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Jun 082016
 

ServiceDogs

As the Executive Director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, I see a lot of interesting things: I see the best of people and the worst. Another thing I see are fads and patterns when it comes to people’s desires- especially, in regards to people requesting service dogs. This is now as common now as every fifth application we review- which means many people need dogs with very specific personalities and traits. It is when they follow that up with “needing a puppy so we can be sure to get what we want”, that I begin to worry.

That thinking couldn’t be more inaccurate.

When people request a service dog, we know they typically don’t need a dog that will literally help get them around; to be their eyes or ears. What they are usually seeking however is an emotional support or therapy dog. What’s the difference? A lot!

A service dog is one which is trained specifically to detect medical conditions such as seizures, or perform tasks or duties for a physically disabled individual, such as a Seeing Eye dog for the blind. These dogs require more than 2 years of intense training and development.

Emotional support animals (EAS) however, are those whose job is to be themselves: a companion to those who are psychologically disabled from issues such as panic attacks, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or other debilitating mental challenges- ones that truly affect quality of life and day to day function.

A therapy dog on the other hand is a dog that is trained to provide comfort and therapy for someone- other than their owners- such as those dogs who visit the elderly in nursing homes or children in hospitals that need cheering up. There are also strict requirements for dogs to be registered as such.

Most people believe “dogs with jobs” as I collectively refer to them, are selected as puppies- but really, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While service dogs are selected for certain qualities as puppies, it can safely be said less than 50% of the puppies that start out as candidates, actually ever become one. But why? Especially with all that training?

Sometimes dogs don’t pass muster because of a health condition that develops, such as hip dysplasia- but most often it has nothing to do with training and everything to do with development. It’s simply their personality: they didn’t grow up to be the dog needed to do that very specific job. Much of the two years spent training a true service dog is actually for evaluating their personalities- not just teaching them what they need to learn.

Expectation and reality differing is pretty much “no duh”, when it comes to children. Somehow though this is baffling when applied to puppies.

Everyone knows parents work hard to mold their children the way they’d like, but how often is the outcome the same as the parents’ exact hopes or expectations? Perhaps it’s the football player dad who played catch every weekend with his son growing up, but when the son gets older, he prefers tennis…or *gasp*, maybe no sports at all! Or the piano aficionado’s child who grows up to be in a heavy metal band instead of joining the orchestra. Parents accept- and really, expect- their children will not be everything they hope or dream.

Very likely, neither will a puppy.

nikki therapizing

When seeking a dog to fill the “dogs with job” role, it’s a gamble when it comes to puppies. If you choose one, be sure you are prepared to accept responsibility for the dog, indefinitely, no matter how they may turn out. Your desire for a loving companion must take precedence over your desire for them to develop a specific way. Otherwise, it is terribly unrealistic and a heavy burden to put on your puppy who just wants to have fun and be themselves- as dogs should be allowed to do!

However, with adult dogs, “what you see is what you get”- especially dogs with proven experience, such as those in foster homes; those surrendered for the many reasons that have nothing to do with behavior issues. The shelter animals you see today, were most likely a family’s beloved pet the day before- as opposed to terrorizing the neighborhood as many envision. These are dogs that could make great dogs with jobs with very little extra effort- they are already what you’d need! Certainly more adult rescue dogs could fill the role of EAS dogs than couldn’t- and many can pass the requirements needed to become therapy dogs in the community too.

When selecting a dog to perform a job, look at who they are as individuals- not simply breed or age, which are really irrelevant. Frankly, like fine wine, many dogs get better with age! Even seniors can make great therapy dogs because they are not youthful spazzes, flopping on the leash, peeing on the floor and play mouthing everyone’s hands! You can better count on them for reliable, consistent and most importantly, calm behavior required of dogs with jobs.

For a great example of a rescue-turned-therapy dog, check out “Ottis to the Rescue” on Facebook. The page features the adventures of Ottis- long-time foster brother to hundreds of dogs and his “sister”, Nikki, a 15 year old, deaf and blind Pomeranian who is making the most of her golden years as a therapy dog in retirement homes. Nikki is a great example of a rescued dog that was selected as a therapy dog for her “perfect” intrinsic qualities already- not a puppy that was forced into a role he or she is not capable of living up to.

If you’re interested in some first-hand experience and advice, check out our interview with Brooke Mallory, Ottis and Nikki’s mom, here.

 

jme is a featured blogger for FETCHPETCARE.com. There you can find great information about reliable, loving pet care services as well as great insight and advice from experts, so you can better care for your furry friend!

 

 Posted by at 9:17 am

An Interview with Brooke Mallory and her Therapy Dogs, Ottis & Nikki

 blog, Tails from the Zoo - a Motley Zoo blog by Executive Director, jme  Comments Off on An Interview with Brooke Mallory and her Therapy Dogs, Ottis & Nikki
Jun 082016
 

ottis and nikki

Brooke Mallory’s dogs, Ottis and Nikki, are “facility therapy dogs” and they are certified Canine Good Citizens.

Ottis has been foster brother to hundreds of dogs throughout his life. Nikki was adopted from Motley Zoo Animal Rescue as a hospice case- a long-term foster who is suffering from a variety of terminal issues. We are offering her “final refuge”; she will die in Brooke’s care. But before that, she has work to do with Ottis!

Jme: Why did you want to do (visiting) therapy work with your dogs?

