Friday, July 9, 2010

The Life And Times Of Leo The Therapy Dog

I am in a new phase of life with Leo who recently retired from his 8 year run as a Therapy Dog. For the past year he has suffered with chronic orthopedic issues so I made the decision to retire him and let him enjoy his golden years. It was a difficult decision because we have worked as a team for so many years. As I look back I am in awe of all that we have done, the places we've visited, the people we've met and the friends we've made.

Leo came to our family at 8 weeks of age and immediately won the hearts of everyone he met. At the time my kids were in elementary school where I would pick them up daily so he quickly became a local celebrity as he was always at my side. The first year was filled with socialization outings, training, playdates and family time. I was so excited to have a dog so eager to work and I loved the learning experience of teaching him higher level skills. We went through formal Therapy Dog Testing when he was 2 years old and he passed with flying colors. Within a few weeks he became a R.E.A.D. dog too. At the time I knew very little about Therapy Visits so it was a learning process for us both. What I quickly found out was that there is no shortage of places wanting a Therapy Dog to visit. I also realized how many ways a Therapy Dog could be utilized in patient care or rehabilitation. I thought it would be fun to teach him some higher level skills and hopefully utilize them on visits. And utilize them we did, we found our calling working at numerous hospitals in their OT/PT departments with rehab patients. At our weekly visits the Therapists would include Leo in their patients treatment be it rolling a ball back on command, picking something up, playing balloon volleyball or using Leo for balancing while walking. The opportunities to learn new skills were endless and much of this we were learning as we went along so it was alot of fun for me too. Every visit was a new adventure and Leo and I loved the challenge. Along with our Hospital visits we worked at local libraries and schools as a R.E.A.D team. Leo and I started the R.E.A.D. Programs at the Chelsea District Library and Ann Arbor District Library as well as helping other cities and schools launch their own programs. We made alot of public appearances to talk about Therapy Dogs and helped others develop programs and promoted the benefits of positive based training........always have to get that plug in *GRIN*

To the best of my recollection here are the places we have visited over the years:

Silver Maples Retirement Center
Chelsea Retirement Center
St Joesph Hospital
University of Michigan Hospital
Eisenhower Place Rehabilitation Center
St. Louis Boys Center
Towsley Center
Hartland Center
Ann Arbor Public Library
Chelsea District Library
Dexter Library
Chelsea Community Hospital
Pierece Lake Elementary
South Meadows Elementary
Cornerstone Elementary
Rainbow Rehabilitation Center

So what is retired life like, pretty darn good :) There are no more early morning visits, fewer baths, more licking of faces and various other doggie type behaviors. While I have enjoyed sharing Leo with so many people over the years I can honestly say it's been nice having him all to myself.

Of course there is always something new on the horizon, that would be Faye. She is 6 months old and shows great promise as a future Therapy Dog. She is going to be attending Therapy Dog Prep School Graduation this week, she's been a great student. As one career ends another one begins.

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