Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response

This has been a busy year for our National Dog Day heroes that I'm recognizing today.  Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response uses their dogs to help people deal with crises and there have definitely been a lot of those in 2011.

This group currently has teams that visit natural disaster sites, shootings, train derailments, and memorials (to name a few examples).  Because a crisis situation often has loud noises, bad smells, and a lot of chaos, the dogs and humans are extremely well trained.  Hope AACR requires their teams to have been practicing AAT/AAA for at least a year before the team can start their AACR training.  The humans have to be especially alert because in crisis it is much easier for an animal to get stressed.  On top of that, these teams are made up of volunteers, which means that the people going to these nerve-wracking, heart wrenching scenes have to pay for their own transportation, vet bills, etc.

The interactions facilitated by these amazing teams are a fabulous pay off though, and make it all worth it!

Have you ever experienced a crisis?  How did you cope?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Puppies Behind Bars

Today's National Dog Day Heroes start out life in an unlikely place, prison.

The Puppies Behind Bars program brings 8 week old puppies to live and train in prisons.  The inmates are the dogs' sole caretaker.  While the puppies are growing and training, they are also teaching and helping.  The inmates learn how to be caring and compassionate because of their role.

This program has high expectations for these little puppies.  The end goal is that they will become Explosion Detection Dogs, Service Dogs, or companion dogs for soldiers returning from war.  How empowering for their trainers to know that their dog they worked with went on to save lives!

I noticed on their website that Puppies Behind Bars pays 100% for the cost of raising the puppies their food, vet services, educational supplies for the puppy raisers, teachers' salary, and travel.  Here's a link to some ways that you can support this awesome program.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Great Spot!

National Dog Day is celebrated every year on August 26th, since it's creation in 2004.  Last Friday I had every intention of posting about what a special day it was but that didn't end up happening.  So I decided that instead I will highlight a different group each day this week that uses dogs in a healing manner.

Today's amazing dog group is the Tennessee Safety Spotters.  This group uses Deaf dogs to get their message across and as you can guess by their name, their message is about safety.  One program teaches children about fire safety, another, focuses on preventing dog bites.  Getting children accustomed to a good sized dog, and how to behave around that animal, will teach them not to fear dogs and instead respect them.

When I was in school, the only "dog" that came to teach us about safety was someone dressed as McGruff.  As entertaining as that was, my classmates and I didn't learn anything about real police dogs, or what to do if we met a strange dog.

One other thing about the Tennessee Safety Spotters, the fact that they use Deaf dogs is a teaching tool in itself.  Children are able to see that being Deaf doesn't really make you that different.  These incredible dogs look like any other Dalmatian.  Instead of being handicapped, their extreme intelligence is displayed in their ability to understand sign language commands and perform activities like crawling under smoke and calling 911.

I think that the Tennessee Safety Spotters are definitely on to something.  They show that everyone has something to teach.  To borrow a quote from their website "These special dogs hear with their hearts, not with their ears."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reading is for the Dogs

© Charles B. Barton
Compulsory Education

I've always enjoyed reading, and I never minded reading in front of my class, especially if I could practice ahead of time.  But that's not the case for everyone.  For some, reading is a challenge, for others they don't like the attention of reading out loud.  Yet, round robin reading is still something that is used in classrooms everyday.

So why am I writing about this in my blog?  Because many places are using animals to help struggling readers.  Dogs are great listeners, they don't correct you when you don't pronounce a word right.  They don't even seem to care whether you are a slow reader or not.  Having a child read to a dog allows the child to practice reading aloud.  Different skills are used in silent reading vs. oral reading, so encouraging both types of reading is important.  Plus, having an animal around makes things more fun, and it's great for new readers to equate reading with fun.

I'm talking mainly about dogs as reading pals because all of the animal partner reading programs that I know of use dogs.  That might be because cats have a tendency to sit on the book when you are trying to read it, which isn't really conducive to reading.  Or is that just something that my cat does?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Faith, the Dog

Last week I introduced Ricochet, a "SURFice" dog.  Today I'd like to highlight Faith.  This amazing dog only has two legs but is able to get around on her own.  She does it by walking on her two hind legs!  Faith is often an inspiration to the people she meets allowing them to believe that they too can overcome enormous odds.

Listening to the different things Faith's family says, I hear all of the ways this dog has played a healing role.  She literally gave her human family faith again, she was an answer to their prayers.  She has been a therapy dog, a reading dog, and part of a motivational speaking team (her owner does the speaking).

Here's her website where you can see what she's up to.  I just found out that she was in New Orleans this past weekend, promoting the grand opening of Belladoggie, a place for your dog to go to heal.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Animals in the Office

I talked about animals in the classroom but what about the workplace?  I'm lucky enough to be employed at the Audubon Zoo where there are all kinds of exotic creatures.  The thing is, the animals that do the most "work" are two guinea pigs named Betty and Veronica, that live in the education office.

