Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Interns

We doggies are often called ‘man’s best friends’. But in many heartwarming cases, ‘Man’ has turned out to be our best friend. Many of us  are lucky to have stable and loving families, but for others, life is full of abandonment and uncertainty. Being given up by your family, being abandoned as a puppy, is the most emotionally painful thing for a dog to experience. But many such doggies, do get a second chance when an ‘angel’, a ‘good human’, picks them up and makes them a part of their loving family. Love is all we need after all. To tell you just how much it can change our lives, here are the stories of 3 of my interns - Myshka, Pearl and Milo.
Therapy dog Myshka
Myshka, Milo and Pearl are my interns. They are young dogs, in-training under me to become therapy dogs. They are being groomed by me to learn the finer nuances of how a therapy dog should behave. But Oh My God! right now they are just a bunch of high energy kids, who just want to play and get into trouble. Myshka is the eldest, but still thinks she’s a puppy. Pearl looks like a mature young dog, but is the one who will silently chew up a charger or a sofa, or provoke Milo to misbehave. Milo or Monkey as he is fondly called, is the youngest and the naughtiest of all. He is outrightly a brat!! But they all have golden hearts, with potential to heal the hearts of those in need. Only if they can focus, and learn! I understand their free spiritedness and know that this sense of freedom and security has come to them after a long time. Coming from foster homes and neglected families, they found their way to Animal Angels family who gave them a second chance.

Myshka, a female fawn Lab with light brown eyes and a pinkinsh brown nose, is the cuddly pup every dog lover dreams of. She was abandoned as a pup by two previous families before being adopted by our therapist Gayatri Ayyer. When she was adopted, Myshka was an overexcited pooch with high energy levels and impaired social skills. She could never sit steadily in one place and would jump at the slightest of noises or movements. A behaviour at which I would often roll my eyes.

Myshka and Gayatri in a therapy session
But after coming into this family, Myshka has found stability. Gayatri, her family, me and the Animal Angels team has worked with her to make her feel secure and loved.  Over the past few months, she has been trained to be calm, understanding and patient at work but maintains her playful nature when free, always willing to fetch that ball for you. At work she now knows how to respond to the emotional needs of the special children that she works with. Her new human family has also benefited a lot since she entered their lives. She has helped them overcome their grief over the death of their former pets. She is almost one and a half years old now, and has been with her family for a year. Her pet parent- Gayatri, says that Myshka has helped her become a better trainer and therapist.

Pearl, in some ways, is an exact opposite of Myshka. She comes off as an extremely calm and understanding young Golden Retriever, who can be very quiet , unlike a retriever pup. But this calmness is very deceiving, as she might be quietly chewing up something for all you know. I have to really keep a keen eye on her when she comes over for her training.  

Pearl with her trainer and handler, Aakash

Pearl working as a Comfort Dog at Mumbai International Airport 
The year old pup has been with the Kelkar family for 5 months now and has helped them in great ways in this short span of time. Her parent, Mr. Kelkar, knew that she was the right choice, the moment he met her for the first time at a farm in Pune. Mr. Kelkar lives with his wife and mother-in-law. With both his sons being settled abroad, and he having retired from his job, he had dedicated his time towards our work at Animal Angels. Mr. Kelkar had seen Pepe and me work since a long time, and he had always wished to have a therapy dog, not only for himself, but as a benefit for the society. When they got her home, she became a steady companion for him and his family. Mr. Kelkar’s 84 year old mother-in-law, who was initially reluctant to having a pet in the house, literally had a change of heart. Now she plans her entire day to have Pearl well cared for. Pearl has filled in the loneliness that this family felt in the house.

Pearl with Mr Kelkar

The family is now deeply attached to Pearl, and says she’s been a great emotional support to them. Pearl recently lived with Pepe and me a few days ago, when Mr. Kelkar went off overseas and we later heard him tell Aakash how she has learnt a lot from us, her seniors. He says Pearl has been the best choice and his heart swells with pride and love to see his little pooch help those children at school overcome challenges just as she did for him and his family.

Baby Milo
Milo, the Mahogany Cocker Spaniel, the only boy of the batch and the most active of them all, has a story of his own. He was abandoned as a two month old puppy! Just imagine!! Who would do that!! He was neglected by his former owners, who were first time pet owners, and had no clue how to handle a high energy pup in his teething phase. By the time he was rescued, he had developed severe trust issues with humans and had to be rehabilitated. He used to get scared whenever anyone approached him. He would be very defensive of being touched and held.

