Therapy Dogs: Life after retirement

Have you ever met a dog that seems to be a therapy dog even though he isn’t wearing a therapy vest?  You know the dogs I’m talking about – they give us the right emotion  at the moment we need it most. If we are sad, they know if we need to laugh versus snuggle. If we are happy they know how we like celebrate – do we like to do the happy dance, or a sing a goofy song?  Whatever your special expression of joy is – these dogs know it. These dogs share some of our most intense moments and they do it with grace. Let’s face it there are a lot of people who don’t get this right. It really is amazing that dogs help us with our emotions when humans often have a hard time with it.

Charlies journey-13-2
Charlie visiting with one of his favorite nurses. They were having a heart to heart conversation about something very important.

It may come as no surprise then, that while Charlie and Jade are retired as my Pet Partners they still are helping people. I believe that they have a deep need to be connected to humans – much more so than your average dog does. Yes, they are very bonded to me, but they like being in contact with others as well.

One of our favorite activities is to go for walks through the Duke Gardens . In case you aren’t familiar with the Gardens the  Huffington Post put the gardens on their list of “insanely beautiful places to visit.”  I mention this because the gardens get a LOT of visitors! From weddings to school children to Duke students to people in the community – there are a wide range of visitors that come through the gardens every year.

While your town may not have a park that is on Huffington Posts “insanely beautiful places” to visit, there are plenty of awesome places in every town to visit. Look around your town and find an interesting spot to visit with your dog – it is worth the effort!

My friend Nancy Bernstein joined us on a recent walk to document through photography a few of our interactions.

Jade and Ella with a visitor from Canada
Jade and Ella with Kimberly from Canada

Ella is learning how to be a therapy dog by modeling Jade’s behavior. She is learning the best ways to meet and greet people. Ella is also learning how to remain calm when many people want her attention at the same time. This visitor is a pet sitter/dog walker who was visiting family in North Carolina. You can’t see that there are about 4-5 other people watching, laughing, and telling jokes as we are taking pictures. This photo is great because Kimberly is touching both Ella and Jade!! She was so happy to get to have some one-on-one time with dogs! Her family was teasing her the entire time we were taking photos! They loved that she found some dogs that she could spend some time with during their walk and on her trip! In case you are wondering the dogs are panting because it was hot outside when we took the photos.

If you are wondering where I might be – I am by the stone wall just outside of the photograph. Charlie was with us as well and I was walking him. We are not on an official visit – we are walking our dogs – and our dogs are able to bring joy and happiness to others. What a wonderful way to spend part of an afternoon!

As we continue on our walk and see some freshmen who are missing their dogs from home…

The photo is taken near a persimmon tree that is dropping its fruit. The dogs are distracted by all the persimmons on the ground!
The photo is taken near a persimmon tree that is dropping its fruit. The dogs are distracted by all the persimmons on the ground!

It looks like Jade and Ella may not be enjoying the interaction, but that wasn’t true. We made the mistake of posing underneath a persimmon tree that was dropping fruit and the dogs really wanted to eat the persimmons! The students thought this was really funny and enjoyed having the chance to get to know both Jade and Ella.

The really nice thing about going on walks like this is that no one expects your dogs to be “perfect” so there is no pressure. You can leave at any point in time. Jade LOVES being outside so these walks are a great way for her to share her special gifts.

A little farther down the path we met another student, a senior studying evolutionary biology/anthropology. She fell in love with the dogs. Jade liked chatting with her and Ella fell in love with her boots! You can’t see Ella in this photo because she is tucked behind Jade with her head inside the boots!

Jade having fun with a senior.
Jade having fun with a senior.

The common theme in these photos – joy.

We discovered that when we shared why we were taking photos of the dogs with random people in the park they were very happy to participate in the project. My goal was for you, the reader, to know what our walks are like on any given day.  I want everyone to know how much joy “retired” dogs bring  people. These are not planned visits and they bring joy to both dogs and humans.

I want to say thank you to the people who took time from their walk through the Duke Gardens to participate in this project! I’d also like to thank my friend and photographer Nancy Bernstein. Nancy graciously went on a walk with me so that we could capture and share these moments with everyone.

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