Bus Riding Poodle!

Vivian added a new volunteer venue to her resume this past week. She is now an official Life Care Medical Center volunteer! Life Care is the hospital and nursing home in our neighboring city of Roseau, and we got interested in going there when we met Deb the RN at the health fair in Warroad last October. It took some time, a few emails and a call to the local bus to figure out the “How” and on Monday we had our volunteer orientation.

As some people know, I am visually impaired and no longer able to drive a car. I can see, but some things are distorted and other things may appear to be closer or farther away than they really are. I tend to trip over non-existent bumps in the road, walk into door jambs, and have given up on applying mascara, because the wand ends up in my eye more often than not. Technology is my friend, and I love my kindle, my 40 inch TV, my IPad, and my 32 inch computer monitor. I also love my chauffer, Mr. Puppyjackpot, who takes me wherever I need to go. Marvin flight at 5:30 AM on a Monday morning? No problem. The grocery store, the pharmacy, the bank, the Warroad Senior Living Center, he is on it. But asking him to take me to Roseau, to volunteer seemed just a bit over the top. Therapy Dog work is my dream, not his, and he already gives up an hour and a half each Saturday to take me to the Senior Living Center.

According to their website the FAR North Transit bus is GENERAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, and is for everyone. It is handicapped accessible transportation and anyone can ride regardless of age, race, sex, religion, or income. So did anyone include a black, standard poodle therapy dog? A few emails later and I had my answer; my therapy dog that was going to work at the hospital would be allowed to ride the bus as long as I was with her. Vivian is a really good and smart therapy dog, but so far she has only been allowed to work if I am with her, so no problem there!

Monday, I took the afternoon off, went home for lunch and picked up Vivian and her volunteer gear. Mr. Puppyjackpot dropped us at the parking lot at work where the Far North bus picked us up. As he opened the door the driver looked at us a little skeptically.
“Is that your therapy dog, the poodle?”
“Yes, this is Vivian” I replied.
“I thought she would be little”
“Is she too big to ride?” I asked.
“No, but they said she would ride on your lap.”
“She might, she fancies herself a lapdog and she has never been on a bus, so she might be a bit timid” I told him.
“OK, I got room, come on up”

Vivian walked up the steps with a little prodding, walked to the front seats, jumped up and took the window seat. I sat alongside her. As we headed down the road, Vivian sitting regally next to me, the driver kept shooting her looks in the rearview mirror. “I have never seen a dog like that!”

“A standard poodle?”
“No, a dog that thinks it’s a person”
“That my friend, is because you have never met a standard poodle!”

At the next stop Vivian watched as a man entered the bus, greeted the driver and sat across from us. Vivian leaning forward, turned her head and stared at the man, which I will admit was probably a little rude, but she is a dog.

“Tell your dog to quit looking at me”
“Vivian, stop looking at him,” at which point she turned forward and gazed out the window.
“Your dog understood that?” the driver asked.
“Apparently” I replied.
“What kind of dog is that again?”

And from the back of the bus, came the reply; “A very smart dog!”

Vivian is a therapy dog, volunteer, bus rider, poodle ambassador and yes a very smart dog!
riding bus

Slow Down, You Move too Fast!

It is hard to believe that yet another year is winding down. My husband and I were born in the same year; me in January and he in December. So yes, he is an entire 11 months younger than I am. This weekend while celebrating his birth, we both commented on hard it is to wrap our heads around our age! I am not one to dislike birthdays, as they sure beat the alternative, and frankly I adore a day that is all about me, but still it surprises me to realize that I have probably celebrated more birthdays in the past then I will in the future. With our mutual birthdays comes the realization that another year has sped by and seemingly faster than any preceding it. I so clearly remember sitting in class at Elton Hills Elementary School thinking that the clock would never get to 3:30! Now I routinely yelp “Yikes!” when I realize that I have worked late and my husband is patiently waiting for me in the car to go home at the end of the day.

