If you think I'm nuts about animals, you should meet my friend Danielle. Her dogs are her children. Horses are probably her spiritual animal or something. One time on a road trip, a unidentifiable mass of roadkill caused her to burst into tears. I'm not kidding. Nearly a decade ago, she ditched her job to become a full-time dog trainer & she's freaking awesome at it.
In 2011, Danielle founded Canine Inspired Change. Basically, she hooks up therapy dogs and their people with folks in the community that could use a little canine love. That could be emotionally or behaviorally disabled kids, young adults with Down syndrome, people in hospice... really, anyone going through some stuff.
If you're a pet person, you know how amazing a dog's adoration can be. They greet you with a wagging tail, even if you didn't give them your extra bacon at breakfast; they love nothing more than snuggling with you on the couch; they comfort you when you're sobbing on your kitchen floor after you realize you need to cut 200 people from your wedding guest list. It's not just fluff-- from lowering blood pressure to fighting depression, pets can improve your life in a huge way. Read this.
As a board member of CIC, I always wanted a therapy dog of my own. And when we got Patsy, I knew that was definitely a possibility. She's super chill and tolerant. The only teensy-weensy issue is that she is afraid of any human under three feet tall. When Danielle asked me to bring Patsy to a session at an elementary school, I became anxious. Of course I wanted to give it a whirl, but was overwhelmed at the thought of Patsy freaking out. She doesn't get aggressive, just hides and/or barks. It's embarrassing.
When we arrived at the school, Danielle brought Patsy and I into the auditorium. We sat on stage, answering questions from the six kids in the nearly vacant room (How old is she? One and a half. What kind of dog is she? A Mexican dingo. What's that? I don't really know. Can she do any tricks? Sometimes. Can I pet her? I hope so.) Then, Danielle asked one of the kids to go and slowwwwly approach Patsy. I held my breath, while simultaneously whispering, "it's okay..." I don't know how it's possible to do both at the same time.
Patsy took it like a champ, and from then on, I could mostly relax. During the next hour, two kids walked Patsy through a course, where they'd have to ask her to heel, sit, lay down and then have her do a trick. She behaved so well, even when one of the girls wanted to show me the "new trick" she taught Patsy... which was called "dog love" and involved this girl getting right up in my dog's face and giving her a big, wet kiss. Clearly she didn't know that Patsy's favorite food is rabbit poop.
At the end of the class, we sat in a circle and talked about how our mood had improved over the past hour. Every single one of the kids said they went from really low number to a 10 (or eleventy billion googleplex, as one kid stated). They all said CIC is the highlight of their week, and they even write letters to the dogs. It's pretty sweet.
My next step with the Patsmeister is to get her enrolled in a therapy dog training class. She's got a little work to do, but I feel she's a natural. Plus, I think it would be great for her as well. Danielle says there's a ton of value in giving your dog a purpose or a higher calling. Often times, an anxious dog will rise to the occasion if given the opportunity. Working with foster kids or doing hospice visits makes for a happy, calm and content pup. I can get on board with that.