When he was adopted by the Lonkar family, little did they know that this notorious little boy had the potential to be patient and heal someone. Aakash and Sneha, his parents worked tirelessly on his behavior, with senior Therapy dog Pepe and me, as his constant companions and friends. Slowly, but steadily he started developing trust in humans around him. He turned out to have an excellent temperament when it came to working with children. His transformation from that of a scared little canine to, ‘Milo - the Monkey’; the name he currently responds to, and which describes his personality perfectly- is indeed astonishing!

Milo has been living with Pepe and me for quite some time now, and we are helping him learn our ways of being a therapy dog. Recently he debuted as a therapy dog! He did a solo session as a, at a center for mentally challenged adults. He did exceptionally well, and followed almost all the pointers that I had taught him about being in a therapy session. Pepe and me and the entire Animal Angels family was extremely proud of him. He has indeed come a long way. Its not like he's all well behaved all of a sudden. He still needs to learn a lot about patience and responding to emotions. There are still a few behavior issues that I need to iron out in him. He's still Milo - the monkey for me, but the love he has brought into the family is immeasurable.

I am Therapy Dog Goldie. Me and my team of therapy dogs work with Animal Angels Foundation, India's only organization working in the field of Animal Therapy. To know more about our work, you can log on to www.animalangels.org.in or follow us on Facebook - www.facebook.com/animalangelsfoundation

Inputs by Niharika Ravi

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bravehearts - Felicitating the Working Dogs.


11 years! Seems like a long time doesn’t it? For me, more than 10 years of service as a Therapy dog has made this time seem to fly by. It sure has been a memorable journey. 

Me (leftmost), Pepe, Sunshine and Coco
Along this journey, I have been a a friend for some, who would whisper their secrets with confidence in my ears,  and an angel for others, where I  would help them back to their feet while they fought a war they thought they were losing. A journey that has not been easy, but has always been fun. A venture that I have dedicated my heart and soul to, and always put my 200% in. These past 11 years have taught me so much about myself, my doggy friends and apprentices, my humans, and those whom I help. Sometimes I look at the new pups who train with me to be therapy dogs, how they stare at me in wonder as I endure the pain of children rolling over me or sit next to a person for hours without complaining. I wonder at these times if I was one of these novices once. Well, as you can see, I have grown since then.

Therapy Dog Sunshine with her medal and goodie bag

A few weeks back, these past 11 years of hard work and perseverance, of giving love, care and support, got recognized!! Me and my fellow working Therapy dogs were awarded  nice, shiny medal by the Bombay Veterinary college. They had organized an event called 'Bravehearts' where they felicitated other working dogs like my therapy dog team.  There we met other Braveheart dogs like, the NSG (National Srcutiry Guard) Dogs, the CISF (The Central Industrial Security Force) Dogs who patrol and guard the airport, the Bomb Squad dogs, who sniff out nasty explosives and keep us safe! They had always inspired me as the awesome bomb squads and routine baggage checkers at airports and I would go green with envy when Minal read articles about their great work to me and I often pledged to become one of the best therapy dogs there is. All these dogs doing such wonderful jobs were recognized for their worth. Usually its the humans who get the recognition, but it was good to see the efforts of these working dogs being recognized. Thanks to Bombay Veterinary College for that.

Manali congratulating Sunshine
The event was memorable!! I was so happy to see the proud faces of my team. Therapy dog Pepe, Sunshine and Coco were also being felicitated and they were accompanied by their humans.  After me, Therapy dog Pepe has worked the most. She has been working on varied projects, from working with children with special needs to the latest Comfort Dog project at the Mumbai International Airport. Coco, another experienced therapy dog has worked on the pioneering pilot project of providing Animal Therapy at the David Sassoon Juvenile Delinquent Center, besides being the pillar of strength and joy of life to his parents Atul and Meghna Loke. Sunshine, the youngest but the most promising therapy dog has worked since a very young age with her parent and therapist Manali Randive on individual counseling cases. Currently she is winning hearts as a Comfort dog on the Mumbai International Airport.   

