There's something touching about this volunteer service. Over the years I have spoken with a number of people wanting to get involved and heard a number of confused assertions: my dog can go anywhere with me, I get to brag about what I'm doing, etc. Some people get into this service for the right reasons from the beginning, others learn and are humbled along the way. It is not a service we can give great details on (due to HIPAA patient information is severely protected, so chatting about our visits really doesn't happen in any detail), therapy dogs are not service dogs and though doors are opened to registered teams--it does not mean Fluffy can come to dinner with you. The focus of the visits is on the dogs, we handlers are basically chauffeurs ... it really isn't about US at all. So, why do so many people spend the time and energy to pass the high requirements for registrations only to volunteer their time?
It is because of the experiences. The attention may be all on Ion who is snuggling and nestling a child, bringing comfort to a family who is nearing a time a loss. But for one bright moment his sable coat has brought sunshine into that room, lifted their spirits, and reminded them of their own by-gone dog. That is as much as I can share--but it is enough. In that room I may as well not have been there ... but through his leash I felt the sensitivity as he read how much a good snuggle was needed and settled right down into the lap that required it.
We bring memories, we bring distraction, we bring something soft and warm to touch, something new to talk about, even a new name to try and roll out. We bring a connection.
It is not about us as handlers, it is not about the dog at the end of the leash--it is about touching lives in need of comfort whatever their reason. Our chosen line of focus is now hospice work where we serve the families and loved ones as well as those nearing the end of their lives. It is not an easy road, but Ion and I are up that challenge. It is a constant reminder to cherish what we have in life ... and to help those we have come to visit remember the good times.
Therapy dog teams: in humble service of the heart.