On Tuesday, John and I took Max and Grace to Ronald McDonald House of Louisville, KY for our first pet therapy visit! RMH Charities work to support families with sick children, by providing housing and resources to families who must travel in order to receive medical care. By offering this service, RHM helps families cope with the stress of medical crises, and supports a strong and supportive family unit. Our hope was that pet therapy could provide parents, children, and loved ones with powerful relief from the stresses of their medical emergencies.
We have done the research, taken our exams, and watched the training DVD, but we had no idea what to expect. Strangely, I caught myself doubting, wondering, “are people really going to care that we brought dogs, just to hang out for a while? What if I can’t think of anything to talk about?” We took the dogs for a walk in our neighborhood, grabbed our paperwork, and tossed them in the car to go to The Ronald McDonald House. (In the future, because it’s only a few miles away, we will be walking!) We had a brief meeting with Rebecca, the evening manager, and went to one of the common areas outfitted with couches, chairs, and kids’ toys. The management had been kind enough to put a few notices up letting their guests know that we would be visiting that evening, and there was already a group waiting for us when we walked in. As soon as they saw our dogs, the whole room lit up.
We spent a very short hour and 45 minutes with a small, freely-rotating group of people. The smiles never stopped, the conversation never slowed. We got to see pictures of their dogs, and they wanted to hear stories about ours. We all theorized what breeds Max and Grace could possibly be – that never fails to be a lively discussion! Not everyone talked. Some people just quietly sat with them, but everyone smiled.
Max likes to circulate. He spends 5-10 minutes with one person, on a lap, sitting next to them being petted, or curled up with them on the floor. Then he moves on to the next person. He is a champion at seeking out and accepting love. He is made of sugar, cinnamon, and rainbows. He was made for this work.
Grace is quieter, not quite as outgoing. She is, as our new friends at Ronald McDonald House told us, a good hugger. She likes to get very close to a person and gently lean into them while being petted. Like Max, she likes to meet everyone, but generally waits to be called before she moves on to another person. We need to work with her on her fear of cameras. She has been afraid of thunder storms since I brought her home, and that bled over to a fear of camera flashes – and then a fear of cameras in general. We have worked with her and she has improved (John is a photographer by trade), but we still have a ways to go. Happily, it seems that the importance of her responsibilities as a therapy dog outweigh her camera anxiety.
It is amazing what a difference a couple hours of dog time can have on people under that kind of stress. I have always been a strong believer in the concept of pet therapy, but I saw a much more significant effect than I ever expected. Everyone enjoyed our visit very much, and we have made plans to visit Louisville’s Ronald McDonald House weekly. Their guests are very diverse in age, interest, and background, and there will always be new families coming and going. We look forward to our next visit.
Tomorrow, we have a meeting with an Elementary school in southern Indiana that has been waiting for local TDI volunteers for 4 years to begin their “Tail Waggin’ Tutors” program. We will keep you updated!