The Team
At the event, my handler Aakash, Sunshine's human Manali, Coco's parents Meghna and Atul Loke, my co-therapists Gayatri, Jai, Sneha and Bansari were all present. They were all elated and what can I say, I was certainly on cloud nine! The only people I missed were my parents Meena Srivastav, my human brother Sanket and sister Tanya and most importantly I missed Minal who raised me to be a therapy dog. And of course, I have had my mentors, foremost amongst them being Kutty, the first therapist dog of India, my inspiration. But I know that their love is always there with me.

The Team
Now the time has come for me to step back from work. The Comfort Dogs project at the airport has been a great experience and has taught me a lot. But as my age proceeds, I would like to focus more on sharing my knowledge with my junior, in-training therapy pups, who look up to me for guidance. It has been a beautiful journey and the invaluable prize at this stage has made it even more exquisite than before. 

Inputs by Niharika Ravi

To know more about me and my team's work, log on to www.animalangels.org.in

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Man’s best friend is also man’s best work-out buddy

Man’s best friend is also man’s best work-out buddy

Every day on my morning walk with my human mom, we meet at least 5 other dogs and their human parents walking.  The others who walk on their own look at us with envy (at least most of them). 'I wish I had a dog who would walk me me, run with me in the morning.'

It is no surprise that we dogs love our walks, runs and play time. As creatures

that are primarily born to work for survival or to earn our keep, we often get

bored of just sitting around all day with not much stimulation and exercise.

This, I’ve noticed is a problem with our human companions as well. All this

sitting around often makes both dog and human overweight, unhealthy, stressed

out and frustrated. Additionally, a dog that is not able to use his mental and

physical energies effectively, will often become destructive, depressed, hyper-
active, attention seeking and be termed a ‘bad dog’. Little do those who are

bestowing this label realise, that the dog isn’t being ‘bad’ but is just attempting

to blow off some pent up steam. The good news is that just a few extra walks or

runs a week can easily change this. 

Even just an extra 30 minute walk a day can do wonders for both pet and owner.

Just ask Abhijeet Thakur. Abhijeet met my friend and fellow therapy dog

Scotty at the Pune Marathon and shared this inspiring story- After spending

a particularly uneventful year sitting on the couch with his pet Labrador and

finding that there was less and less space available on said couch, what with

both of them simultaneously expanding and all; Abhijeet and his dog decided to

do something about it. Now nearly a year later, they have lost a combined 35-40

kilos between the two of them, are healthier, happier, and Abhijeet even ran in a

marathon this year! Something he would have not even thought was possible.

I’ve often heard Minal say that a healthy owner often translates into a happy,

healthy dog. This is true. Research on the subject has proven that humans who

have furry companions are more likely to be fitter than those who don’t and

that those who exercise with their dogs are more likely to stick to their exercise

routines. Exercising with your dog also increases the mood-boosting benefits

of exercise even further. Exercise releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone

that contributes to a feeling of joy and well-being; interactions with dogs also

release endorphins. Now just imagine how beneficial that big double dose will

be for both dog and owner when the two activities are combined..!

So what are you waiting for? Call out to your four-legged friend and get moving

today, set up an exercise routine for the two of you. Both your dog and your

waistline will be eternally thankful..

Inputs from Prerna Singh
To know more about me and my team of therapy dogs, log on to our website www.animalangels.org.in or visit our facebook page www.facebook.com/AnimalAngelsFoundation

Monday, March 11, 2013

Women's best friend

A women is a special creation of God. No matter of what specie they are, God has made them all the same. A women has to undergo so much stress, many time it is such that she can't talk to anyone about it or share with anyone. So many times, she just needs someone who will listen to her, comfort her. Who better than a dog to provide her company in such times. We dogs won't frown to see your messy hair in the morning, nor will we judge you if you put on a bit of weight. You can talk and talk and we dogs can listen to you with out a word (with our ears perked and head tilted to add on to the cuteness). So in all a dog is not a man's best friend, but a Women's REAL best friend. I got a letter from my dear friend Bansari, with who I spent some time last year, who made me realize what difference a little time spent with dogs can do for women who are silently undergoing a lot. Lots of love, hugs and licks to you dear Bansari and hope we meet soon.

Here are few excerpts from her letter to me....

Dear Goldie….

For long, I have known that YOU (dogs) are considered to be humans’ best friends and that someone who has never interacted with dogs in his or her life has never been made to feel special through the language of unconditional love and endless attention. Coming from a typical “pets are not allowed” family, this has been a story of my life as well…but not until recently, when I was touched by an Angel in form of YOU who gratified my everlasting desire of experiencing this unconditional love and endless attention.

