Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Analyze This

Every dog is different and not all can be expected to do the same work or react to things the same way so when the idea of one of my dogs becoming a St John Ambulance Therapy Dog was sugested to me, there was one obvious choice. The Boy. He is so laid back, loves people, is engaging, affectionate, approachable, handsome and charming. He is the perfect Therapy Dog. He may not know a lot of tricks (any), may have to think about things a little longer than most, couldn't catch a treat to save his life, and fusses and whines if the cat is in his spot but he does have important traits that make him extra special. He is almost bombproof because of his dog show experience and will follow me through any door, no matter where it leads. He is curious, interested, food motivated but not manic, and he listens to my cues to back off if required.

To be a Therapy Dog requires all the above things and although you might be certain your dog is capable of doing therapy, it is not necessarily for them. It doesn't require formal obedience, it requires manners, which are on a different level than being able to sit or down when told.  Dogs who are trained in the rigid manner of obedience tend to look to their owners for cues in all situations, and however impressive it is to have a dog whose butt hits the ground in a microsecond, while looking for these cues, it is not engaging the people around it. Obedience dogs are taught to look at their owners while filtering extraneous activity and noise and what a Therapy Dog does is look for and interact with the extraneous because that is its job.

You may also have a dog that is bombproof, this would normally be middle aged to older dogs who have seen a lot in life. Bombproof is great unless it means comatose. There are lots of dogs who don't react to things not because they know there is no threat, but because they don't care. It's hard to strike a balance with a dog that doesn't freak out when something strange comes along (like a squeaky wheelchair), or an unexpected event (like an hospital code or a food tray dropped) with the ability to recover and re-engage after such an event. I have seen dogs who barely react to things like that which is great, but they also barely react to anything else in life, much less the people they are supposed to be visiting. Some dogs love people but can't handle the noise or distractions or allow stress to filter in and they can't focus for very long. There is a delicate balance and it's not easily found.

Raimi is such a balance; because he is bombproof and still engages people, he is a picture perfect Therapy Boy.

So yesterday we made the long drive to Halifax for him to be evaluated. He was put through several exercises that involved common experiences he might have in a hospital or nursing home and he passed each with flying colors. His clear favorite, which I hear is one of the most stressful for some dogs, was the 'crowd swarm' where several people converge on the dog with exuberant praise. He just about died from joy when all these people started calling his name and petting him, he didn't know where to turn and lick first. It was adorable and my heart swelled to see him soaking in the attention just as I'd predicted.

In between tests, while we waited for the other dogs to be evaluated, he was completely relaxed, lay next to me or looked for treats and showed almost no stress. I knew the evaluators were also watching the dogs while they waited, not just while they were being tested, to see how they were handling this unusual situation, other dogs, smells, people, and activity. Boy was his typical self - relaxed, calm, alert when needed and of course, the handsomest boy in class.

The last test is designed to be the most stressful and throws a lot of things at the dogs at once. Boy was curious about but not upset by the exuberant woman in the wheelchair, gently took the treats she offered and when the 'Code Blue' occurred with running people and a dish dropped he let out a woof, then a couple smaller woofs, and then re-engaged the wheelchair treat lady. They are looking for a startle reaction and recovery time and although he reacted and was concerned, he easily recovered and carried on with his 'visit'. And that was that!

We passed with flying colors and the evaluator said he was perfect for therapy work, when could we start? As soon as they have a facility for us to visit, we will make arrangements to go. I am looking forward to this extra special time with Boy since the girls all have their respective Championships to work on (Canadian for Cora, CFC for Leeloo and USA for Esme) and they will get extra attention for those. Boy and I needed a 'thing' and this seemed to fit the bill perfectly. We find out in the next few days what facility we are going to and hopefully in the next week or two we can make our first visit. So here's to The Boy and me, a newly minted St John Ambulance Therapy Dog Team.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Now We Are Six

Today I celebrate another birth that I also attended and assisted, except it was six years ago and not one. I am especially happy to see this day dawn with everyone ready to celebrate since there was a bit of drama and a vet visit a couple days ago because Boy was feeling very under the weather. Normally a little lethargy and vomiting does not get me rushing to the vet but I was concerned he'd eaten fibreglass and didn't want to take chances - we can thank Cora for making the fibreglass incident possible. Fortunately he is on the mend and not a moment too soon to celebrate turning 6 years old. Since his tummy is a little tender I didn't want to subject it to his normal birthday treat of candy, that will just have to wait, so he was satisfied with some extra ID canned vet food and lots of hugs and cuddles from me.

