Back to Work

cabana and i in our driveway, she has on her teal vest for therapy, i am wearing a fleece vest with therapy dog logoMy recent posts have all been about Cabana at play, but today, she was a working dog. Here we both are in our canine therapy uniforms.

This was our first time visiting the Alzheimer's facility totally on our own. After going there with the mentor twice and waiting for Cabana's jacket and my badge to arrive, I totally lost momentum. It took me weeks to finally pick up the phone and set up a schedule with the volunteer coordinator. It can be so hard to get the ball rolling sometimes, especially for someone as phone averse as me.

Today's visit was pretty good. After our last visit, I wrote down the names of some of the residents I'd met along with a short description, as a "cheat sheet" so I could remember them and address them by name. I was glad I'd done that because I saw them again today, and they were very pleased that I remembered them.

Cabana did great. She doesn't have to do much because being cute gets her a lot of free points. The weak link is me! I know I can't be too hard on myself because I'm new and externally, I do alright. I'm not nervous or too terribly awkward. But inside, I'm having a hard time!

It's very difficult to "read" the residents because they can be somewhat expressionless. They don't always respond when I ask them if they'd like to visit with Cabana, so I don't really know what they want. Some of them try to talk but can't get out the words. Really, the ones that ask me the same question over and over again are the easy ones! At least they're aware of our presence and are trying to carry on a conversation.

Last time I was there, I brought Cabana over to a table of women who were playing cards and eating potato chips. The whole time I was there, two of the women were having the most caustic argument, calling each other horrible names and being generally hateful to each other. I was rather taken aback and even said that maybe a staff member should move one of them to the other end of the table. The staff member walking by just rolled her eyes and said they do this all the time. But the funny thing is, today, the two women were sitting next to each other again, laughing and acting like best friends! These two women are now my impetus for going back--I want to see if they're friends or enemies the next time we visit!

Min  – (March 16, 2011 at 7:08 PM)  

Mimi, I think what you and Cabana are doing is an amazing thing! I wish Bella was better trained because I'm sure more people could benefit from her cuteness.

The Thundering Herd  – (March 16, 2011 at 7:57 PM)  

My father has been diagnosed with parasupranuclear palsy (PSP). Think of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's at the same time and you have a general idea. I mention this because he is in an "Alzheimer's" unit, a common catch phrase for those people with various dementia elements.

Visiting with him - and Cheoah - at least weekly has taught me a lot about these dementia related diseases, and one of the themes is the lowering of social inhibitions. The language you heard from the two ladies has no indication of their friendship, but is just a lack of social control on the speech. My bet is that they are the best of friends.

With Cheoah, I have learned to watch for physical cues from a resident to determine if they want to "meet" Cheoah. It is very common that in one visit they love dogs, but the next they are petrified of dogs. So even a previous visit tells you little about whether they are receptive to a canine this visit.

Also know that we relatives greatly appreciate the time you spend with a therapy dog. My dad responds to few stimuli today, but a canine is one thing he always responds to.

Becky  – (March 16, 2011 at 8:36 PM)  

Sounds like a great day! Ha, love the last part about the two ladies.

Jen  – (March 17, 2011 at 4:45 AM)  

It does get easier to visit, I have found. It takes practice, and I spent a bit of time thinking up conversation starters, to help. (Did you have a dog before you came here? Have you been outside today?) Those sorts of things. But, then I visit a nursing home and not everyone has alzheimers there, which does help- some are very sharp and remember our names each time. Others ask me the same questions everytime (generally how old is Spike? Does he live inside? :) ).

Anyway, it's important, valuable work, so well done!! I hope you enjoy it and you find it valuable time for you as well!!

Jen and the Black Dog Crew

Amber-Mae  – (March 17, 2011 at 7:16 AM)  

Looking great in that vest, Cabana. Sounds like you had a very busy day.

Beth and Alfie  – (March 17, 2011 at 8:21 AM)  

Good job to you both! Your just being there is such a benefit and blessing to the residents' day I am sure. What a learning experience!

Rudy - The dog with a blog  – (March 17, 2011 at 6:32 PM)  

Sounds like a very wonderful day!
Thanks fur sharing the pictures :)


Lauren  – (March 17, 2011 at 9:28 PM)  

Mimi, thank you so much for writing about this! It got me thinking about some of the challenges of coming in as a therapy team, and it's always so helpful to ponder these things BEFORE you go into a new situation so that you can (try) and be prepared!

You and Cabana are bringing so much joy to these patients - Cabana is adorable and she looks like she has such a gentle demeanor, too! Keep up the good work!

- Lauren (and Claire!)

Kari in WeHo  – (March 18, 2011 at 8:24 AM)  

It sounds like the two of you are doing amazing work!


Ally and Eclipse  – (March 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM)  

That's great! I know the hardest part about visiting the alzheimer's home with the local guide dog club with conversing with the residents! I LOVE Cabana's teal outfit!

Mango  – (March 19, 2011 at 2:51 PM)  

That is what it is all about. Cabana brings so much to those residents and it sounds like it is fulfilling for you as well.

Mango Momma

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