Patchougue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy
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PRAAT Stories...

Stories from our volunteers about animal assisted therapy, their extra-special canine partners and some very memorable moments during their visits...

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Wonton's Christmas Eve Visit

My name is Wonton, I am a 4 yr old Pekingese – but more importantly, I am a Therapy Dog! Mom says I am very special, because I get to visit people and make them happy.

I graduated from obedience training in November, I learned to heel and stay and a lot of other commands, the one I like the least is "leave it!" but I do… I always do. When it came to graduation, I was very proud!

The last step in becoming a Therapy Dog, was an evaluation at a Nursing home, Sonnie met us there and I said hello to my new friend, Oscar, before we went in. It was a very large place with a whole lot of new friends to meet. Many people told me stories about dogs in their lives. One woman even had a Pekingese, she went on and on about her, it was very nice, she was smiling the whole time. Another woman kept asking my Mom to bring me back around because I was so cute. And almost everyone likes kisses! Something I do very well. A very nice lady gave my Mom a copy of her Christmas letter. She told Mom that since she shared me with her – she wanted to share her letter with my Mom! Wow, what a great place! So many new friends, so many smiles! When we were done, Sonnie told Mom that she could take the "in training" patch off my vest!

Our next visit was to Patchogue Library for the Paws for Reading program with some really great kids! Mom brought my blanket and my Snuggie because I was going to listen to bedtime stories. Three different children read to me (I can't read so it was very special). I learned all about a very silly dog named Snoopy and a very big red dog named Clifford. Wow, those kids read really well, they were very smart. And even though Mom said they were bed time stories, I stayed awake! I didn't want to miss one word. One of the little girls was a little afraid of me at first, but she kept petting me, and when she left, she said I was her friend!

Sonnie called and asked if we could go to Mather Hospital and visit Children and Adults on Christmas Eve. Sonnie thought my Santa outfit would be perfect for the occasion! I love to dress up so I was very happy – Mom even packed my elf and "reindeer in training" costumes as back up. We decided that since it was Christmas Eve and I would be going as Santa – my stroller needed to be transformed into a Sleigh! With the help of my "human" cousin my stroller became a transport suitable for the real Santa Claus! Rudolph's nose even glowed!

When we "landed" in the lobby, I was introduced to two new, PRAAT friends, Jackson and Lola. We arrived at the Children's wing first and got to play with the children. One of them said it was the BEST DAY OF HER LIFE! This made me (and my Mom) very happy. Mom said she could not think of a better way to spend Christmas Eve. Then we went to the rec room to visit the adults. So many new friends! We played and I gave kisses, I sat on people's laps and had a wonderful time. Mom kept telling me how proud she was. Then it was time to leave, I was tired, but happy. Time to go home and dream of Sugar Plums.

Love & Licks, Wonton

A Message from Wonton's Mom:

As the 2009 Holiday season comes to an end, the 3rd anniversary of Wonton walking in our front door approaches. I cannot imagine my life without him in it. Every day, both Wonton and his feline sister, Noodle, make me laugh and lighten my heart. It is no surprise that Therapy animals bring such joy and I commend PRAAT and all of its volunteers for providing such a wonderful service. Wonton never likes to sit at home, whenever I pick up my keys he jumps around and is ready to go. If he sees his carry bag or his stroller, he goes crazy. I first realized what a special gift he had on one of our many trips to Loews. An older gentleman, with a cane approached me and asked if he could pet Wonton. He stood there for at least 10 minutes, talking and petting. When he walked away, he had such a smile that I knew it would carry him the rest of his day. Wonton always sits so perfectly in the cart that people think he is a toy. The minute someone notices him, they light up – and so does Wonton. He is always willing to be pet or to make a timid child feel comfortable. So many people stop to greet him (and him them) that if I don't have extra time, I cannot bring Wonton. My Son saw proof of this one day when we ran out to get a light bulb. When we got home an hour later, he said "now I get it". I truly believe being a Therapy Dog is Wonton's calling, and would like to thank the very special person we met in Walgreen's one day. After seeing Wonton, she waited for us outside and told me about PRAAT. I thanked her and explained that it was exactly what I had been looking for, but didn't know how to find an organization. I called and made an appointment for the screening and now, here we are, Making Smiles. It amazes me how much it touches my heart to see Wonton making others happy, even if it is only for an hour the Dogs bring joy. I am so Proud to be an owner of a Therapy Dog and so blessed to be able to share him with others. Someone asked if it is hard to visit the places we do. My answer is simple – it is not about me. Wonton does not see feeble or strong, one leg or two, sick or healthy, young or old – he loves them all. When a young girl says "this was the best day of my life" How could I not facilitate that?

Wishing you all the best in 2010 – Wendy & Wonton.

Hunter's First Therapy Visit

Hunter and I went for our first PRAAT visit a few years ago with Sonnie and her standard poodle Kingsley.

