You only get one shot at a first meeting with your therapy animal when working with a new client. If the child or adult are afraid of dogs or just has no experience with dogs, that first introduction is critical. You want the steadiest of dogs that will be calm and quiet and still and patient.
Last week the Love Dogs were at our usual Story Time and a new child joined the activity. She had no experience with dogs at home or otherwise and the family thought she would be nervous. She is minimally verbal but her eyes are the most expressive I have ever seen. She speaks with those eyes and her smile is contagious.
We had three dogs in the room: Boise, Cassidy and Petey.
She first was placed on the mat next to Boise and right away the connection was visible. Little girl looked at dog, dog looked at little girl and that was it! Very soon we had the child petting Boise and brushing him and holding his leash and feeling how soft he is.
Boise is a pro at these first meetings! He even looks like he's sleeping with those soulful eyes closing and his breathing getting softer and softer.
Petey was sitting right next to them curled up in a lap. Initially we thought he would be too small and fragile for this child to interact with but she kept looking at him, very interested in the "baby."
We cradled Petey in his blanket and held him down in an assisted hold for the child to pet him. She was so gentle. And happy. She smiled with the sweetest smile and loved being close to the tiniest dog. Boise was not jealous at all and laid his large head on the child's foot. Now she had two dogs to interact with,.
Time to introduce the third, Cassidy, our Airedale. Cassidy's owner brought her over and had her lay down on her blanket close to the child. We showed her Cassidy's beard and the child thought this was very funny. She wanted to touch it. At one point she leaned over and kissed Cassidy.
Certainly this was a very successful first experience with dogs. But it was successful because the right dogs were involved. They were all quiet and well mannered and interested while not excited and their owners were expert at handling their dogs and working with first greetings.
Perhaps the dogs will become an integrated part of her therapies. Perhaps they will only meet monthly at Story Time.
Either way one child had a superb introduction to dogs and a fun day. The dogs knew they were being asked to do an important job and were so proud of themselves. And the volunteers knew their time was well spent.
For more information about the Las Vegas animal therapy program Love Dog Adventures visit www.lovedogadventures.com and for more information about the international therapy program Pet Partners, visit www.petpartners.org.