Thursday, January 10, 2019

Make someone's Day!

A little over 20 years ago a very special dog came into my families life.  Her name was Munchkin.  She had been hit by a car on route 680, and was left on the side of the road.  A local animal shelter had picked her up.  Her spine had been broken and she wasn't able to use her back legs.  One of the people who worked there, Peggy, begged them to let her live at the facility.  She would pull herself along on her font legs, and was truly so happy.  Munchkin lived there, and as she healed they bought her a wheelchair, and then they started to take he to 4 different area nursing homes.  
After living there for about a year, Peggy was pregnant.  Peggy would come in on her days off to take care of Munchkin.  She wore a diaper and needed care several times a day.  Peggy begged me to help her find Munchkin a home, and I did just that.  With my parents.  Part of the adoption agreement was that she would continue to go to area nursing homes.  

As a veterinary technician I could fully appreciate the amazing power of the human-animal bond.  However, I was really taken back by the lack of rules that go along with visiting with an animal at a facility.  While done correctly it is an amazing thing, I have seen many people that may have a dog that is awesome at their house become a completely different beast outside of their home.  And I truly believe most people aren't able to properly assess their dogs emotional state.  This can lead to real problems when you think about how many things are at facilities that most dogs never see!  Wheel chairs, walkers, ventilators, EKG machines, many people not just a few.  These are all task loading your dog and can lead to stress and fear which can lead to needing to make a choice if they can't get away, and that can mean injury to the exact people that you are trying to make feel better.  And then medically things could be going on as well.  A veterinary check and tests are essential to the safety of the therapy animal, however, so many facilities are happy to have animals visiting that as long as they have rabies they are allowed into the facility.  
So, I embarked in a journey then to find a way to bring facilitated animal therapy work into the Mahoning Valley, only with the twist of safety for everyone involved, dogs and people.  It lead me to investigating all of the national registries, and at the time going with (then) Delta Society because my goal was to be in hospitals and nursing homes and libraries and schools.  In my conservative part of the world, I saw the only way into especially hospitals was through the most stringent rules.  And I was right!  Me and my Dad started K-9's for Compassion, because of Munchkin and to make the world a little better of a place.  This group was truly my life for so many years.  I worked as a veterinary technician, but really all of my time was put into this group.  And we accomplished some pretty amazing things.

Our very first evaluations were held during a dog walk that I did to benefit a group that no longer exists in our area named C.H.A.I.N.  This was the foundation of K-9s for Compassion and where we grew from there was simply amazing.  I started to visit with Vickie, my black standard poodle.  This girl was my life.  I like to write, so we would go on visits and afterwards I would write in my journal anything special about our visits.  I cherish those journal entries like you can't believe.  Vickie has been gone for nearly 10 years.  Vickie taught me so much about life, and was truly my very best friend.  Our visits, and my first understanding of inter-species communication, understanding that her body language was how she communicated-allowed a different level of dog-human relationship than I had ever realized.  For Vickie I am forever grateful, and I miss her more than I can ever express.  She was the most gentle soul.  The kindest, sweetest being on the planet.  She made me fall head over heals with standard poodles, something that to this day is still very solidified.  She was brought to me by a deputy dog warden at the Trumbull County Dog Pound, taken from a sketchy situation.  

We did agility together, and if you see the pictures or the videos from that time that I have you can see an amazing, amazing bond.  2 beings loving each other at a level total of the soul.  Vickie and I went to special request, sat with people while they were dying, she was my flower girl in my wedding, she was my everything.  Truly.  My everything.  We shared a very special bond, many special moments and many memories.  We worked side by side in the world of therapy work for 11 years.  And she was the 2009 Therapy Dog of The Year recipient in the Rescue Dog Category.  An amazing accomplishment, and an award that still sits on my mantle.  One of the most special things in my life.  

As Vickie progressed through life we spent the majority of our time at St. Elizabeth's hospital, and as she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia we progressed to open room designs in nursing homes and then finally libraries, because she didn't have to walk far.  I couldn't stand the fact that she hurt, and I would do absolutely anything to help her.  

I lost her on Valentines Day.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, to lung cancer.  She died in my arms as she bled out.  And every single day since then I have missed her.  And remembered all of the good that she did.  She had so much local press it was amazing.  People would see her and say "OH!! That is Vickie!  I wrote a report in school based on articles."  She was inspirational, healing...pure love.  Those were some of the best years of my life.  Her collar still hangs on the corner of my bed, and her picture still hangs in my office.  

Munchkin also had some amazing stories!  Word was abound that people couldn't complain at all about being in a wheelchair or a walker when here was this sweet little dog that didn't complain at all about being in her own wheelchair.  My Dad totally loved visiting with her as well.  He would gloat in the fact that he was making someones day better just by being a driver.  Just by showing up.  It also allowed us a little time to be together and understand each other in a small way....we didn't always see eye to eye.  So true to real life!  All too often dogs facilitate magical ways.  One of a million reasons that dogs are so awesome.  