This was the first time that anyone from PRAAT had been to the dementia ward of this nursing home. A majority of the patients were in wheel chairs or beds, many were unaware of what was going on around them, but those that had some awareness of their surroundings were very happy to see the dogs come in for a visit. There were some patients that the nurses had to gently shake to wake up... they were disoriented and groggy from their illnesses and medications, but many of them smiled and tried to focus on the dogs. Many wanted to pet the the dogs so we would ask the dogs to stand close beside the chair or bed so the patient could reach out and stroke their heads and backs.

Hunter's biggest problem was his size. He's such a big dog that it was sometimes difficult for him to maneuver past oxygen hoses, IV lines, and medical equipment to get close to the patients, but as always he walked carefully and was amazingly gentle with the patients. It's awesome to see a 110 lb. Shiloh Shepherd stand so still… just so he can be petted by a frail 80 lb. woman who is curled in a fetal position and can hardly stretch her hand over to the side of her bed. It brought tears to my eyes watching the patients talk to Hunter and Kingsley, and tell us about the dogs that they had years ago.

There was one man in a wheel chair that appeared to be in his early 50's. He sat hunched forward, staring straight ahead with his arms crossed over his chest, his fingers and hands cramped and pinched into painful looking claws. He paid no attention as we walked around the recreation room allowing other people to pet the dogs, he just stared straight ahead… We made our way around the room and eventually came up to him. The nurse asked him if he'd like Hunter to come say hello. Again, no response from the patient. I positioned Hunter next to his chair anyway, standing him so that he was beside the man, facing the same direction as the man was.

Hunter's back was next to the right arm of the chair, and the nurse took the man's hand and brushed it against Hunter's back. Hunter stood still, knowing that he shouldn't move. He turned his head towards the man which made it easier for the nurse to move the man's hand over Hunter's neck and across his chest. By then the man had started rocking in his chair and kept muttering the same 4-syllable sounds over and over again. He leaned so far forward over Hunter's head that I was worried about him falling out of his chair and two other nurses came over to help support him.

We stayed there for quite a while, Hunter standing stock-still the whole time, allowing the nurse to move the man's claw-like hand through the thick mane of fur on his neck and chest. Then it was time for us to move on to other people who were waiting to meet Hunter, so we said our goodbyes to the man and moved across the room towards other patients.

The whole time the man had been staring straight ahead, just looking out into space over the top of Hunter's head, never making eye contact with the dog or anyone else… so I figured that he wasn't really aware of Hunter or what was going on. But as we walked away his muttering got louder and louder and I looked back and saw him trying to stand up. The nurses were helping to support him while he still kept muttering the same 4-syllable sounds. He was turning towards Hunter and even though he was hunched and bent he was still trying to walk in our direction. The nurse who was escorting us through the ward suggested that I take Hunter out of the room so the other nurses could get the man to settle back into his chair safely. She said that in all the years that he was there he had never tried to speak, and the only time he ever tried to get up out of the chair was when the nurses led him to the bathroom. She was amazed at his strong reaction towards Hunter.

Since this was our first visit, Sonnie was expected to give us a critique of our performance. She said that this was one of the hardest visits that she'd ever been on in her life and apologized for putting Hunter and I through that difficult an experience on our first visit to a facility. She said that if she'd known how hard it was going to be on us and the dogs that she wouldn't have brought us there on our first visit. She said that she thought Hunter's behavior was outstanding and that I handled him well and did a great job of supporting and encouraging him. It was a bit overwhelming to work with patients, some of whom were so completely unaware of their surroundings, with others who were crying uncontrollably, and those that were unable to control their muscles or their minds.

As handlers we both did our best to stay calm and keep our emotions in check for the good of our dogs. Kingsley was also stressed by the environment but just like Hunter he followed his handler's lead and did everything that Sonnie asked of him.

I was so proud of Hunter's behavior and how he reacted with the patients. I'm often amazed at the bond between us and how much he trusts me. Even in such a stressful environment he did everything I asked, and when he's stare at me with a look in his eyes that pleaded for a break, we'd back off and regroup before moving on to the next group of patients. When his eyes told me that he'd had enough we quit for the afternoon, went outside and played ball on the grass for a few minutes, then we went home and settled in on the sofa for some much deserved quiet time together.

I've had discussions with other dog owners about whether or not they should try and get their dogs certified as animal assisted therapy dogs. My answer is Yes! Therapy dog work can be amazing, uplifting, heart wrenching, and oh, so fulfilling. But to get the most out of your dog you need to have his complete trust and loyalty. You need to be the center of his universe and he'll follow you anywhere and do anything you ask of him, no matter how hard or how stressful it is. When I look into Hunter's eyes I can see that trust and love, and I try so hard to be the person that my dog thinks I am.

Debbie & Hunter


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