It was exactly a year back around this special Women’s Day that I decided to re-join Animal Angels Team and volunteer to work for one of your amazing project with a children's remand home. My eagerness to join your team was mainly in form of seeking a temporary escape route from the never-ending…nerve-cracking problems of my life. Especially from the recent added cherry on the “cake of problems”... of being diagnosed with PCOS (for those who don’t know what it is PCOS is  'polycystic ovarian syndrome') – and just as the name sounds odd and related to girly stuff…its symptoms and effects are weird enough to make a women NOT feel like a normal WOMEN herself. So while I dealt with the multiple emergency alarms of “lose weight…work out…do yoga …control your diet… take hormone tablets…I was extremely demotivated, confused and lost in the whirlpool of thoughts of what should I do and not do...would these extreme mood swings go away.

 It was 10th March 2012, when I met you first…fully excited and eager to experience the feeling that I had heard from many of my friends and colleagues. As our work at the kids rehab center grew steadily, I got more focused on learning the therapy work and in capturing its effects on the kids that were involved. Little, did I ever focus on- how your presence was also making me feel much calmer. I only started thinking this around the 6th therapy session with the kids, which got cancelled because of you falling ill. It was around the afternoon that day; I was sitting at home and watching TV and feeling like something was missing…or someone that I had not spoken to during the day that I usually did. It was only then I realized that, every Saturday, at this hour, I used to be with you at the rehab center waiting for kids to assemble for their play session…and while doing so I used to talk to you about different things of my life …while you silently listened and kept giving me those soothing licks and comforting eyes and all of your undivided attention. It was at this moment that I realized that YOU were having an impact on me as well and that I had found a new friend… in YOU… who gave me the unsolicited essence of friendship, trust and unbridled joy….a shoulder that did not judge me or questioned me or said “I Am BUSY …talk to you later”. Yes… we had created an emotional bond of love and a new relationship between us and you had become the new support system of my life. 

I then started thinking more about this bond and recognized that it was not just that I found a new friend in you… I also felt much more NORMAL and happier even when those nerve-cracking problems had not moved an inch away. By just petting you, I had managed to decrease my blood pressure and relieve my anxiety and I was now feeling much calmer and patient and was being able to divert my thoughts away from myself and my worries of life. It was threw learning to groom you during the therapy sessions that I was now focusing more on my own physical appearance which is extremely important for every women, especially the ones with PCOS. The bigger magic that I felt was when I realized that I had actually managed to lose some of the PCOS gifted stubborn weight... while walking and playing with you, which I was not able to do due to lack of motivation to improve my diet and exercise regime. 

Though our interaction was limited and only for those few days.…I felt those days was like the best dates of my life because I got the biggest gift from you in form of comforting answer to  the scary question that I recently had to face through PCOS Diagnosis. It was you who gave me this relief that, while I may not be able to have a complete family in future…You will always be there who I can look up to, to complete my family and make me feel a complete woman. Thank you for coming in my life and for improving my health and for providing me the everlasting motivation to love and appreciate myself and to see things in a different light. Thank you for teaching me that when you’re happy, one should dance and wag your entire body. And a big thank you showing me an alternate to those crazy workouts… in form of getting me into the habit of taking long walks which has not only helped me to improve my health but has also helped me to connect with my inner self.


Whoever said diamonds are girls’ best friend… I disagree to them today…because the real diamond of my life is “SHE” - Goldie…And because, I cannot have you around me all the time… I have bought this cute puppy soft toy…which reminds me of you and the wonderful magic you brought in my life… all the time!

Inputs from Bansari Pandya

To know more about me and my team of therapy dogs, log on to our website www.animalangels.org.in or visit our facebook page www.facebook.com/AnimalAngelsFoundation

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Its a four !!!

I heard Minal reading a few lines out of a book she had found interesting - " The Human Half of Dog Training" by Rise Van Fleet. " Dogs live with people. Dogs depend on people. Like it or not, for the overwhelming majority of dogs, this is the reality. Some people train their dogs to live comfortably in the human world; others simply expect dogs to figure out on their own." She told me how people sometime go wrong in establishing good communication with their pets, even if their intentions are good. She told me how lucky I was to have such a loving and understanding family. An ideal pet-owner relation is the one where there is good communication - both ways. I may just whine or bark, wag my tail or lower my eye and my human mom or my best friend Minal understands me. I do the same for them. I have met people who wonder, who are surprised at the level of understanding between us. But when you know how to communicate, it does not matter if there is one dog of four dogs in the family.