Hard to believe my Boy is already 6 but I am reminded how time passes when I see the little white hairs on his muzzle, take note of a small lipoma on his ribcage and the two or three little warty bumps that started to appear. Clear indications of a dog who is getting older. I try to ignore the signs but there is no denying, he is aging, as are we all.

The horrible truth of dogs, of any pets really, is they do not live as long as we do, and never will. So on days like The Boy's birthday I take the time to hold him a little longer, fuss over him a bit more, and make sure that each and every moment he knows he is special. I want to ensure that no matter how long I am blessed with his presence, he will never experience a time when he does not know he is loved. These days, with a dog in middle age, the celebrations tend toward whispered words and quiet hugs than silly hats and party favours. Those are for the kids, right Boy? As he's aged he's become more sedate and somewhat more thoughtful, if that's really even possible for him, and while his darling Leeloo and his daughter Cora cause mayhem on the dance floor, he is content to be a wallflower and watch his girls have a good time.

So since this has turned rather melancholy I will sum up by saying that the Birthday Boy, today and every single day of his life, is cherished and adored beyond mere words. He is corporeal love, he is simply My Boy, and that is enough. Happy Birthday to my handsome, adoring companion and here's to many more.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Birth of a Nation

There are 9 families out there right now celebrating the birth of their Invictus Ridgeback because one year ago on this date Leeloo and I helped 7 girls and 2 boys into the world. It started early and ended late and was the last litter Leeloo will produce so she made sure to make it interesting. She stopped at seven puppies, relaxed for a while - okay, not a while, it was several hours - before popping out two more in quick succession. She handled this litter like a champ and seemed to remember all the right things to do to care for them, or at least she wasn't as susprised to see these guys as she was to see the first puppy from her first litter!

I don't plan on another litter for at least 2 or 3 more years so please indulge me as I reminisce over what is also The Boy's final litter since he was neutered shortly after they were born. For me, although the litters are largely about the puppies, they are also very about the dam. It's her care and time and work that are the backbone to making the task of raising a litter a lot easier; if she is difficult, disinterested or sadly, as we have learned, not there, then the job is so much harder. Leeloo hated being pregnant, that much was clear, but she was an attentive mother who made sure everyone got what they needed.

But the puppies, the darling puppies who are the reason we are celebrating today, needed to do nothing but grow and be adorable. In the first three weeks of their lives they had a lot of milestones to meet - open their eyes, open their ears, learn to eat regular food, to walk, to interact with each other and to meet the rest of the family. Cora loved to check in the babies, once she realized they were dogs, and spent a lot of time nibbling and poking them. Sometimes she got a poke right back.

Each day this little group of babies got more and more adorable. As with any puppy, the more adorable they get the more naughty they get and it wasn't long before this mass of puppy goodness was wreaking havoc on their parents, Esme, and my house.

All puppies are cute, no matter the breed, but sometimes there is one puppy who stands out as exceptionally aw-worthy and my last litter had one of those. She was the smallest puppy born at half the weight of the rest, and stayed small for the whole time she was here, and ever after. Little Mini is, without a doubt, the cutest puppy I have ever raised. She gets special mention because so many people were rooting for her and I am happy to report she has matured into a lovely, kind, very sweet and correctly sized Ridgeback.
But then, they are all lovely and well loved by their respective homes and although they were a lot of work, it is always a pleasure to meet and enjoy coming to know the families and people who have taken the time to give my puppies wonderful homes. I know you discharge your responsibility with great care and today, on their first birthday, celebrate the companion that will never let you down. It's been a pleasure to watch them grow up and here's to many more years! Happy birthday to Kota, Emma, Zeke, Raylan, Vesper, Rue, Peggy, Kenzi, and Tezlin!