Once a Therapy Dog, Always a Therapy Dog

This post is dedicated to Charlie, my blind beagle, who was my pet partner for about 8 years.

When we arrive at a facility sometimes we don’t know who will benefit most from our visit. It may be a patient, a friend, or it might be a staff member.

Charlie's official Pets At Duke
Charlie’s official Pets At Duke

This post focuses on our hospital  visits. Most of the patients we see are on the hematology/oncology unit. Some patients may have just learned that they have cancer while others may be end-stage cancer patients. When we enter a room there might be just the patient or there could be a room full of people. The patient might have received good or bad news that day. Maybe the patient had some treatments that were particularly hard. Or, maybe she is thinking about her husband and young children and how she may not get to see her kids grow up.  When we enter the room it takes Charlie seconds to know if the patient needs him to snuggle, play, be serious, or be silly. My job is to watch and follow  Charlie’s body language.

Sharing the love

Over the years my pet partners have trained the staff to bring them their favorite treats! Charlie started the tradition when the nurses would open IV bags and he begged. The nurses didn’t understand why he was begging when all they were doing was replacing an IV bag so I explained he probably thought they were unwrapping a cheese stick! Honestly, Charlie’s super power is his nose. He had to know that there was no food involved so he was playing the nurses big time. It didn’t matter to the nurses – they caved and brought him treats! When he did tricks and shared his joy with the nurses during our shift at the end of the day he brought much needed levity to the nurses before they went home to their families.

Sharing conversation and laughs with one of Charlie's favorite nurses (he tells each one  that they are his favorite!).
Sharing conversation with one of Charlie’s favorite nurses (he tells each one that they are his favorite!).
And  sometimes they share a laugh
And sometimes they share a laugh

It is easy for me to forget just how magical Charlie is when he works as a therapy dog. I’m not immune to his wonders and I don’t have a shield up to his magical, mystical powers… it’s just that, he’s my Char-Char who snuggles with me on the sofa at night.

Charlie and Ella snuggling
Charlie and Ella snuggling

In my mind he is like any other dog which is why he is also my Char-Char the dog chases bunnies in the early morning or doesn’t come inside until he is covered in mud!

Charlie at home... BEFORE he gets his bath to go on a visit!
Charlie at home… BEFORE he gets his bath to go on a visit!

There is no doubt that Charlie is a special dog. He gives people hope when they have given up. Charlie inspires people to persevere on their path for healing. Charlie touches a person’s heart in places where others have had a hard time reaching. Everything he does is with love, laughter and joy. He does these things even though his world is a dark place which is why he amazes everyone he meets.

Charlie and daisies - one of my favorite pictures
Charlie and daisies – one of my favorite pictures

I  salute my Char-Char whether he is cheering on a nurse, a patient, a family member or he is creating mischief at home. I know that Charlie has a very special gift. I am thankful every day that he is a part of my life.

The following is a story that shows how deeply therapy dogs touch a person’s life.

Jade and I were at the veterinarian because she needed some routine testing. One of our favorite nurses from the hospital came out of the ICU. It took a second for her to realize Jade was right there in the waiting room. As soon as she realized she was looking at Jade a slow smile formed on her face. Her smile started in heart and went to her eyes. She came over and gave Jade a huge hug. By touching and hugging Jade her mood brightened and her sadness seemed to float away. When she learned that Charlie was in the car she was happy!  Her mood changed from sad to happy in a matter of a couple of minutes by seeing Jade and knowing that Charlie was nearby. At long last she could introduce these very special dogs to her husband for the first time. Both dogs made her feel better on a day when her cat was recovering from a very complex surgical procedure.

Charlie on his way to work
Charlie on his way to work

You see, our dogs aren’t just therapy dogs during visits inside of the hospital, school, prison, or wherever it is that we visit. Once our dogs become a therapy dog, they are always a therapy dog no matter where they are or what they are doing. It doesn’t matter if they are wearing a vest that says “Therapy Dog On Duty” or not… to the person who knows our dog as a therapy dog, our dog is always on duty!

Our dogs gladly do their job of relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, making people smile, and basically just sharing the burden of the day. The list of what these amazing dogs do for people is endless. When I first became a Pet Partner with Charlie I knew that people were inspired by him and remembered him, but I didn’t realize just how much he meant to them and their recovery until we had been visiting for about 3 years. The patient was in a hospital rehab unit for spinal cord injuries.We typically see the patients once since they only are there a few weeks at the most.

Old friends
Old friends

As we entered the patient’s room I didn’t know that Charlie had a fan. We were greeted with a TON of happiness because the patient and their family remembered Charlie. During our visit they shared with me all the joy he brought them before and wanted to know all the things that he had done since they last saw him!

The level of detail that they went into of our visit humbled me. We spent 15 minutes with them years before but the patient and their family remembered everything about our visit. Charlie was a turning point in their care. They could relate to Charlie and the struggles he had overcome in life. After meeting Charlie the patient decided that “if Charlie can do it, I can do it!” Charlie provided hope and the ability for the patient to persevere in their healing. Oh how happy that made me to hear!!

Over the years I’ve met quite a few people where Charlie has had a similar impact on their life by spending just a few minutes with them. Every time I hear a “Charlie Story” I am amazed and humbled by the impact one little dog can have on another person. One woman swears she owes her life to Charlie because he knew there was something wrong with her foot (at the time she didn’t know it, but her foot had gout, turned septic and needed to be amputated shortly after she met Charlie). Another woman adopted a blind dog in Charlie’s honor.  I know there are many other stories and ways that Charlie has touched people’s lives but I don’t usually hear from people after we visit. It is enough for me to know that we make a difference.

Charlie in his retirement
Charlie in his retirement

Note: this post is adapted from a previous post. The posts about Charlie and therapy work were some of the most highly visited posts so I thought I would try get a few of them back up on the blog. As an update, Charlie is retired these days. He is almost 11 years old and has worked most of his life.  He does “visit”with people when we go for walks through Duke Gardens but he no longer goes on official visits.

 

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