Minal told me of one such family in Pune, our own extended family of Animal Angels team which boasts of two senior therapy dogs and two in the making. It is one of those families with more dogs than human!! I am talking about the Chaterjee Family from Pune who have three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador. Here is what the head dog  Kiara had to say about her family when i asked her about how they all get along together. She talks about the joys of motherhood and how being a good pet and a good therapy dog are possible along with having fun!

One Golden Retriever is a lot of fun. Two a bonus indeed. Not for the Chatterjee family though. They have three Golden Retrievers (Kiara the mom, Houdini aka Lea the daughter and Thele aka Skipper the son) and one Labrador (retired therapy dog Krunk), all of whom are therapy dogs! Straining at their leashes, (for various reasons), this trio takes Sudhindra Nath Chatterjee for a long walk every morning. “Houdini is looking forward to catching other dogs unawares, Thele is interested in people and I am simply waiting for the walk to end,” sighs their mother Kiara as she flops down next to Krunk the Labrador, a retired therapy dog.
Back from playing ball, Kiara watches them let their hair down and says quite proudly that most of her babies-now over a year old- and scattered across the state are on their way to becoming therapy dogs. “Houdini and Thele are lucky since they have uncle Krunk and me to learn from. Pepe, who has taken over from Goldie is my pup too. Houdini has joined the Animal Angels clan and Thele is set to follow suit,” she wags.
Hoping to inspire others, Kiara, a veteran therapy dog herself tells us what it takes to be super mom, therapy canine and perfect pet.
From right, Kiara, Thele, Pepe Minal and Houdini 

Four of you must run riot at home: The kids by and large leave Krunk alone, choosing me to spar with instead coz they know he is old. At times, we get scolded sweetly by Rakhi, especially when Houdini and Thele dig up the lawn and eat up the plants, but it’s too much fun to resist. We all like our early morning walks and then the time we play ball. The rest of the morning is to sleep and to recoup. Lunch in the afternoon is another highpoint of the day. Krunk insists on eating first and often needs to be hand fed. Thele and Houdini always eat together from one bowl – a childhood habit I guess. I am the proverbial vacuum cleaner, I eat last and clean out all leftovers. 

What does Krunk think of all the mischief around him? The word that springs to my mind when I see Krunk’s interaction with them is “avuncular”. He watches them joust with each other, with a tolerant “kids will be kids” look on his face. They, on the other hand, make time for him, nuzzling up to him, licking his face, etc. So many mornings, I have gotten up to find Thele cuddled up next to Krunk. There is some male bonding happening there! To your question of favourite, I do think he favours Houdini though it is Thele who spends more time with Krunk. 

The Gang!

How are Houdini and Thele as kids and now as working dogs: Despite Houdini’s rambunctious nature, she seems to have taken to her role as a therapy dog very well. The videos show that she has been happy to interact with the autistic child undergoing therapy with her. Overall, she acts far more mature there than she does at home. Thele on the other hand, has not yet jumped into the hurly-burly of therapy dog life and generally spends most of his time looking and acting extremely chilled out at home!
I am like a big lady at home and outside as well. Being generally happy and mature works well for becoming a good therapy dog as Minal tells me. I have been talking to Houdini – when I can get her to lie beside me- and to Thele about this. They have my name and Krunk’s to live upto!

Houdini at work with Minal at the Animal Angels Therapy Center

What is the scene like, When you have visitors : The larger question is how the guests will react to us - four large dogs is a bit overwhelming especially when we have a very in-your-face attitude (literally!) Whenever anyone visits, Houdini is the lead dog, barking her head off. Standing with her front paws on the main door grill, she puts anybody who doesn’t know her off. Thele takes after me and generally doesn’t bark. Krunk, is hard of hearing and when he realizes Houdini is barking, he generally barks his head off without a clue why he is! We are locked up in a bedroom if the guests are scared of dogs, though loveable we are. Sometimes we bark our heads off in protest, but Rakhi comes and tails between our legs, we have to listen. 

Seeing us all together it is difficult to picture us as docile therapy dogs!
What do all of you dislike the most? It would be bath times for Thele and Houdini who turn up their noses and would like to roll in the mud instead. Krunk and I enjoy bath time. All of us dislike being segregated or incarcerated in a room. The humans think we dislike being separated from them, which is true. A day or two is ok but more than that has us worrying. Not a day goes by when we do not discuss something about them when they go on vacation. 

