When you are an animal assisted therapy team it is not just all about the dogs. The other end of the leash, the human, is as important when relating to clients. Encouraging conversation is a big part of what we do and the animal is often the vehicle to do much more. During the Pet Partner evaluation we put a lot of emphasis on role playing and how the human volunteer will relate to those they work with. It is so much more than just bringing a dog into the mix.
This week Petey has been ill. He is recovering slowly but will probably not be able to work through the heat of the Las Vegas summer. He has several weekly assignments that are just his, not my other dog, Benny. Petey is unique because he is to tiny and can work places other Love Dogs do not.
I had considered taking Benny to come of these places but they really are not Benny's forte. I also do not want to overwork him during the heat. So I wondered if my going without a dog would be beneficial.
Why not? Would people remember me without a tiny dog in my arms? Would they enjoy just visiting with me without a furry friend to pet? Would they worry that he was not well?
So off I went to some of our favorite Petey assignments without a dog. A first for me!
I decided to simply tell everyone it was too hot for the tiny dog so he was taking the summer off.
I was absolutely thrilled when one woman asked if I was the lady who brought Petey because I did not have the chance to explain yet about his not being there. I told her the heat was not his friend and she wanted to hear how he was and how I was caring for him. I showed her pictures of him resting at home. We sat and chatted awhile and she seemed to enjoy the company. She told me to give the little guy a hug for her.
Then I went to another place and had a similar experience. Because I told them upfront that he was just too small to go out in the summer, and did not go into detail about his illness, they did not worry. They all knew who I was and made the connection to the little dog who is usually at the other end of a leash. I told them how I had to make sure he drank enough water and eat lots of food to get strong.
I told them he went to the doctor several times and everyone wanted to share back with me their doctor experiences.
Then I decided to have some people make Get Well cards for him and that was a great activity.
I told them Benny was being a very good brother and watching over Petey at home.
So while we are there to be Pet Partners with our animal, never forget the importance of what we as the human end of the leash contribute.