I met Julie Moran recently at a Virtual Assistants’ retreat in Phoenix. After getting to know her, I asked if she’d put together something for my blog. She’s passionate about therapy dogs, and about her Virtual Assistant business, www.delegatethedetails.com. Here’s the story of Julie and Payson, her therapy dog.
Here’s the story behing my therapy dog with the name of an Arizona city: Payson gets her name because Payson is where we got her. In 2001, we met our daughter, a student at NAU, in Payson to go hiking. Naturally, we had to buy groceries for her to take back to school with her so we shopped at the Payson Wal-Mart.
When we came out of the store, there were two little girls with a box of puppies—cutest little things you ever saw. We were told they were black lab/golden retriever mixes. Well, my husband said no, but my daughter and I double-teamed him. Gary didn’t have a chance and so I came back to Mesa with a little roly-poly black fur-ball of a puppy sitting in my lap the whole way.
We already had an older dog who was a shepherd/chow mix and she took Payson under her wing and taught her to use the dog door. Payson was very smart and it wasn’t long before she was house-trained and doing great.
Our older dog had to be put down due to cancer about two years later, so Payson truly was pet therapy for me in grieving the loss of another wonderful dog. I had heard feature stories on the news and read articles about pet therapy and I finally decided to research it. I thought Payson was probably a really good candidate to be a pet therapy dog because she is so mellow and calm, eager to please, loves people and is easily trained.
I started out on the Gabriel’s Angels website about four years ago, which then led me to Delta Society, one of the official registration organizations for pet therapy. I attended an informational meeting in Phoenix at Animals Benefit Club, who at the time, was one of the local agencies who provided training and evaluation for a pet therapy team to be officially registered with Delta Society.
It definitely piqued my interest and I took it further and attended the workshop training. Payson and I worked together, getting used to different locations, public places, and situations. I took a written test and we were then evaluated on-site at ABC.
Payson was expected to respond to my basic commands, recover from unexpected noises, equipment and a variety of situations with people. I was expected to be in control and always be aware of her feelings and safety, as well as having the welfare of our “patient” in mind. I was so excited and nervous on test day! I cannot even begin to tell you how badly I wanted this to succeed. Well, we passed our evaluation and were officially registered as a Delta Society Pet Therapy Team. I have to tell you—I was so happy I actually cried!
After completing volunteer training, we made our first visit to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center on Christmas Eve Day 2006. For about two years we continued visiting there but also became involved with Hospice of the Valley (HOV) and their Pet Connections volunteers on alternating weeks opposite our MGMC visits.
I eventually made the decision to focus strictly on volunteering with Hospice of the Valley and in that capacity we have visited patients at group homes, skilled nursing facilities, and palliative care units.
Our current assignment with HOV is to a group home in Mesa. The group homes are ideal settings for Payson since she is a medium dog and not quite tall enough to be easily petted from a hospital bed. At 65 pounds, she’s definitely not small enough to sit on someone’s lap! We visit our patients while they are sitting, lying down, or gathering with others in the living room.
Although we are part of the Hospice of the Valley, we do not limit our visits strictly to HOV patients and we delight in seeing everyone each week. They look forward to our visits and we even help the stress levels of staff. We spend time with each of our assigned patients (currently three in a house of ten patients total). Often we will just sit and talk and they will pet Payson as we’re talking or they’ll ask me to have her do her tricks.
Some of my patients aren’t aware we’re there, at least outwardly, but we always take time for Payson to sit on the floor beside them and I gently take the hand of the patient and place it on Payson’s head and talk about how soft she is. Payson is a real comfort and if someone is having a bad day, they forget about their troubles when Payson comes into the room with her bright eyes and bushy tail wagging.
Pet therapy is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and if I didn’t need to have an income, I would have several dogs and volunteer with them on a full-time basis. I am currently considering rescuing a small dog to be able to train for pet therapy in the future but it has to be the “right” small dog. I think many of my patients would love to hold a warm, soft, cuddly little dog in their laps and it would be easier than the occasions when they have to stretch or lean down to reach Payson.
