Thursday, January 31, 2019

Pet Partners Therapy Dog Team Review

Finn Looks Deeply Into Each Heart He Encounters
When you have a dog with special gifts, like I do (and many of you do), it would be selfish not to let him fully develop and use those wondrous strengths to bring cheer into the lives of those aching for connection and comfort.  Having adopted a joy dog, it just seems wrong to keep all of that great goodness to myself.  In the case of Finn, a dog that was previously kept locked away from the outside world for all of his life (until rescued), the best possible antidote to having been shut away and hoarded is to bring all of his beauty into the light of day. To share Finn, is to share love in its purest form.

In our determination to lift the spirits of others, Finn and I are on a new year's mission.  Though we have engaged in animal welfare and educational outreach work on a daily basis over the past year and a half (since Finn became a part of my forever family), we want to take this work to the next level by going through a rigorous screening process to become a registered therapy dog team.  Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the highest level of professionalism and integrity.  To that end, we have chosen to pursue approval through Pet Partners.

The Pet Partners Organization and Website

There are a number of organizations through which volunteers can seek an official status for their therapy team service.  We chose Pet Partners for several reasons:
  • Theirs is a very reputable organization with a well-established history;
  • They put animals first;
  • Their process provides unlimited opportunities for demonstrating team growth;
  • They provide quality resources that enhance both animal and handler skills;
  • Their community is one that connects teams of beautiful individuals; 
  • They provide insurance coverage for registered teams; and
  • Membership can bring a greater credibility to volunteer therapy teams.
Quality of Life is the Soul of the Mission
Once the decision was made to align ourselves with Pet Partners, Finn and I jumped right into our training.  First, I enrolled in the required handler's course.  Taking the course online was a good fit for my learning style and was also the best option given the distance I would have had to drive to attend an in-person class.  I found the course to be very informative and helpful in preparing me to set Finn and myself up for therapy dog team success.  Most importantly of all, it was a reminder that we are in the business of generating quality of life experiences... that we are to exude a reverence for life in all that we do.

Having passed my course, our next step is to visit Finn's veterinarian to get him signed off as healthy and fit for therapy dog consideration.  Because he has a disability, Finn's vet will need to indicate appropriate accommodations (like the use of Finn's K9 cart and/or dog stroller during therapy visits and the assessment process). Once Finn has passed this medical exam, we will be eligible to sign up for our team evaluation session.

Finn and I must prove ourselves both in terms of aptitude and skills.  Our evaluation process seeks first to confirm that both of us have the heart for this service.  I know, without a doubt, that therapy team outreach is a calling for me.  And, having watched Finn display his "people whispering" essence over the many months since his adoption, I feel sure that he is also well-suited for this mission.  Finn leans into this work, rather than merely tolerating it.  That is the key qualifier when it comes to passing our aptitude testing.

Finn is a Willing Student, Teacher, and Therapist
When it comes to skills, Finn and I must demonstrate that our encounters with strangers will be predictably safe.  Finn must be responsive to my guidance at all times. In addition, Finn must show a tender restraint in his dealings with a wide range of individuals.  Before even considering therapy service, I spent over a year socializing Finn to ensure that he developed the confidence necessary to meet with new people in a wide variety of settings.

Finn came to me with no prior training.  He knew no commands when we began our pursuit of this quest.  We currently set aside time every single day to push the boundaries of our learning.  Finn must show a mastery of a number of commands: come, sit, down, stay, and leave it, for starters.  He will be tested in a number of role playing situations common to what he is likely to encounter during visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities.  Right now, as a part of his preparation, I am focused on immersing Finn into the most common types of experiences he is likely to have when he officially starts his therapy dog work.

You may be wondering what Finn gets out of all of this.  As a mix of two of the most intelligent breeds of dogs, I have found that Finn needs a great deal of stimulation.  He is a combination of working dog breeds.  In my rehabilitation work with rescue dogs, I have seen the importance of providing smart, energetic animals with a job and a purpose.  As a Border collie mix, Finn would normally be involved in herding, or agility, or some form of highly evolved activity engaging both body and mind.  He seems to really enjoy stretching his mental muscles during our training sessions.  Finn's emotional tank also appears to be filled up by all of the attention and affection that comes his way as a result of our interactions with others.