Vivi Christmas cardWhich brings me to the dogs! I know they have some concept of time, as when I have been home with them they routinely know when to sit in the window and wait for Greg to come home from work, and at 9:45 AM everyday they want to go out (that is when Nana comes up to see them every day, but even on the weekends they head to the back door at 9:45). So what tips them off? The sun in the sky? Their bladders? My first poodle Anna headed to bed every night at 9 PM. A party could be in full swing and she would stand up, stretch and walk into the bedroom. Bedtime for her was 9 PM and no one kept her from it; not even Daylight Savings Time! Do the days seem endless until we get home, or do the awaken at 3:45, stretch and go to their watch stations (Ike in my recliner, Vivian in Greg’s) to await our arrival, thinking we just left?

I probably will never understand the concept of dog time, I just know that this is the time of year for reflection. 2013 was a good year. Vivian matured, as two year old dogs will do, and Ike has settled into his role of big brother/put-upon Golden with grace and dignity. He growled at Vivian once this year, and that was over a stuffed duck. Don’t mess with Ike’s stuffed toys. I think he could growl a bit more, but he is a gentle giant and will probably continue to put up with Vivian’s playful and not so playful ankle biting for the rest of his time with us. “Vivian, leave Ike alone!” is a daily statement at our house. Ike, Ikey, Iker is a lover, not a fighter and makes us smile every day. People ask me why Ike isn’t a therapy dog and I tell them, “He is, he just has enough private duty work at home to keep him busy”.Ike snow smile

Despite her need to pester her big bro, Vivian really did mature. She has taken her responsibility as a therapy dog to heart and seems to revel in her work. Together we truly have become a therapy dog “team” and it has been such fulfilling work. As will happen when you volunteer at a nursing home, some of our residents have died, but then we meet new residents who want to talk to Vivian. I knew we had made an impact when one day a nurse tracked us down on our rounds and asked us visit a new resident. She told me that Vivian was just what he needed, and after we visited commented that his smile when petting Vivian was the first she had seen since he had moved in a few days prior.

In 2014 I hope to add some more responsibilities to our repertoire, and perhaps work with kids who have trouble reading. I have no doubt Vivian would be good at it, I just need to figure out how to fit it in. To get her ready to venture out into a more public arena with different kinds of people we have volunteered at our Company Health Fair, and at the Library Holiday Open House. We not only get to educate people about therapy dog work, but also do some breed education and dog citizenship education too.

As for the people of Puppyjackpot, we had a good year as well. We continue to work for a great company and are surrounded by great friends; are able to enjoy the beauty of Northern Minnesota, travel when the mood hits us, and have our wonderful moms and siblings in our life while reveling in the accomplishments of adorable kids we didn’t raise but love as our own; our nieces, nephews and now great nephews! We also celebrated 14 years together and six years of marriage this year.

In the interest of time I should really wrap this up, so as the clock heads toward 2014 I wish you a happy new year, filled with love, laughter and puppy licks! Christmas card 2013

Time for a flu shot!

August, September, October; how time flies when you are having fun and then recuperating from having fun!cruise balcony sweden

August found me and Mr. Puppyjackpot flying to Europe on a long- planned and much- anticipated Baltic Cruise. Since this is not a travelogue, I will not bore you with details but suffice it to say we had a fabulous time and the hardest part of the trip was leaving the puppies!

I often hear from other dog owners that they have never left their pups in a kennel, AND NEVER WILL!! They always say that last part quite adamantly as though a stay in a boarding facility is akin to a prison sentence. Then they ask me, “What do you do with your dogs when you travel?”

Guess what? We leave them at the kennel. I strongly believe that you should get your dogs accustomed to boarding from the time they are young. Get recommendations, find a kennel that you think you might like, visit it a few times prior to leaving your dogs, and then leave them overnight for just one night the first time. See how it goes. Once they get use to it, and realize that when they go to the kennel, you always come back for them, it will be fine. The kennel we go to is clean (probably cleaner than my house), spacious, and the owner keeps track of eating, peeing and pooping. What more can you ask for? The puppies arrive wagging their tails, and when they leave they always pause to give Mrs. Kennel Owner a good bye lick. I love my dogs, but frankly I am not going to give up traveling for the next 15 years. Not to mention, if every dog in my extended family showed up for Christmas there would be no room for the people.