There was even one very special patient that we visited named Frank.  His family had requested that a dog visit them, so the hospital called me.  Frank was dying of cancer, and didn't have long to live.  I took Vickie to meet this family and felt an instant connection.  We talked about what their favorite dog was, and they said a golden retriever so I had called my very good friend take Emily to visit every other day.  We would alternate.....and on the final day of Franks life the public relations person at the hospital showed up with a photographer.  Pictures were taken of Vickie visiting with Frank and his family.  As fate would have it, those were the last pictures taken of Frank alive.

After Frank died the public relations person called me and asked if Cheryl and I would go and take Vickie and Emily to Franks funeral.  We were concerned about offending anyone, however, we walked into the funeral home with our girls and Franks kids said "Oh my goodness!!  We were just talking about these dogs!"  To which I was taken back that our dogs were being spoken about at their fathers funeral.  Sometimes you really don't realize how much you are touching someone's life just by being there.  At that point, Franks wife came over to us and got on her knees and said "You gave my husband the medicine he most needed in his darkest of hours and now you are giving that to me."  I was more humbled than I have probably ever been.  

Through all of the pain of losing Vickie a friend, Eva, kept calling me about a standard poodle who needed help.  She was being used as a breeding dog, and the last litter caused her to be spayed and she needed a home.  I ignored it because Vickie was actively dying and then did die and I couldn't handle it.  In a moment of complete weakness I called the number many weeks after Vickie died.  Gwen still had Eve, who I went to see and immediately took.  She had so many Vickie qualities.  I brought her home that same day, and fell madly in love.   changed her name to Garbo, who many people got to know.  She was forever by my side and active really in so much that I did.  I wanted to do therapy work with her, and we tested twice....but I really struggled to get past always visiting with Vickie, so I couldn't do it.  My heart wasn't ready.  We did visit in a limited capacity but I always felt worse when we finished than before I started.  Garbo had a lot to give, but I just didn't yet.

In the last year I re-evaluated everything with K-9's for Compassion.  It seems that as life changes, thoughts change and as you get older you become wiser.  The old "Delta Society" was no longer going in the direction that I wanted to go.  BUT it was difficult walking away from what I felt was a legacy with Vickie and my Dad and Garbo who were all gone.  But change is the one promise of life. While change is difficult is it often the best thing in the world.

My BFF Lorri and I recently looked for that change and found some pretty amazing stuff in Alliance of Therapy Dogs group.  I left the old Delta Society, and NEVER looked back. Who they have become is definitely not what we were looking for.  Alliance hold endless promise....and so K-9's for Compassion is reborn.  And ready to build to amazing proportions again.

To everyone along the journey of K-9's for Compassion, I thank you...I thank you for keeping it alive when I couldn't....for continuing a legacy of something that I created, gave my heart and soul to, walked away from, and came back...and I vow to make it bigger and better than ever.  Given of the heart...only good things can happen from that.  In Memory of Munchkin, Vickie, my dad and Garbo....AMAZING things will happen from that.

And so now, I have Benny.  And Benny is about to embark on this amazing adventure of visiting people.  Taking them out of their current situations and helping them to remember a kinder time.  Reminding them of a pet that made all of the difference in their life.  We have had patients in Alzheimers units that remember our dogs names that couldn't remember their own names.  People whose children sat with a dying parent as our dogs comforted them, patients who were actively dying that petted our dogs at the same time that pain management doctors stood behind us shaking their heads behind us in disbelief because this patient had been screaming in pain for days with nothing-medications or other-helping them.

There are a million stories abound like this.  Truly touching the lives of those that need help.  All that we can only hope comes to us in our times of need.  And yet it was as simple as being the driver.  Showing up.  Spending some very real quality time with your dog.  AMAZING moments that you will NEVER regret.

Through therapy work I have laughed, cried, contemplated my own need, lost, found myself again, and eventually moved on to the concept that I am the only thing stopping that from doing it again.  I have some amazing dogs ready to give of themselves.  And so we turn the page.  A new chapter.

K-9's for Compassion is a legacy that I hope continues for a very long time.  Do you want an even more special layer to your relationship with your dog?  Want to make people feel better?  Just show up?  Please....PLEASE join us.  There are so many facilities that want us....and so much need...but so few that will give of their time to make the magic happen. We have a new therapy dog class coming up that can help you prepare...and at the end we will be doing the actual evaluation.  Join us!  Build the bond....celebrate the beauty of dogs and people!  We would love to have you...and people need you!

Let the magic begin........

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