Brooke:  My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and after my grandmother passed away, he was moved into an Alzheimer’s care facility. This was a really hard transition for him. He had just lost his wife, which he would go in and out of remembering, and he was cognizant enough at the time to realize he was losing his mind, and his independence. He was very angry and scared. The care facility had a dog and a cat that lived at there. Also, visitors were able to bring their dogs, so my aunt would bring her dogs with her when she visited. I witnessed firsthand the joy and comfort these animals brought my grandfather, who had always loved animals and owned dogs his whole life. It was maybe the only thing at the time that gave him comfort. From that moment, I had always wanted to be able to volunteer in this way with my dogs, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it, and life got busy. Years later, I learned of the Seattle Humane Society’s Visiting Pet Friends program program while I was a key note speaker at one of their town hall meetings. That same day, I emailed them their Visiting Pet Friends Director and got the ball rolling. I knew that not only was it something the residents would enjoy, but that I would really enjoy it, as would my dog Ottis.

 

Jme: How long did it take for you to become certified?

Brooke: The certification process greatly depends on what organization you are volunteering through. In order to not spin your wheels, it’s best to first find a quality organization in your area that offers a facility therapy dog program. From there you can determine the steps you need to take to qualify for their program. For the Seattle Humane Society’s Visiting Pet Friends program, they require that dogs have a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate, which is obtained through the AKC. If you have a different type of pet, such as a cat or a lizard, you do not need to take that step as there is no such certification available. Once the CGC has been obtained, if applicable, they schedule and in-person meeting with their Visiting Pet Friends Director, during which the director will perform a behavioral evaluation with the pet, as well as talk the owner through the process and make sure they are prepared for the task at hand. In addition, they require proof of current vaccinations; an exam within 30 days that states the pet is in good health; a negative fecal within 30 days, and proof of homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

For the Canine Good Citizen test, you and your dog need to have advanced training skills as a team. To pass the test, they require all items to be completed perfectly, and only allow for a re-do of one item at the end of the test, at the discretion of the AKC representative. This must be independent of behavior responses such as fear or anxiety- a dog would not be allowed to repeat for that; that would be a disqualification. If you and your dog are new to obedience training, the first step is to complete beginning and intermediate training classes with your dog. Once you have on-leash and off-leash control of your dog and you feel ready for the test, I highly recommend taking a CGC prep training class, with a trainer who specializes in CGC testing. That is the biggest advice I can give.

The class will help you practice all the test items, so that when it comes to the actual test, you aren’t so nervous. Because, no matter now well trained you and your dog are as a team, when you get nervous, you are going to make mistakes, and so will your dog. By practicing the actual test items in a prep class repeatedly until they are second nature, which will give you a huge advantage when your mind is buzzing with nerves. For the CGC prep class that I took with Ottis and then with Nikki, the CGC test was taken on the last day of class, so it was also super convenient too. The instructor had an AKC testing representative come to the class facility to conduct the test, which gave me and my dogs a home field advantage because we were already familiar with and comfortable in the space.

 

Jme: What is one of the requirements of the certification process that surprised you?

Brooke: One thing that I think a lot of people overlook when considering if they want to do this line of work, is that it’s important that your dog actually enjoys their time volunteering. Even if you have the best-behaved dog, that doesn’t mean he is necessarily a good candidate for this work. During the process of getting certified, it is as important to the organization that your dog is enjoying himself, as it is that your dog is safe to interact with the public. During testing, they are not only looking to ensure your dog can tolerate rough petting from strangers, as an example of one of the test items, they are also looking to ensure your dog enjoys  the rough pettingThere is a huge difference between tolerance and enjoyment. As much as a handler may be passionate about volunteering in this way, that doesn’t always translate to their pet. It’s truly teamwork that requires dedication from both sides of the leash.

 

Jme: How much time do you spend doing therapy work each month?

Brooke: I’ve been volunteering as a Visiting Pet Friends team with my dog Ottis for three years now. Nikki was just recently certified, so I’ve been volunteering with her for about four months. We typically volunteer once a month, although occasionally we volunteer twice per month. The visits typically last one hour. I would love to volunteer more, but I work multiple jobs. I think many people are concerned about the time commitment and that may deter them from volunteering, but even with my crazy schedule, I can always find 1hr per month to give my time, and the residents are always grateful. Most programs ask that you commit to a minimum of one visit her month, for a minimum of six months.

 

Jme: What is one suggestion you’d make to someone considering therapy dog work?

Brooke: My biggest tip is to take a CGC prep class, no matter how well-trained you and your dog are as a team, even just for the sake of helping you get over your nerves. This will also help you practice and learn all the specific rules for each test item, to the point that it becomes second nature to you, so that when you are nervous, you don’t make mistakes.

But I have another tip in terms of volunteering. It’s really important to keep in-tune with your dog while working. It is surprisingly exhausting for the animal. While it seems like easy work for the dog to give and receive love, it actually takes quite the toll on them. It seems almost as though they physically are taking the burdens from all the people they meet, on to their own shoulders while they work the room. As such, it’s important to always pay close attention to your pet, and as soon as they seem ready to be done, no matter if you have been there for a short time or not, that’s when you need to end the visit. While our visits typically last an hour, there have been times I’ve had to end the visit as soon as 20 minutes, and there have been times I’ve stayed as long as 90 minutes.

Both Nikki and Ottis are always very tired after their volunteer shifts, as if they had just gone on a 10-mile run. It truly is a tough job being cute! I see it firsthand! I will say that typically they build their stamina the more times they visit the same facility, because they start to learn the location and the people, so it’s less new over time, but ever visit is different, and every day is different, so their stamina can fluctuate from visit to visit.

 

Brooke fosters for Motley Zoo, works as a pet sitter and is an award winning photographer. You can see her work at Brooke Mallory Photography.

 Posted by at 8:52 am