What are you scared of? For Thele and Houdini, anything unknown is scary. To some extent they take after me. I am petrified of crackers and cower under the table with teeth chattering like castanets all the while. But now with Minal working with us, she has taught us to deal with new sights, sounds and touch. And that has made us more calm and apt to handle strange sounds and touch.

What qualities make you all a cut above the rest and great therapy dogs? It has to be our temperament, our loving and gregarious nature, energy levels and our enjoyment of interacting with everybody.

Therapy dog Kiara with her owner Rakhi Chaterjee at a special  program for pediatric Cancer Patients at Ruby Hall Cancer Center, Pune.
Did you want the pups to be therapy dogs as well? Well, yes. I know they can bring joy or sunshine in people’s lives. With me and Scott as parents, its in there genes. 

Do you feel the pressure at work? We do sometimes. But mostly, since we can gauge the changes in reactions and actions of the child or the adult we interact with, we know what is likely to happen next. Besides, genetically we are meant for therapy and so quite look forward to our sessions! To see humans recovering automatically puts a woof on our lips and a spring in our steps.
Whats your advice to pups who are thinking about therapy as a career? Jump right into it. Seeing the humans happy is the most satisfying thing for us dogs. Just encourage them every step of the way.
See you at work!

Blog inputs: Uma Karve and, Sudindra Nath and Rakhi Chaterjee, Minal Kavishwar

To know more about me and my work, log on to www.animalangels.org.in

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spark the Rise - Vote for Animal Angels

Spark the rise

Animal Angels Foundation is participating in the “Spark The Rise” competition, which offers substantial financial aid to projects that win the monthly voting contest. We request you to cast your vote for our project. This will go a great distance in helping us spread joy happiness and comfort with the help of our four footed therapists.

Animal Angels Foundation is a registered non-profit organization, India 's only one working to promote the benefits of Human Animal Interaction. Animals are since a long time known for their unconditional companionship and healing qualities. Our team of pet owners, volunteers, therapists and trained therapy dogs reach out to those in distress and provide them comfort.

Since the past nine years the Animal Angels teams have been spreading joy and laughter to more than 10, 000 individuals, over 50 special schools, hospitals, institutes. 

To vote:
  1. You can log on to www.sparktherise.com and vote for "Animal Angels Foundation - Animals for Human Wellness" under the social entrepreneurship category
  2. SMS your voteKey in - MHRISEP07200    SMS to 54646 
  3. Via Missed Call - Call +912261850368 with your mobile number* to vote. A confirmation SMS will be sent to you after your call.

Cast a vote, spread the word, be an Angel!!

To know more about us log on www.animalangels.org.in

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mom I want to be a therapy dog when I grow up! - Pepe interviewing her idol Goldie

As the first face and mascot of Animal Angels I will be passing the baton on to Pepe, one of gorgeous young and promising therapy dogs in training. A one year old golden retriever, she is born to therapy dogs blond mom Kiara and dad Scotty. As Pepe starts to walk in my shoes, she has so many questions running through her head. She shoots some off to me and I try and answer them patiently. Excerpts:

You are my hero Goldie. How long have you been a therapy dog?
It will be seven years in March 2013! I began training with Minal when I was two month old. It seems like such a long time ago, but I remember it like yesterday when she first took me to the special child and taught me how to work with him.

Me and little Pepe

What is the training process like? How long does it go on?
Depending on how quick you are to learn, the training takes approximately a year if you start as a pup. As a puppy you have to learn to enjoy being with new people, in new places, being petting by strangers, playing gently without hurting people etc. You also learn about obedience and communication. It’s not as tough as it sounds. It only means you should learn to talk and understand your handler. Coz many times when you are actually working with a patient, you don’t have time for the commands and signals. It just takes a look for me to understand what my handlers –Aakash or Minal- want and for them to understand what I want. It is this communication and understanding that is key to being a successful therapy dog.  

After that you start your training on field. You learn about children who are different in the way they talk, walk, look and understand and you learn to be compassionate with all. You meet people who are sad or sick and you learn to cheer them up. You may not get all of it at first but you should learn to rely on your senses to help.

