Human Animal Interactions – Illustrated

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to those we love, I would like to share an illustration about Human Animal Interactions. Every day I am in awe of the way dogs inspire us to be better humans. I have no words to fully express all the feelings that dogs inspire, but am fortunate to have created an illustration (with a lot of help) that captures how much we love our dogs – even dogs we may have just met. My hope is that some day we will be able to love as freely and show joy with the same abandon as our dogs do. Until then, I will continue to try and follow my dog’s model of love and friendship. The illustration below is a summary of the my research. The illustrations come from a variety of photographs and is a reminder of all the wonderful ways that dogs enhance our lives.

tirrell_hai_hab

Acknowledgements:
Thank you to Lili Chin for all the fabulous work she does!
Funding for this illustration was made possible by the Josiah Charles Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund

A look behind the illustrations

Ever wonder how an infographic or poster is created? Mine start with a lot of photos, an excel spreadsheet, and power point. The spreadsheet is designed using data from several research papers on the topic of the poster (my research is usually canine body language). Once the spreadsheet is running analysis can begin on the the photos. Finally the selection process begins for the photos that will make it into the power point slides. The photos in power point are used to create the illustrations. Even if a photo makes into PPT, they may not be illustrated. Sometimes photos are in PPT to help the illustrator understand the context which is essential for a well done illustration.

Please understand that I view the creation of illustrations as a journey. Like any journey, there are many people who have helped me along the way. First, these illustrations would not have been possible without the support (and pushing) of a couple of friends who convinced me to apply for funding for this project. These illustrations were made possible by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

Special thanks to both Diane Lewis of Diane Lewis Photography and Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net who illustrated them. The illustrations would not be here without these two amazing women! Both are dedicated to improving the lives of animals and most especially the lives of dogs. I’m lucky to have worked with them through this project.

How many photos does it take to create an illustration? I can’t say for sure. There were 1,000 professional photos and more than 1,000 amateur photos reviewed to create the illustrations that will be posted over the coming months. It takes a lot of images to create a pattern.

In order to analyze the photos an Online Canine Body Language Collaborators Group was formed. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this group – they tirelessly answered questions and reviewed materials with me. These collaborators are amazing and I think we all learned a lot going through the photos and illustrations.

I learned a lot doing this project. Not just about my own dogs, but about our relationship with animals. The most important message that I can share is that everything we do needs to strengthen the human animal bond and that the bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship. For more information on the human animal bond please visit the American Veterinary Medical Association.

When the work we are doing with our dogs stops being mutually beneficial we need to evaluate the situation and change it in some way. Our dogs give us their trust and it is our responsibility to keep them safe and share the joy of life and love every day!

If you liked this post here are a few others that you may find interesting:
Dog Signals and Social Cues: what is your dog telling you

Do You See What I See?

Charlie’s Facial Expressions and Unimaginable Joy

Dog Expressions: A walk through the park

 

Learning to See With The Heart: My TEDx Talk

It was an honor to give a TEDx Talk in Lizard Creek North Carolina. I was thrilled to be part of the day because the theme was “Shaping the Unseen.”  If you aren’t familiar with my dog Charlie, let me introduce you – Charlie is my blind beagle and was my Pet Partner for over 8 years.  Much of the work I do with animals is about shaping and since Charlie is blind all the work we do is “unseen.” I hope you take a few minutes and enjoy the TEDx talk – the video is embedded below.

Learning to See With The Heart:
Brian Tarallo of Lizard Brain Solutions created illustrations for each talk. It was inspiring to watch Brian work as he captured the essence of each talk. I was happy that Brain was able to capture the heart of my talk in such a beautiful and wonderful way. Plus, I think Charlie would love knowing that he is illustrated as a super-cool hero dog that wears ray-bans!

TEDxLC-Tirrell

It was a great honor to be one of the speakers at the Lizard Creek TEDx event. A special thanks goes to Randi and Kathy Dikeman who coordinated the event! There are some great pictures and all the bios of the speakers are listed on the Facebook page for the event.

Charlie’s message:

  • Celebrate who you are
  • Trust and believe in yourself
  • Leave doubt behind
  • Engage others in your dreams
  • When you do these things, you will discover anything is possible.

Again, thank you to all who made the TEDx Lizard Creek event possible!

Cheers!

 

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.