Saturday, December 30, 2006

One of those moments...

Murphy had a therapy visit at the nursing homes today - one of those "golden moments" that everyone with therapy dogs talk about when they are asked why they do it. It was a lousy drive over this morning, several inches of snow and unmaintained roads - a bit treacherous to get out there. We made our rounds asking if people would like a visit from a therapy dog. A couple of the residents are afraid of dogs or highly allergic so we stand in their doorways and do some tricks: high 5, spin, wave and take a bow. Sometimes it makes them smile, sometimes it doesn't and they remain fearful or they are too sick to be lifted by silly yellow dog antics.

One woman about my mom's age asked if we'd hang around and wait for her mom to get back into bed and then make a visit. We waited for a moment doing some tricks in the hallway for some other residents and when she was settled we went in for a visit. The woman was pretty non-verbal and obviously had some motor difficulties as well. My Murph went in there and rested his chin on the edge of her bed and sat down looking at the woman. The woman's daughter put her mom's hand on Murphy's head and it stayed there for a moment, then the woman slowly began moving her hand a bit back and forth - "soft" she said, Murphy moved just inches closer and sighed softly, closing his eyes. The woman began talking softly while stroking Murph's head. The look on her daughter's face was as priceless as the look of joy on the patient's face. The woman asked me about Murphy's training and we talked a bit about the long-gone dogs of her youth - she had grown up with farm dogs - who apparently looked a lot like Murphy (my guess is that she may have had border collies which were sometimes called swap collies or farm collies - some people are trying to "recreate" farm collies by crossing Aussies with Borders - for whatever that's worth - my guess is that they were less a breed and more of a type of working dog bred down from generations of working stock - and their ancestors well represented in the working border collie population of today - but I digress.)

Each time the woman said something Murphy's tail would move ever so slightly (wag, wag) while the rest of him remained completely stationary - listening to everything she had to say - as if he understood what she was saying and knew it was important that he not miss a word. Its interesting to me to see my goofy boy become so serious. The innate quality that makes him so suited for this kind of work - the moments when it's not about training - you can't train empathy, it's about dogs doing what they do best and then getting out there and sharing that quality and making a difference for someone else.

If you ever think about doing therapy work with your dog do it - train for it. It's a legal high and a beautiful way to make a gift to someone else. Each visit is different and those moments don't come every time, I remember Kasei having similar breakthroughs with kids while he was on duty - and remembered why it used to be so much fun.

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