loose leash, we strut our stuff into the entrance of our venue, an elementary school.

Ok, let's pause here for just a moment. So who has now, or ever, born witness to the entrance of an elementary school at the end of a long, cold winter? Yeah? So you know what I mean when I mention the ubiquitous sight that heralds Spring along with the song of the red breasted robin, right?

You got it.

The post-winter elementary school Lost & Found table.

A pirate's booty overflowing with mismatched mittens and gloves, sock monkey knit caps and, kinda surprising to me, a couple of winter coats.

And in an instant I go from the evening's educator of young scouts to the chick who's yelling at her dog to Drop It! as he surfs the lost and found table for something soft to carry in his mouth.

Yep, we're here, y'all.  We can start the Pack Meeting now.

Micron models his Class B uniform
Two other pet therapy teams from Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association meet us there. It's a yellow dog affair with another golden retriever team and a yellow Labrador. The three of us hooman volunteers tag team the Pet Therapy presentation, each sharing our own personal stories and experiences of visiting folk at hospitals, retirement homes, and Hospice. How it is that we merely hold the end of a leash as our dogs do the stuff of magic.

Our audience for the evening is first to fourth graders. Young boys, yet so very eager to learn about what these dogs can do. We field some great questions from the boys.

Where do the dogs visit?
Where do they live?
Can cats be therapy pets? What about fish? Goats? Snakes?
What would happen if you let go of the leash?

At our turn to talk about Micron's work, we found a nice segue to cover his Change of Career from when he was training to be an assistance dog to his current work in pet therapy.

The mighty Micron, after presented with his favorite dog cookie, demonstrated a few of the thirty commands he learned while in training to be a service dog.

Hahaha, just kidding. I got him to Speak. We tried the Leave It command, always a crowd pleaser, by setting a dog cookie on each front paw.

As a puppy, I say. We taught Micron not to eat ...

Peals of laughter as my dog calmly leans forward and flicks a cookie into his mouth with a lizard tongue effect.

Try putting them on his back paws, some youngster heckles from the back. Yeah, so anyway the dog knows Speak.

Full Class A uniform. Micron is brushed and cleaned to a spit shine.
Ok, no spit. But I did trim his toenails.
Embarrased, but not defeated, I plow on to explain the differences between assistance dogs and pet therapy. Mindful of our young audience, I pop out some basics.

  • A Service Dog is trained to help a person with a disability. 
  • A Pet Therapy dog is trained to help everyone feel happier.

  • A Service Dog goes wherever their person wants or needs to go - restaurants, shopping, museums.
  • A Pet Therapy dog only goes where they are invited - hospitals, retirement homes, libraries.

  • A Service Dog is trained to help a person do things that may be difficult for them to do - retrieve dropped items, turn on light switches.
  • A Pet Therapy Dog is a dog that loves being around people and has good manners. They make everyone happier.

I share a story with the Cubs. This is a true tale that was told to me when we started puppy raising for Canine Companions for Independence.
Ok, Cub Scouts, listen up. I have an awesome story for you about how important a service dog can be to someone. There's this fellow who has a disability that limits his movements. He isn't able to walk and so he uses a wheelchair. But he can still go places on his own, because he has a van with hand controls he uses to drive, instead of brake and gas pedals. On his keyring he can press a button that opens the side door of the van and lowers a ramp. Easy 'nuff, right?  He rolls his power wheelchair up the ramp and to the front of the van to drive. He's good to go anywhere he wants to drive.
Except this one time when he's leaving a shopping mall. It's raining really hard and he hurries to get to his van in the parking lot. But when he pulls his keyring out of his pocket, everything is wet and he drops it.
Because the man can't reach the keys from his wheelchair, he has to wait for someone to come by and see him. He has to wait in the rain for another person to pick up his keys for him. Young people, this is a guy who can go wherever he wants. He has a disability, but feels good about taking care of himself. And when this happened, it made him feel pretty bad.
He decided on that day he would get a service dog. And now his dog is with him all the time. The service dog can pick up anything and give it to his person. And be a friend that is always there. 
Can Micron pick something up and give it back to you, asks a young Cub. Yeah, says another. We want to see Micron do that!

Micron? Seriously? The same dog that just ate a verboten dog cookie from his paw in front of everyone? I'm afraid I've set the bar a little high here.  No, I say. No, Micron is a pet therapy dog now.  He isn't trained to retrieve things.  Hey, but who wants to hear him Speak again?

And with that, the Cubmaster splits the boys into three groups, one to visit each therapy dog. This is where Micron shines. The reason he slips so eagerly into his neckerchief and cape.

The dog is on his back with soft belly exposed. I tell the boys that he like a gentle scritching on his underside. Rubbing the ridge between his eyes is a favorite, too. For those up to the task, a hearty scratch of his rump is always appreciated by the big guy.

And they comply. Oh so willingly.

Enuf with all the talking and lectures, y'all. There are no stories for this kind of therapy. Imagine being surrounded by a score of young boys that are happy and cooperative? No follow-the-leader into group misbehavior that I saw too often in my own Den Leader days. Not one bit of  negativity in our aura bubble.

Absolute positive energy. If only we were able to bottle such stuff to save when needed later.

All because of the presence of therapy pets in the room.

Now I just need to get Micron back to the car without scoring a mitten in the foyer.
____________
Spoiler alert: Mitten removal from a dog maw was at risk, but disaster averted. But really, winter coats, Moms? I get the lost mitten thing, but wouldn't you notice your kid lost his coat?

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