These two little girls are called on when the workload it too much.  Just holding a guinea pig, takes the tension out of your body and the longer you hold one, your stress seems to melt away.  For that time period, you are lulled into a sense of calm by the purring noise they make when you stroke them.  After letting Veronica nestle against your body, you feel refreshed and ready to work again.  That rude person that was on the phone doesn't matter because Betty will still show you affection.

The fact that positivity breeds positivity, means that even just sharing an office space with these two happy guinea pigs brings up the morale.  I could be working on writing confirmation letters, a dull tedious task, and suddenly I hear Betty bucking like a bronco in her enclosure and it brings a smile to my face.  (In guinea pigs that bucking behavior is called "popcorning" and is a sign of happiness.)

Maybe this is why some companies started participating in "take your dog to work day".  People are starting to realize that animal are beneficial to adults as well as children.  Have you ever taken a pet to work?  Or worked somewhere that had an "office pet"?  Mark your calendar for next year's date June 22, 2012 and see if you can detect a difference when you add an animal to your office.
Monica snuggling Betty

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Green Chimneys

Green Chimneys uses animals (wildlife, farm animals and service dogs) to help heal many different groups of people.  Children with mental health issues, children with learning disorders, physically challenged youth, "at risk" youth, runaways and homeless youth, LBQTA, and adults with mental retardation all interact with the animals at Green Chimneys.

Rosie, the dog that went to court, was one of the dogs that went through a Green Chimneys program.

This is a place that I've wanted to be a part of ever since I heard about it.  Right now they have lots of job openings, along with internship and volunteer opportunities.  I have to finish PT school, but then this is the type of thing that I am interested in doing.

Here's a video:

I'm really excited that Dr. Ross, the man that started it all, mentioned that he wants Green Chimneys to be a model.  Maybe he can help me start my own program   in New Orleans.

Here's a shorter video for people with short attention spans:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunny's Ears

My family got on this kick watching Feature Films for Families and every holiday my siblings and I would each get a new video.  One Christmas I got the movie Sunny's Ears which I thought was perfect for me.

The movie is about Sunny, a teenage girl that is deaf as a result of meningitis.  She still talks, but can no longer hear and has to read lips.  Her family, specifically her father, has a hard time dealing with the fact that he has to sign now to communicate with his daughter.  One day Sunny is saved from being hit by a car.  Her rescuer?  A stray dog.  Sunny is determined to keep the dog, but her dad (a postman) is not too keen on this idea.  When she see's a flyer about dog training she persuades her parents that the dog can be trained to help her hear.  Ears (what she ends up naming the dog) proves to be as helpful as Sunny had hoped.  Not only is Sunny able to be more independent, but she has a new friend that doesn't care whether she can hear or not.

This movie has really stuck with me.  While talking to my mom tonight about it, she shared her surprise  that I remembered as much of it as I did, since I hadn't seen it in over 10 years.  Sunny's Ears introduced me to the idea of a "hearing ear dog", or really just the fact that animals can be used for more than assisting visually impaired people.  I had always wanted a dog, and I found Sunny's plan to train a service dog a great reason to get a pet.  It didn't work on my parents.  (Oh well!)  But, I believe that it helped lead me to my position at the Audubon Zoo, and even to my dream job of Animal Assisted Physical Therapy.  If Ears can be a hearing ear dog, why can't a guinea pig be a physical therapy animal?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Service animals vs Therapy animals

Boaz isn't a service dog or a therapy dog, but he still knows basic commands, like "sit"

In the previous post I highlighted Richochet, a dog that trained since birth to be a service dog.  Unfortunately parts of her personality didn't fit some of the requirements to be a service dog.  She was lucky enough to have found a different way to work with people in a healing manner.  I would almost even say that she is a therapy animal instead.

So what exactly is the difference?

Service animals are defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  The animals are working animals (not pets!), and are trained to assist a person with disabilities with everyday tasks.  For example, Ricochet was taught how to open doors, turn on lights, unzip zippers, etc.  

The ADA protects people with service animals, allowing their animals to accompany them into businesses.  Basically, these animals allow people with disabilities to be independent.  Instead of having to rely on a friend to take them to run their errands, they can work with their service animal to complete their "to do list".  Having a service animal can be a very empowering thing for someone with a disability.

Because service animals are relied on so heavily they are extremely well trained, usually with training beginning when the animal is very young.  A person's life can depend on the training of a service animal so training is strict.  These animals usually aren't supposed to be interacted with (so no petting)  while they are working so they aren't distracted from their responsibilities.

Therapy animals, on the other hand, usually work with many people.  Most often their role is to act as a comforter, motivator, or educational tool.  Therapy animals quite often are the handler's pet and a handler could be anyone from a volunteer to healthcare staff, teacher, psychologist, etc.  

The animals are chosen to be therapy animals based on their personality and ability to follow basic commands. There are a few different groups that can certify your pet to be a therapy animal.  An animal can become a therapy animal at any age, although usually they don't start until they are older and calmer.

