On April 20th Vivian, Ike, Greg and I “motored” to Bemidji to so that Vivian and I could take our Therapy Dog International test. (OK, we didn’t actually “motor” Greg drove the car, but I have always wanted to be in the neighborhood news in a small town paper, and “motor” somewhere on a Saturday. If you haven’t read a small town weekly newspaper I have probably lost you by now!) Anywho, we took the 2.5 hour trek to Bemidji so that Viv and I could be at the nursing home for the test by ten AM.
Vivian is always happy to go for a drive, and as usual settled in for a little nap in the back seat, using Ike as a pillow. I, on the other hand was too nervous to read, or rest or anything. I reread my TDI testing pamphlet and talked about all the things that could wrong. Since we had taken our class last fall the test had changed somewhat and now required a down/stay at 20 feet. Vivian doesn’t like doing a down/stay. She will do it for a treat, but TDI does not allow treating during the test or on visits, so she was going to have to do it all by herself. I mentally beat myself up for not spending more time working with her over the winter and really worried about the distraction of having other dogs around while being tested. Meanwhile, Vivian dozed on in the backseat, not realizing what an important day it was!
We stopped to let the dogs run a bit before heading to the nursing home. Once at the testing facility I walked the halls with Vivian to get her use to the smells and sounds of a new facility. It also helped me get some of the nerves to settle down. I always say I am Vivian’s biggest handicap and I am pretty sure she can feel my nervousness through the lead. Heading into the testing room, I was instructed to hand over Vivian to a “friendly stranger” who took her into another room while I signed in. The test had officially started; I should have stopped to pee when the dogs did! Vivian apparently passed the first test as I got her back and we had to mingle while the other dogs checked in. Soon, residents from the facility started coming into the room to watch the test. Yep, dog distractions and people distractions; we were going to have to be on our best game.
The obedience testing came first. Moving around on a heal, sitting on command, down on command, healing through a crowd and then the scary one; down/stay at 20 feet. We don’t pass this one and we are done with the testing and can’t retest for six months. All I could imagine was driving that far, only to be finished within the first 15 minutes of the test! I was called first. Vivian went down immediately and I slowly backed up, hand in the stay position. Vivian on the floor her eyes trained on me, staying, staying, staying; my eyes on Vivian, waiting for the evaluator for what seemed forever, “Call your dog”. “Come, Vivian!” She flew up to me and did a perfect sit in front of me, sliding just a bit because the linoleum was slippery! We were through the obedience portion and we had nailed it.
Next up testing with residents, and in the halls. I wasn’t too worried about this portion because we have spent all winter visiting our pals at the Warroad Senior Living Center and I knew Vivian was good with anything they could throw at her. The only worry was me remembering what I can and cannot do on a visit. Right out of the gate I blew it, leaning down to put the break on a resident’s wheelchair while she petted Vivian. You are not suppose to touch the resident’s chairs, but I was thinking like a daughter and not a volunteer and just did it automatically. Luckily that was a part of the test you can have a “do over” on. Like I said, I knew Viv would do well with anything they threw at her, and they literally threw things by her and in front of her. They tested her “leave it” command with lunch meat, which she totally ignored and the crazy lady who hugged her, and pulled on her ears was almost rewarded with a lick on the kisser, but that was it. After loud noises, thrown crutches, people in wheelchairs wielding yummy dog treats which she could not have and people unexpectedly coming out of doors and around corners she was ready to move on to the last part of the test; kids.
Yes, she needed to be around children, running, playing, yelling and generally being kids. So down the hall we went to have her placed on a sit/stay next to me while she calmly watched kids throwing balls, toddling and skipping around. She was crazy calm, and I was thankful we had gone to the Warroad Easter Egg hunt, so that she could see kids in action! As we walked back down the hall, I heard “You passed” and let out the breath I had been holding. A bit of paperwork and we were out the door to Greg and Ike in the parking lot.
“We Passed!!” I told Greg as I climbed in the car. “I know” he responded, “I saw the smile on your face as you came out the door!”
We completed the paperwork, had the Veterinarian check up and paperwork completed and sent everything, along with Vivian’s picture to TDI. This week it became official. Vivian has an ID badge, a red TDI bandana, the tag for her collar and I registered our facility with Therapy Dog International.
People have asked me why I wanted to get certified with TDI. There are a variety of reasons. With this certification Vivian and I can visit other facilities that require volunteer therapy dogs to be certified with a national organization and we are covered by insurance now when we are volunteering, and of course Vivian does rock the red bandana. Mostly though I did it for me. Volunteering with Vivian is fun, it makes me happy to see people light up when Vivian walks in their room. It is fun to hear from people in town that their dad or their grandma talks about Vivian all the time. I get to spend time with my poodle and hopefully make a difference in someone’s week. I get to visit the residents and they make a difference in my week. Therapy by Vivian; good girl, good dog!