Any particular incident from your work that has stuck with you?
I remember when I was still in training, I had accompanied my hero, therapy dog Kutty, to a programme where we met people who had survived or lost their loved ones in a train blast. The scenario was very new for me. Till then I had mostly worked with children. Kutty went into the room first, calm, confident, greeting everyone with a tail wag, letting everyone pet her at their own pace.  When I entered, the room it felt so emotionally charged up, it seemed like people had been crying. I was nervous, didn’t know how to react. Plus I had never been with so many people. But I followed Kutty’s and Minal’s lead. I learned that even though the people were sad and grieving, they were very happy to see us. Our wagging tails gave them a reason to smile. I learned to relax, to understand that our touch and our wags were helping heal their sorrow. That really made me grow.....as a therapy dog.

Do you think I can become a very good therapy dog? What qualities do I have that suit it?
I can tell, you are already on the path, that’s why Minal and Aakash have already started taking you for visits. You are gentle, obedient and patient. You are learning to observe the humans around you and to respond to their emotions. Most of the times, humans don’t even realize what emotion they are going through. It is our role to make them realize it and help them through it. All these qualities are a must because as therapy dogs, we work with children and adults who are ill or hurt or sad. Just being there quietly, letting them pet us or read to us and wagging our tails makes a world of difference to these humans.

Pepe in training

Don’t you feel like running with the children? Barking in delight and jumping when the child reacts as you want him/her to?
When you see people in trouble, doesn’t your heart just melt? Mine does. I know I have to wait and be patient when a child takes forever to try and pick up a ball or trying to show me something. I recognize the trouble some kids have in reading which I don’t criticize. I also know when adults and children have been hurt and I know it is my job to pep them all up, to build confidence, to show love and to make them care about themselves.  So yes, I do feel like whooping in joy when the treat comes to me from the scared little hesitant hands and I do so want to encourage and lick some children who have shown remarkable progress but I know it can scare them and that would be a disaster. So I let them take the lead and follow them happily.  That’s what training teaches you.

We do feel like jumping and barking sometimes. It’s not what many people think that therapy dogs can’t have fun, that they are not allowed to jump, bark, beg and misbehave. We can be spoilt and pampered pets who roll in the mud or jump in excitement when we see our loved ones. It’s just that we know the difference in being rough with our owners and being gentle with the patients. We are professionals and can switch our roles from being a pet to being a thera-pet.

Is working with children different from working with adults?
Not very much except that adults listen lesser than children. Often, adults take longer to unwind as compared to children. The good bit here is that neither can pretend to be somebody or something else with us. If they are sad they let it show as they d when they are happy. Our job is always to pep them up. 

What is your secret to success?
Like I said, it is all about getting into the mood.  At home or at work, it is very important to put everything that’s in your head aside and to just stay calm.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love to meet children and to see the smiles on their faces when I just wag my tail. I love to see them squeal in excitement when I catch a ball in mid air. And these are children who may not get a chance to smile or play like other normal children. I feel that my presence makes their life better.
It’s tough to say what I enjoy most....but it would be the fact that like everybody at home has a job, I have many: I guard my home and love the people there as well as take care of so many others across Mumbai! 

What do you do to relax?
I like a good massage and brushing from my mom, Meenu Srivastav. I also like to sleep in my balcony among the plants, watching pigeons. 

Does exercise and eating a healthy diet help?
You must eat healthy and exercise regularly for your mind and body. I have a healthy amount of protein in my diet along with fruits and vegetables. I love to eat coconut and pomegranate, carrots, cucumber and apples along with a good meal made by Meenu Srivastava. I go for walks in the morning with my mom or dad. Walking and running together with your owner is the best exercise. It helps both to remain fit. We also go on the hill for a small trek sometimes.

Can I also recruit? What qualities should I look for in my friends so that I know they are capable of joining Animal Angels?
Of course you can and in fact Pepe you must. We need more angels to spread the cheer!
We need dogs who are:
  • Confident
  • Friendly
  • Obedient
  • Not scared of strangers or new places
  • Non-aggressive
  • And most importantly CUTE! (naa, just kidding)
You can be of any breed, any size and any age (above one year) as long as you are confidant, compassionate and obedient.

What message would you give out to budding therapy dogs like me?
Keep spreading the love, one wag at a time.

Written by Uma Karve (with inputs from Minal Kavishwar, Meena Srivastav and Aakash Lonkar)To know more about animal assisted therapy log on to www.animalangels.org.in