Vivian comforting momVivian has been somewhat lax on her therapy dog visits, although through no fault of her own. August was a busy travel month and so we only were able to visit once. Upon our return from Europe both Vivian and I were excited to get back to work and we had fun reuniting with all of our friends. Vivian got lots of pets and I got lots of reprimands for being gone for so long. Shortly after that visit I came down with bronchitis, which quickly morphed into pneumonia and thus ended our visits for several weeks. But Vivian, ever the therapy dog, simply transferred her work to home, and became a home health therapy dog!

Earlier this summer I mentioned that I have been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. While unhappy with the diagnosis, and not thrilled with the treatment, I am happy to know the devil I am dealing with now. I am not an RA blogger and don’t intend to become one, but if you want to know more, RAWarrior.com is a great source of information. What I do know is that the dogs have been a great source of comfort, cheer and reason to move this summer and fall. When my depressed immune system decided not to fight the nasty European bug I caught, I could have easily fallen into “woe is me” syndrome; however the dogs wouldn’t let me do that. They have to be fed, they have to potty and they require a certain amount of petting everyday or they get crabby. Mr. Puppyjackpot would say that sounds a lot like his wife! Ike sleeping

So with a little lovin’ from Therapy Dog Vivian, her big bro Ike and the fabulous Mr. Puppyjackpot, I am feeling better, back to work and looking forward to our visit to the Warroad Senior Living Center tomorrow. To all of our local fans, visit the Marvin Windows and Doors Health Fair and the Warroad Senior Living booth October 28th and 29th. Vivian will be there from 2-5 PM for petting, photo opportunities and some emotional support before you get your flu shot!

It is hard to believe that summer is in the past and we are halfway through September! I live in Waytofarnorth Minnesota for the quality of life, the quality of men (I met my husband here) and the fact that after 15 years it has become home; but I do not live here because of the weather. Nope, summer is perfect but way too short as far as I am concerned and autumn, my favorite season by far, is often way too short or nonexistent as well. Let’s see, according to the photos on my Facebook page, snow flew on October 4th last year which is a mere two weeks away.

vivian hoseSo as I bemoan the end of summer, the pups continue to enjoy each and every day and whatever the weather brings! Vivian and Ike do not share my former poodle Anna’s fear of storms, for which I am grateful. Loud, sudden noises for which they are unprepared scare the living daylights out of them but thunder or hail does not seem to faze them at all. And going out in the rain? No problem! Vivian probably thinks that rain is just a giant hose from above! Vivian continues, ate age 2, to enjoy a romp in the hose. Ike, being older and wiser enjoys watching Vivian romp from behind Greg’s perch on the porch swing. Ike is funny, he doesn’t like getting doused with a hose, but open up the shower door and invite him in and he is happy to take a refreshing shower in the house. He especially likes the massaging showerheads!

Both enjoy being out with Greg and helping with “stuff”. Early on with Vivian we worked and worked on recall because I wanted Viv to be able to go outside and hang out with Ike and Greg. All the work paid off and she is a rock star when it comes to sticking around and not going outside the confines of the yard. Interestingly, neither dog really wants to be out in the yard without me or Greg. If we go in the house, they are soon at the front door ready to come in as well. Ike fishing

After work each night Greg changes clothes and asks the pups, “Who wants to go to Nana’s?” Nana, aka Mom, aka Donna lives next door, across a farm field. At Nana’s there are all sorts of fun things; a shed filled with critters, a garden to weed and trees to serpentine through. Not to mention Nana herself, who has a dedicated kitchen drawer for dog treats! This summer Vivian learned how to weed the garden and dig potatoes. Of course once the potato was dug she just ran around the yard with it in her mouth, but one lesson at a time, next year is soon enough to learn the next step in harvesting.

vivi fishing juneVivian and I continued our volunteer work this summer. We had to work around fishing, so sometimes we went on Saturday mornings and other times later on Sunday afternoon, but pretty much weekly we made it to the Senior Living Facility. My favorite visit this summer was on the 4th of July. We decided to go in that morning, before the festivities began in town, not realizing that the 4th is a big time for family reunions and that the residents might have a lot of company that day. Sure enough the place was packed and as we headed around a corner I heard “It’s the Therapy Dog! There is Vivian!” Suddenly Vivian was surrounded and getting her picture taken with various people, both small and big. As I looked around I realized I didn’t know any of these people, yet they all knew about Vivian. It was then that I realized I had started something I could not quit, Vivian means something to the residents and therefore we are in this for the long haul!vivian Sept

