Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Visiting Veterans

I started this post writing the background to the therapy dog stuff that I've been doing. I decided I'm going to stick all of that at the bottom as more of an optional read. And I'll just jump into our time with the veterans.

Saturday afternoon Max and I went to visit veterans.

I was a little nervous about the visit, but mostly excited. I had been to the facility before, so I was familiar with the setup, and I knew we would be visiting in the TV room so that it was completely optional for the guys to come in and join us or avoid us completely.

While we were there we saw about 8-10 men. One of them stayed the whole time.

Here are some of things I want to remember -

- we walked in and immediately a  guy came up and wanted to pet Max, and then asked if he could bring him some water. I carry water around with me whenever we go on these visits, but I remembered from the class I took from TAU that some of the people you visit really want a chance to take care of/help/nurture something/someone. I told him that would be great. When he brought the water to Max I was so glad that Max decided he was thirsty. (:

- once we got set up in the room, Max was invited onto the couch. I put his blanket on there so he'd know he was allowed (he's not allowed on the furniture at home) and he settled in between two guys (one of them was the man who stayed the whole time, we'll call him Mike).

- occasionally I'd get Max off the couch and he'd spend some time with some other guys who had come in to visit.

- Max got called "Boss" by an older gentleman that was there.

- near the end of the visit, Max was on the couch by the Mike and decided to really settle in and get himself comfortable so he put his head on the Mike's lap. I love it when he physically connects with people like that.

- one other man we met started crying when he was telling us (Nancy, a mentor with TAU, was with me since it's a new location for volunteers) about two dogs that he had had to put down recently.

- throughout the visit the water bowl got moved aside and then different men would take turns taking it and offering it to Max again - just wanting to make sure he had enough.

It really was such a great visit. I loved it. I loved it more than I thought I would. And I think Max enjoyed it too. Of course, if I got a full-body massage every time I went to work (like he does) I think I'd really love it too. (:

We're going back tomorrow (there's some schedule shuffling happening but since I won't be able to go this Saturday we shifted it to Thursday), and I'm so glad this is going to be a regular thing!

Here's Max after the visit.

He always gets exhausted after visits like that. It can't be easy being so charming and lovable all the time. (:

And here's the background info that I was going to post before. If you're interested...

Some background because I can't remember if I've really talked about this on here (But I don't feel like looking back at old posts right now).

Last year November I took the handler's course for Therapy Animals of Utah (TAU). It's a day-long course where the human half of future therapy animal teams learn what their pets need to be able to do in order to become a therapy animal. We learned a lot about learning to read stress signals in animals so that we would know if our pet gets really stressed during visits. If the pet does get really stressed, you need to end the visit quickly and get them out of there. They want to make sure the visits are as enjoyable for the animals as they are for the people - and stressed animals don't enjoy visits as much as non-stressed animals do.

Anyway, after taking the course I signed up for the team evaluation in February. We went, and Max had an ear infection. They don't do evaluations in animals who are sick - including ear infected animals. So we didn't make it past the physical.

We got in again in March, and he passed wonderfully. They loved him.

One - big - reason I wanted to do this with him was so that we could work with veterans. I read an article a few years ago about a therapy dog that would visit veterans who were suffering from PTSD and I decided then that I wanted to do that with Max. I was already pretty sure that he was a prime candidate to become a therapy animal and that was one population that I really wanted to work with.

In August I went to this facility and started the process to become a volunteer. This includes a background check and two TB tests. I had to go back there after work three times in a couple of weeks. After that I had to wait for my background check to be completed. A couple of weeks later I got an email saying that I had passed (shocker, I know), and we started getting things set up.

A quiz and orientation with volunteer services, a few emails back and forth with my contact, a tour of the place I would be visiting, a visit with the nurse manager there (all of this taking place over 3 weeks or so), and I was good to go. Long process, but looking at our first visit, I can say that it was definitely worth it!

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