Finn is a whole new dog compared to what he was on the day of his emancipation from the life of a shut-in.  In many ways, I feel his people-whispering nature is what it is due to his having overcome such a barren existence during his early years.  Finn has a way of cracking people's hearts wide open and making them feel things deeply—things that are healthy, and lovely, and healing.  How do I know this?  Well, Dr. Finn began by practicing on me.  A dose of Finn every day has been the best prescription for living a life filled with what matters most.  My desire is to give as many people as possible a taste of this good medicine.

Author's Note: If you enjoy reading about the healing power of animals, you may be interested in my book review about Bella and Jean.  Joy Unleashed tells the story of how they have been transformed while touching lives in beautiful ways.  Another book, Moose! The Reading Dog, will appeal to the children in your life.






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14 comments:

  1. Diana, it is so wonderful that you have both 'found a special calling' and found a unique dog to share it with. I'm sure you and Finn will discharge your duties as a therapy dog team in an outstanding way, sharing the joy within you both. Wishing you good luck and great success throughout your Pet Partners training. Give Finn a hug for me.

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    1. Finn seemed to smile when I told him this morning's first hug was from an elf. Thank you!

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  2. You are both so kind and generous with your time and talents. You really are the perfect team! Every once in a while we get a glimpse of God's hand in putting "people" together for a purpose. I have no doubt that you and Finn will bring much comfort and encouragement to many. Just seeing Finn work with his handicap is encouragement to anyone else who is struggling with a physical issue. His sweet attitude of rejoicing is inspirational. I know Finn was "given" to you at just the right time in your life, but you also possess an attitude for survival and perseverance. That is why you will make the very best Pet Partners ever!

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    1. I appreciate your kind comments. Finn is the best partner anyone could ever hope to have. He inspires all of us to be overcomers.

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  3. Diana, and Finn, Congratulations to you both. Wishing you both the best of luck, love and happiness on your journey. May you bring joy to many.

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    1. Thank you, Sam. We so appreciate your support and good wishes.

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  4. Diana dear, what a perfect way for you and Finn to share your boundless love and joy with those in need! It’s wonderful to discover your life’s purpose and to pursue it with complete commitment, confidence and a full-to-bursting heart, and to enable sweet Finn to do the same. You both are such an inspiration!

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    1. We appreciate your lovely comments and spirit. Thank you for always lifting us up with your presence.

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  5. Oh I am so happy for you and for Finn in this new chapter of your lives. Finn and his mom are just the best and sharing that with those in need is wonderful. Both of you are a blessing in so many ways. Good Luck and Best Wishes on a new adventure for the two of you!

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    1. Thank you for sharing our happiness. We very much appreciate your kind words and wishes.

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  6. Diana, I LOVE this. I'm glad you and Finn are signing up for this. And so glad that you have chosen carefully and are going through a reputable group. In my work I am seeing a trend of unsupervised and questionable service/support animal situations. That trend makes me anxious. But the trained/supervised/thoughtfully chosen (I'm not quite sure what word I want here) service and support animals are SO helpful and important. I'm thankful that you and Finn are doing this. You both will touch so many people in such a good way. Your kind and giving spirit is awesome.

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    1. We love that you love this. I, too, have seen many individuals with questionable animal team credentials (some of whom have just purchased a service animal vest online). Though it takes longer to get legitimately registered, I wouldn't choose to do it any other way. The training, screening, and strict policies/protocols are well worth the effort (and ensure a higher quality experience for the clients who request a therapy dog team visit).

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  7. You've helped Finn find his purpose in life, and he seems to have enhanced yours. What an amazing thing to do to become a therapy dog team. All he's been through, and now he'll be helping lift others - it can't get any better than that. Simply beautiful. Good luck with that mission this year, I have no doubt you'll both be immensely successful with it.

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    1. I believe dogs are born into this world to love us in ways that help us become the best that we can be. Finn is certainly stretching my boundaries and helping me learn to make time to pay attention to things I would normally miss in the hustle and bustle of life. He lifts us all to higher places and I want to be more like him. Thank you for believing in us and our mission.

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