Happy Endings

 Last month I made a complete stranger cry.  I didn’t mean to, and I think they were happy tears, but nonetheless it took me aback.  We were sitting alongside each other in the waiting room of the Rheumatology Department, sharing an outlet charging our phones.  I had just gotten off of my phone after calling our company travel coordinator to ask her to put me on a later flight once again.  The woman next to me said, “I could not help but overhear, did you fly here on your own plane?”  Cue the giggles; I was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, a poodle tee shirt and no makeup so I could quite understand her astonishment that I might be traveling via private plane. 

“No”, I replied, “but I am lucky enough to be able to fly into the Twin Cities on our company plane”.

She asked me where I lived and what company I worked for and when I told her she asked me how I happened to move to Warroad.  I started to tell the tale because anyone who knows me knows I do adore a captive audience!

It was 1997 and I foolishly accepted a job in another city because I feared that it was the only job offer I would get.  Anna, my standard poodle and I packed up our home and moved, only to discover on day one of the  job that my reservations were correct and I should have listened to the voice in my head that said, “Peg, this isn’t the job for you”.   Three long and terribly unhappy months later, I was out of a job, about to turn 40, living in Cleveland Ohio, watching my savings account dwindle and talking to my poodle.

All that winter I applied for jobs, walked the poodle, went to the library and walked some more.  Anna loved unemployment and her unending joy every morning as she woke me up to go, for what became one of our four daily walks around the neighborhood, probably kept me from full on depression.  Nonetheless I fretted and made lists and worried that the next job could be worse than the last and I wouldn’t have any more savings to fall back on!  So what did I do?  What every forty-year old single woman wants to do; I moved in with Mom and Dad!

Of all the lists I made one thing consistently came up first, I wanted to move closer to my family, I wanted to go back to what I considered the “real Midwest”.    Dad convinced me that it would be easier to find a job in the Twin Cities, or Milwaukee or Chicago if I actually lived within driving distance, so I packed up my computer and my poodle and an interview suit and put the rest of my life in storage.  It was Memorial Day weekend when Anna I drove across the Ohio border into Indiana and I said aloud, “God, I have done everything I can think of, it is in your hands now.”

Now, I am not particularly religious or spiritual and many who know me might think that last line was just for affect, but it is true.  I really did say it, and in that moment I really meant it.  Mom and Dad put me to work painting the house, inside and out, while I reminded them that I was not destitute and could pay room and board; but Dad would assure me that I was working hard for my room and to save my money.   Many days while up on the scaffolding I would think, “It would be so much easier to pay rent, savings be damned!”  

Two weeks into the “Peggy moves home experiment” I saw a tiny ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a job in Warroad MN.   It really didn’t read like me, and based on the job title I was pretty sure they weren’t paying what I had been making in Ohio, and I really did not want to live in a tiny town in Northern Minnesota, but what the heck, I sent them a letter and a resume anyway.  I had done some free-lance contract work and thought I could perhaps score a short gig if nothing else; if only to give me a break from painting!    

Low and behold I received a phone call and I was correct in my initial impression of their advertisement.  I was way more than they wanted, but somehow I was able to talk my way into an interview and off to Warroad I flew.  Yep the next week was my first flight on the company plane.

So I interviewed with everyone and their Mother’s Uncle, which actually in a family business is kind of true, and flew back to Mom and Dad’s.    When Dad asked how things went, I told him “I don’t know why, but I think Warroad is where I am supposed to be.  It is not a city, it is about as far away as you can get in one state from family, and I would have to work in Human Resources and I always said I would never again work in a Human Resources department, but I think it is where I am supposed to be.”   The next day I got the job offer.

Once again I pack up the car, load the poodle and head out.  Waving goodbye to Mom and Dad in front of the freshly painted house, I say aloud, “OK God, I will trust you on this one”.  One year later, almost to the day, I met my future husband, Greg.

