Monday, October 26, 2009

Gabby's FIRST Job!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kind of fitting that it is my stepson's 11th Birthday today; it will be easy for me to remember our very first outing! We signed up to work twice a month for the next quarter.  I felt it was important to see how Gabby enjoyed her new 'job' and break her in slowly.  

Our trainer suggested that I use a 'special' leash, different from her normal walking leash and hang it in a different spot, away from the other leash so Gabby can learn the difference between going on a 'normal' walk and getting ready for 'work'.  In a few weeks, we'd like to hope that Gabby gets excited when I open the closet and grab her 'work' leash.

We were assigned to a place on Mission Street - an area in San Francisco where a lot of homeless and less fortunate people live.  Gabby and I arrived about 10 minutes early and were introduced to the receptionist and a few office workers. We were told it was a Psychiatric Day Clinic.  People with problems could come to this place, receive counseling and a meal.  A group of 15 people were in a room, eating their lunch when we arrived.  Gabby seemed happy, tail wagging upon our arrival to meet our new friends.

We were told that the patients may need some coaxing and discussion to feel accepted by us, as newcomers to their group.  We sat on a couch in the corner and patients interested could come over and see us.  

The most memorable story I wish to recall from this particular visit is when a woman came to our little corner.  She sat down next to us on the couch, Gabby rolled over onto her back and licked the women's fingers.  The woman smiled, giggled and said in a very happy voice, "Gabby likes me!!! She likes me!! She kissed me!! She likes me!!"  See, that is all we want...for someone to like us. It was really cool to watch and be a part of something that made this woman smile for a few minutes in her day!

We stayed for about 50 minutes.  Gabby was very comfortable and would lay on her back to allow people to rub her belly, and pat her head. I told funny Gabby stories and everyone laughed.  

As in many things, when we volunteer in hopes to help someone, to give our time to others, and in the end, THEY turn out to be much more of a blessing in OUR own lives!  It was a delight to be a part of  their day - it did my soul good and I think Gabby walked out feeling pretty happy herself!

October 20, 2009 - Shadowing

Before I could take Gabby on her own to her first 'job', I had to leave Gabby home and 'shadow' a veteran dog owner and her AAT dog. 

I took the bus to a six story rehabilitation center.  I met the trainer and her dog in the lobby and walked up to the 4th floor.  Most of the patients were recovering from surgery and in hospital beds. Each floor had about 25 patients.  The 'Activity Coordinator' accompanied us to the different rooms, asking if they wanted a dog visit.  Most said yes, but some said NO! We talked to many people about dogs, the weather and such. We went up to the 5th floor, did the same thing, up to the 6th, then down to the 2nd. All in all we met with about 30 patients and it took about 1.5 hours!!! The visits usually last about 30 - 60 minutes - today was an exceptional day!! 

The patients really enjoyed the visit with the dog and the interaction with us too!  They seemed to forget about their own problems for that short time while loving and stroking the dog.  It was really good to watch!! Many patients would recall and talk about when they had a dog.

We departed, having a full heart that we made a few people smile today! I looked forward to Gabby and I having many years of service!


While picking my stepson Taylor up from school in the Fall of 2008, we met 'Lucy the Therapy Dog'.  I was intrigued by this title and asked more questions.  Come to find out, the San Francisco SPCA visits up to 100 different locations, providing 40,000 visits to patients in hospitals, convalescent homes, retirement homes, psychiatric wards and children's hospitals.  I thought, "When we move to SF, this would be something I could look into.

Well, we made the transition and now I was ready to look into this further. We learned that we needed to go through four 'Training Classes' (and spend $150) to determine if Gabby had what it took to become an Animal Assisted Therapy Dog - AAT. On September 16, 2009 we began our training classes with the SF SPCA. 

First Class - We discussed the job, personality of the dog required, and the first command needed - LEAVE IT.  This is the most important command in case food or medication drops on the floor, our animal cannot pick it up.  We were to practice this for the big test next week.

Second Class - Had to pass the 'Leave It' Command and pass the 'Man Handling'.  This was when the trainer took each dog, one-on-one and grabbed, tugged, manipulated the dog to see if it had any quirks. 

Third Class - Introducing wheel chairs, canes and walkers to see if the dog reacts negatively. Some dogs FREAK when these items approach.

Fourth Class - Gabby passed all of the requirements so we had GRADUATION!  We went to an upscale home for the elderly - and our dogs were able to interact for the first time with men and women in wheel chairs.

In the end, there wasn't a lot of 'Training' as I had assumed.  If the dog enjoys being around others, and doesn't have any 'hang ups', it can be a Therapy Dog.  Gabby is very loving, gentle and enjoys people sooooo much, we knew she was right for the job.

 On Graduation Day!