Payson is over eight years old and slowing down but I know she would miss her visits if I retired her now. She knows the schedule, she knows the process for getting ready to go and she gets so excited. As soon as I start getting bath stuff together and gathering up the supplies I take with me, she knows where we’re going.
I have a friend who wrote a book about her visits with her dog. They were such special visits to returning soldiers who were wounded and it is so heartwarming to hear the stories and the difference Penny made in their lives.
From my own experience, I have seen people in ICU calm down when we walked in and a staff member was able to get their blood drawn when they couldn’t before. I’ve sat with people in the ER who were in pain and they seemed to relax a bit while they were stroking Payson. We’ve sat with kids in the ER who were waiting for a family members to be seen and it helped the time pass more quickly for them.
My personal favorite experience was a few months ago and not anything official at all. Payson and my daughter’s dog, Sydney, were out walking with my me and my grandkids. We stopped at a park bench near a playground and a little boy shyly came over to us but then ran away.
The woman who was with him came over to pet Payson and she explained that Tommy was autistic. Well, that was like throwing a challenge out to me. I wanted Tommy to experience Payson’s soft fur and sweet snuggles if he could. He was climbing on the playground equipment and kept looking over at us and his caregiver. Then he suddenly came running to me and grabbed my hand and pulled me to go with him. So Payson and I went and sat in the sand and he went back to climbing.
Pretty soon he sat down, too, about six feet from us. He kept sort of looking our way but not making eye contact or anything. His caregiver, Pam, came and sat with us, too, and he inched ever closer. Finally Pam asked Tommy if he wanted to pet the dog and he let her guide his hand to Payson’s head, but he quickly snatched his hand away.
This continued for a few minutes and he was getting more and more interested. Pam explained to me that this was a real break-through for Tommy because he had never wanted anything to do with the therapy dog that visited his classroom. She also commented on his making eye contact with both Payson and me a couple of times because that is very rare for him.
I told Pam I’d try to come again sometime when they’re at the park and we could work on things if she’d like. Due to the heat, it just never worked out. But I haven’t forgotten Tommy and what a difference Payson made for him, even if only briefly.
Numerous studies have been done about the benefits of pet therapy or even just having a pet, and many agencies and institutions have implemented the use of pet therapy. I hope the word continues to get out there and anyone in need will have an opportunity for a visit. I love to watch dog shows on Animal Planet and ESPN and invariably, many of the show dogs are also highlighted as therapy dogs or comments are made about their breed being excellent for pet therapy or service dogs.
I am currently pursuing volunteering with kids through Gabriel’s Angels. My application to volunteer with their group is pending fingerprints being submitted. So it will come full circle from when I first started researching pet therapy. Payson loves children and is so patient and calm that I think this would be a good fit and a nice change for her. I’m hoping to have that completed within the next month or so and get started by the beginning of 2010.
I would refer anyone who is interested in doing pet therapy to http://www.delta.org for more information. It is not limited to dogs—I’ve seen rabbits, cats, and miniature horses in the program, to name a few. There are several people locally who do the training and evaluation of the teams (ABC no longer does it), so if anyone is interested, I’d be happy to answer any questions and to put them in touch with the local evaluators. Feel free to provide my email address or phone number.
FYI, I did change the names of the little autistic boy and his caregiver, just for privacy. As far as my business goes, I currently work with business coaches and consultants, but have been wracking my brain to figure out a way to incorporate my love of animals with my business. I don’t know if you can work that into your blog post, but if there are show people or mobile veterinarians or dog trainers, or any other animal people out there who might need administrative assistance, travel arrangements, QuickBooks, calendar management, etc., I would love to chat with them.
Note from Judy: If you want to contact Julie Moran, go to her website at Delegate the Details