Wiping her tears away, my waiting room, outlet sharing companion says, “I love a happy ending on a story”   and I had to laugh, because I made her cry.   At that moment, the buzzer in my hand goes off and she says to me, “Good Luck” and I wave as I think to myself, “Every story has an ending, no matter what this doctor says, I am making this one happy too.”  Peggy and Greg married




Therapy starts at home

People often tell me that what I am doing with Vivian is a wonderful thing.  They give me great credit for being altruistic, giving, caring, and loving in our volunteer work with Therapy Dogs International.   I always say it isn’t about me, it is about the dog and the residents.  I would not do this if Vivian did not seem to love it, and she does.   I would not do this if the residents did not seem to react positively and if I didn’t hear that Vivian is making a difference in their lives.   I know that our visits to the nursing home are not about me,   I am just the handler that gets Vivian to her job.   In fact I had a colleague come into my office, look at Vivian’s picture and say “How do you know the poodle that visits my mom?”   I laughed and told her, “I am her transportation”. 

So what part of this volunteer team is about me?  I had many reasons for wanting to train Vivian to be a therapy dog.  I wanted to spend time with my poodle, one on one time, doing something positive yet with other people and dogs.  My first poodle was a grand dame, and we loved each other unconditionally, but I don’t think I did her any favors keeping her to myself.  She had a great life and really blossomed when we married Greg and moved to the country to live with him and Jack, his Golden Retriever.  Poodles need people, they are as a breed a very social lot and I perhaps hadn’t given Anna enough social interaction.   I was determined that Vivian would benefit from my mistakes with Anna.  I wanted her to be able to go with Greg and Ike in the car to run errands and be able to run around the farm, not on a leash.  I wanted to be able to do something with my poodle that would get me out of the house and feel like I was giving something back.   I grew up with parents who volunteered and have siblings who give back to their communities in many ways.  For the last 30 years I had worked, and traveled and moved and worked some more.  Frankly, I was a little worried about what I would do with my time when I retire!  Yep, that’s all the good stuff I told myself when I decided to train Vivian as a therapy dog; it was about Vivian and about the others, nothing about this was for me.

Way to lie to yourself Peggy.  It was all about me. We picked up Vivian two years ago on July 15th.   Shortly thereafter I started to hurt.  Nothing big, just pins and needles in my feet and hands when I got up in the morning.  Then I started to hobble a little while walking to the bathroom and found that I could not hold my coffee cup with one hand anymore.  The shampoo lid seemed to stick harder than it had and I just quit tightening the lid on my make up.   My hands would be really swollen by the time I got home from work, and my tennis shoes that had always fit me no longer did.  I blamed it on being middle age, overweight with genetically bad bones.   Little Vivian would wake me, needing to go out, and I would get up hobble to the back door (hoping beyond hope that I could move fast enough for her) and then when she came in sit and watch the sun rise while snuggling with a puppy and running my frozen hands through puppy fur until they moved again.  I didn’t talk about how much I hurt although my husband knew, heck he lives with me and couldn’t help but hear the “ow, ow, OW!” as I hobbled around the bedroom.   By the time I got to work I was doing pretty well, and by the time I got home from work I could barely find the energy to make dinner and move from the TV to bed.  Vivian required care and walking and love.  I had to go outside with her.  I had to teach her to come when called and not bite, and sit on command and go outside on her own.   The other positive was that Vivian could make me laugh.  It never mattered how bad I hurt, Vivian would do something crazy and I would laugh.  It is hard to turn inward when you have a puppy in the house.

I think it was realizing what Vivian was doing for my mental health that made me want to do therapy work.  If she could help me feel better every morning, and give me a reason to get out of bed, she surely could help others.  And if she needed me to help her do that, I would also need to keep going and focus on the training and the work of TDI and not on my pain.   Fast forward two years.    I am in Rochester at the Mayo Clinic and I have just finished my last appointment of a long day.  I call my husband and say, “It is definitive, I have Inflammatory Poly Rheumatoid Arthritis”   Later I receive a text from him, “Vivian is waiting for you, she has her bandana on”.