One important thing to keep in mind is that handlers, and people that interact with therapy animals are not protected under the ADA, so that means that your therapy animal is not allowed in businesses (unless the business welcomes animals).

If you are interested in your animal (whether it is a cat, dog, rabbit, guinea pig, or lizard) becoming a therapy animal here's a webpage that lists programs in different states.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Amazing, Inspiring Dog

Unfortunately, Ricochet couldn't be a service dog, but she is still helping and giving hope to millions of people.    Make sure you have some tissues nearby.

A Dog Helps Too Much?

Recently the NY Times presented a legal debate that some therapy animals might "help" too much.  The article is about Rosie, a golden retriever, who went on the stand with a rape victim.  The accused was convicted and the defense team thinks that Rosie is partly responsible for that.  They believe that the jury might have been swayed by the cuteness of the dog, rather than the facts.

What do you think?  Should animals be allowed on the stand?  Why or why not?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cats in the Classroom

Julia sleeping
So, I was still trying to figure out the name of the school that had a cat and I thought perhaps I'd find the answer on the internet.  Instead I found something even better.

If you are thinking about bringing a cat into the classroom, "Cats Protection" in the UK has developed curriculum that revolves around cats.  Or you can say that it highlights how cats can be used to teach curriculum.

Need to get the kids excited about the history lesson for the day?  Tell them a cat's role in that time period or place.  The kids want proof that math is used in the real world?  Have them figure out the cost of owning a cat.

They have a range of activities that allow your classroom cat to be the inspiration and motivation for the kids to stay engaged in the lesson.  Just click here to get the PDF.

I wish I could take credit for the idea, but like I said it was created by "Cats Protection" in the UK who have their own blog.  I'd love to hear if someone uses anything from the curriculum, or changes it to fit their classroom pet.

Animals as Medicine?

My husband was talking to me tonight about some of the children that he works with.  One child can be described as "active".  He always seems to be in motion, whether it's dancing in his seat or moving about the classroom when he should be sitting.  You might imagine that the child is ADHD, and that might be true, I don't know.  You might believe that the child would benefit from medication.  I would probably disagree, unless you are suggesting nontraditional medication.  My first thought as my husband described the situation was, I wonder if they could have a cat in the classroom...

While I was the Zoomobile Coordinator I visited a school that had a cat.  This cat roamed freely from classroom to classroom.  It was a stray that showed up on campus one day and since the school had a bit of a rat problem they let the cat stay.  The cat turned out to be more useful than just solving the rat problem.  One teacher shared that the children will lean down and stroke the cat if it came by, but it isn't actually a distraction at all.  The children make sure to check the water and food bowls (kept in the hallway) and actually learn a bit about pet care and responsibility.  I wish I could remember the school's name, that had the cat.  Or the cat's name for that matter.

Maybe if there was a cat in the classroom for the little boy at my husband's school, he would be less of a distraction in class.  He could still be "active" but his activity would be stroking a cat, which is known to have a calming effect.  What if instead of ADHD medication we allowed touchable animals in the classroom?

My cat, Rocky, as a baby
Rocky surveying the neighborhood

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Overcoming Social Boundaries

I am the proud owner of a 92lb (at the last check up) weimador (weimaraner/black labrador mix).  Owning a dog is a lot bigger responsibility than I was aware of, especially owning a big dog.  One of the things that I didn't realize is the walk that you should take with your dog each day.  I have to admit, I'm not the best at walking my dog, having a big backyard for him to run in helps ease me of the guilt.

When he was younger, I was a lot better about consistently taking him on an hour walk each day.  At the time, we had recently moved into the neighborhood and walking Boaz turned out to be a great way to meet my new neighbors.  I've found that animals have a way of making people more approachable.  They become a great conversation piece and can help people overcome social boundaries.

If I was just walking through my neighborhood alone, for exercise I doubt that I would have stopped to talk to people mowing their lawns or playing horseshoes with their son.  For that matter, I don't know that they would have stopped me to talk to me.  And if we are being realistic, I doubt that I would have just gone for a walk through the neighborhood for exercise.  So, getting Boaz, and taking care of him led to me developing some great relationships.

Now, instead of taking Boaz on hour long walks, we walk around the block to the park and play fetch for an hour.  I've yet to go and not meet up with some of the children from the neighborhood.  And they always want to know if the dog bites (if they haven't met him yet).  Others will now answer for me because they've heard my response so many times ("anything with a mouth can bite").  Even the most shy child will vie for a chance to throw the toy for my dog after a while.  Children that have played with him several times, act so important when they instruct the newer ones that we wait for Boaz to sit before we throw.  They love to see him respond to their commands.  For a little while, we are all just enjoying interacting because of a dog.  If two start fighting over who's turn it is to throw the toy, they know that Boaz and I will leave, so they usually figure it out so that they can continue to play.

Maybe we should use animals more often to help us overcome our differences and learn to work together!

Boaz all grown up and wet from swimming
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