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Sometimes our work can be frustrating

Benny doesn't understand why he can't see some of his friends any more
Benny doesn't understand why he can't see some of his friends any moreSG

When you choose to partner with facilities and specific clients, sometimes a change in management or ownership means the therapy dogs are no longer welcome. This is the most frustrating part of being a volunteer program.

In the past few months three of our facilities underwent dynamic changes in management and personnel contacts. One facility decided they no longer needed "therapy dogs" because their new staff members would just "bring in their own dogs." These were untrained dogs that were permitted to roam the facility off leash with no handler facilitating their presence, untrained dogs barking and jumping, untrained dogs perhaps being stepped on or tripped over. I only know this because I showed up with my dog for our regularly scheduled visit and was greeted at the door by a barking dog, running in circles, lunging at my small dog. No one had advised us of this change and we decided it would not be safe to have our therapy dogs there with unleashed dogs running around. I was very proud however of how my dog behaved, not reacting at all and just looking around confused at the whole scene!

Another facility had three different volunteer coordinators in six months and no transition amongst the personnel. No one knew who we were and when I was able to chat with the new contact, it was decided they would not need therapy dogs any longer. We soon learned a staff member was bringing in her "puppies" to be resident dogs.

And perhaps the most frustrating situation is when you develop a close relationship with a particular therapist
and that person leaves the facility or changes their schedule and the new therapist does not know how to work with the dogs or want to. Often it takes time to teach the new therapist how we work with the dogs but sometimes they just don't want to incorporate the animals into their therapies. There really is nothing we can do in this instance other than be patient and hope the clients we worked with get the opportunity to see their dogs again.

But sometimes it all works out positively. Another of our partner facilities underwent significant change in ownership, management and our primary contact was leaving. But this facility worked with us to devise a transition plan so the new staff could get familiar with their charges and learn to work with the dogs. We downsized from five dogs to one or two and lessened our time there from weekly to monthly. But we know that our participation with the clients is appreciated and understood and over time, have confidence we will build back up to a full schedule.

So we focus on the success and facilities that want to work with us and understand that while we are volunteers we are integral to their staffing and their welfare. Some relationships have been in place for two, three and four years and this is what keeps our volunteers motivated.

We move on but sometimes I just sit and think of the people we no longer see and hope they remember us fondly.