This wonderful account of being a therapy dog team was sent to us from our certified team Julie and Charlie Brown Whippet and Julie gave us permission to share it with all of you here.
I would like to introduce you to Serendipity Lucky Seven, also known as Charlie Brown. Charlie came to us from the wonderful Beth Levine, 3 years ago, and from the start of his puppy training program, his gentle nature and eagerness to please became apparent. Charlie quickly progressed through Canine Good Citizen and we then went on to become a certified therapy dog team, via Project Canine, shortly after his first birthday. They were established in 2006 and we were their first Whippet Therapy Dog team!
Charlie goes to visit every Friday at Brookdale Senior Living Center close to our home. We visit residents in the memory care unit. Charlie knows his role when I pull out his therapy dog bag and his therapy team harness he goes straight over to sit by the front door; when we arrive, he is all business as he happily trots in wagging his tail. His gentle, friendly nature makes him an easy visitor; his quiet approach doesn't startle anyone who may be napping or have reduced vision. He happily accommodates walkers and wheelchairs, and patiently works with me while we maneuver angles to enable folks to pet him; there can be some challenging angles for him as some residents have limited ranges of motion.
One of our favorite things to do is go for walks with the residents, either around the hallways or in the summertime around the garden. Charlie calibrates his pace carefully and in the event of a wrong turn, and faced with a wall, he just looks at me quietly for reassurance and then waits for the next direction. Our most avid walker recently passed; in his final weeks when we couldn’t walk we would still go into his room and visit him in his bed. Charlie would sit by the bed and place his head on the mattress beside Arnold. Even though Arnold could no longer talk it was wonderful to see the connection in his eyes and the smile on his face as he reached out to pet Charlie. Charlie still walks up to Arnold's room wagging his tail looking for him.
Another favorite of Charlie's is "couch time" of course! We lay out a blanket and he happily hops up and snuggles in beside anyone that will have him :) One of the residents is particularly sensitive to touch, she loves to sit and pet Charlie as his coat is so soft. Charlie thinks this is a great idea!
Of course, it is not all about the residents, part of our role is also to provide support and smiles to the staff. I am always impressed with how Charlie can change gears when the staff engages with him he responds accordingly and happily bounces around with them being his usual goofy self!
During the course of our visits, Charlie has had folks fall over beside him, had ice creams dropped on his head, been run into with wheelchairs and has experienced all sorts of general crashes, bangs, and bumps. A couple of weeks ago as we were leaving the facility two young visitors came running in with a couple of lop eared bunnies to visit the residents. They enthusiastically came up to Charlie and me wanting us to meet their fluffy friends. The power of *leave it* was proven to me that day! As always, his response was to check in with me, sidle up beside me and wait until the event passed. He was particularly gracious in this situation allowing the little boy and girl to pet him, while only giving the bunnies a passing sniff.
One of the many heartbreaking and harrowing elements of Alzheimer’s and Dementia is the loneliness. Many residents have very sad days, with feelings of abandonment. Charlie has quietly sat beside folks for extended periods of time, licking tears from outstretched fingers or just quietly waiting for his cue to move. It is a human condition to forget things; it is easy to forget someone’s names or the words that were spoken; what we don’t forget is how someone made us feel, and I think that is the power of Charlie – they see him and they smile because they have happy associations with a friendly little whippet.
I am so very grateful to the folks at Project Canine for their thorough and thoughtful training program. They have equipped me to be ready to support Charlie and be his advocate in the many and varied scenarios that we have encountered, it also enabled me to be confident in Charlie's ability to be successful and happy in his work.
Of course, a huge thanks goes to Beth Levine, for giving us this wonderful little Whippet. This bright, gentle, warm-hearted guy has not only changed our lives but has brought so much happiness to so many more people.
Finally, thank you for taking the time to read our story.
Julie & Charlie Brown
Certified AAT Team