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

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”.    

Peggy and Vivian’s Great Adventure!

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!


A Typical Therapy Dog Visit for Vivian

Vivian May 2It looks like once again I took a “blog break” for a few months.  I wish I could say it is because winter has “flown” by, but in Minnesota we are still waiting for winter to leave and it is taking its own sweet time.  Vivian and I spent our winter volunteering on most weekends at the Warroad Senior Living Center.  Vivian has gathered quite a few resident fans, and seems to make more with each visit.  When we originally started visiting we would go at 1 PM on Saturdays, but found many of the people who asked for her to visit them were sleeping; so we asked if we could come in the morning.   Now we go about 10 AM and stay an hour or so; any more than that and Vivian gets a little antsy, and very warm.

A typical visit will find Vivian and me heading to the “Angle wing” (each wing is named after a local area) and visiting with my friend Belle’s mom, and then Mr. P.   Mr. P likes to pretend he is a grumpy old guy, but Vivian can usually get a smile out him and when we  leave he always says “Come back soon, bring the dog”.   After another quick pet from Ilene, we head to Birch.

As soon as we cross over to Birch Vivian perks right up; she does love the ladies of Birch!  Our first visit with Mrs. R starts theVivian May 3 same way every week “Vivian, I am so glad to see you!  And what is your name Dear?”   We visit a while, Vivian gets plenty of petting and then we sign the guest book as “Vivian and her Person Peggy”.  Next we head across the hall to see Ms. B.

Ms. B doesn’t talk, but she laughs and loves it when Vivian licks her fingers.  Viv will put her head in Ms. B’s lap and with frozen fingers Ms. B will push her hand through a poodle top knot.   Then Vivian makes a play for the tennis balls on the bottom of the walker, I say “leave it”, Ms. B laughs and off we go!

Next is the common area and Vivian’s coffee club.  Usually there are two to four ladies having coffee and Vivian makes the rounds from one to the other for petting and adoration.  This group is very talkative and we enjoy visiting about all sorts of things; but especially Vivian.  They want to know if she is full-grown?  Does her hair grow fast? Do you cut her hair? How much does it cost to cut her hair?  Last week my favorite question was, “Would you ever consider polishing her toenails?”   After a chorus of goodbyes, and one “I love you Vivian!”  we head to assisted living.

Once in assisted living we stop to visit with the men’s version of Vivian’s coffee club.  Carl barks at Vivian; Vivian wags her tail and I say, as I do every Saturday “One of these days she is going to bark back and you will be so scared!”   We laugh, Carl gives us another “woof” and we head to our last visit of the day, Richard’s room.

Heading down the hall, Vivian picks up speed and if I didn’t make her heal, she would go at full speed into Richard’s room at the end of the hall.  Once at the door he opens his arms, I let go of Viv’s leash and she flies over to him, to get a back rub!   I sit on the couch, Vivian lays at Richard’s feet and we spend some time talking about “stuff”.  Sometimes it is about birds, or canoe trips, and this week it was German Shepherd’s and why they don’t look like they use to.   I might have to look up GSD’s and see how they have changed over the years because Richard knows a lot about the breed and my knowledge is based on one I knew when I was 8 Vivian Maynamed Shane.

As we leave Richard’s we pass by the café and say hello to the assisted living ladies who are coming down for lunch.  A hug from the mail carrier, for Vivian not Peggy, and we are back in the car headed home.  So that is a typical visit from Vivian and her person “What’s-her-name”!