Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And Oscar goes to.....School!

Today is Monday, a warm sunny day. I woke up as usual, roamed around in the garden, chased Mr. Tommy from next door, teased Dom, wrestled with him, went for a walk, and ate my food. I was just chilling on the porch when I saw human mom, Shalaka, packing my work bag. TODAY IS MY FIRST DAY OF WORK after a long vacation. I seem to have forgotten about it up until now. I am going to sit in the car first and then I’ll tell you all about it

I am Oscar and I am a therapy dog working with Animal Angels Foundation. My specialty is assisting my co-therapist when we work in schools with young kids. This year I was assigned to a primary school where different children with different needs come and I get to work with a few special ones who are very unique. They all love me very much. Not that I am bragging, but I am very famous with the kids. Initially they were a little reluctant but who wouldn’t?! It’s not very common thing to have a dog inside the classroom. After a few sessions, the kids and I got to know each other and now they are very comfortable around me. I can’t wait to meet them. I am so excited I can’t stop wagging my tail.
Here we are! It’s a nice place. They even have a play ground. Look at the grass, so green and soft. If I were not a professional I would just run and roll in the grass! Let’s go meet the teachers first. Hellooo ladies, how are you?! Oh, new teacher!  Why is she scared? Never seen a therapy dog before? It’s okay. I am very gentle. I’ll sit here nicely and let her pet me. She seems to like me. It’s a good start. I can’t wait to meet the children. Here they are! Helloo kids..? Do you remember me? Oh yes..I remember you! What do you want to do today? You want to brush me? Great!! I could really use some nice grooming. Ohh..someone is pulling my tail. What’s happening? Who is this little guy? I have never seen him before. Let me say ‘Hi’. He looks scared. He started shouting. I look at my partner. She seems calm and composed. She is smiling. This may not be a bad thing then. I better give this kid some time to know me better.

 I completely forgot to mention my partner. Meet Aditi, she is counsellor and an animal assisted therapist and we have been working  together with Animal Angels Foundation for over two years now. I know exactly what is going on in her mind and I bet she knows what goes on in my mind too. She knows exactly what I need. It may be bowl of water, a treat, a pat on my back, a short walk, my favourite toy or a reassuring smile. She just knows. My partner guides me when we work with children who cry, shout or are sometimes rough. I help her by motivating a child, if a he seems distracted. That’s why we are so good together.  We are co-therapists. Some kids here need more attention as they understand the world a bit differently than the others. They may not always be able to express themselves normally. But that’s where I come in. They find it easier to connect with me. When they work with me they are more focused, they are willing to do new tasks. The most important thing is they enjoy doing even the most difficult task when I am with them.
I remember a girl who could not talk like other children. In fact she never uttered a word despite all the efforts from her teacher and speech therapist. Then we started working with her. She was very shy, very low on self confidence. She didn’t show much of an interest in me. But my partner and I never gave up on her. After a few sessions she started petting me voluntarily. She started showing interest in playing with me and grooming me. One day she insisted on taking me for a walk. I was all ready to get up and start walking. But my partner asked her to call me first. That was my cue. I was not supposed to walk unless she calls me. We tried it a lot of times. Initially she would call with hand signal. Then she started making noises with hand signal. And one day she actually said “come”. A girl who never said a word was actually calling me to go for a walk with her. 

She knows when I am stressed out and need some time for myself. Why do you look so surprised? Being a therapy dog is not as easy as it looks. It can be stressful sometimes. It’s not all tail wagging and fetching ball. It takes a lot of understanding on my part. Let me tell you, I had to undergo a year of training before I started working on field.
But it’s easier when you have a partner who knows you. Work is never serious with her. We make it fun for each other. She also gets stressed sometimes. But I know exactly what to do when she is down. I have a trick. I go near her and nudge her with my nose, rub my head against her forearm and that makes her smile.
Look! Someone’s got the ball. Throw the ball, throw the ball. I’ll fetch it for you! Woof! Why isn’t she throwing the ball? I think she likes it. Yea! I know right! It smells amazing and feels amazing too. Take your time. I’ll wait till you are done appreciating my precious toy. Whoaa..she throws like a pro! Here, take it and throw one more time.
I’ll get back to work now guys. I don’t want to be distracted while working. I’ll be back after the session.

Today was so much fun! I love this job! I can’t wait to go home and tell everything to Dom! By the way Dom is my younger brother.  He is a Rottweiler and he is huge. He is very gentle though. I think he has what it takes to be therapy dog. I bet mom will agree!
I smell my car. Is it time to go already? I wish I could stay but my mom is here. Gotta go! Woof woof!

P. S: We lost Oscar, our therapy partner a few months back. His parent Shalaka Mundada and our entire team was proud to work with him. He was special in every way and brought smiles where ever he went. His legacy in continued by his daughter, Therapy Dog Pearl, who also works with Animal Angels.
Write up by Aditi Bodas

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Old Gold

Meet my new Pals!

October 19, 2016; Wednesday; Dignity Foundation, Powai

So, last year December, I retired from my service as a Therapy Dog, and got a back seat to train the little pups and share my life experiences with the newbies. Since then, I have been mostly enjoying my time going out on drives with my human family, enjoying the view sitting near the windows, welcoming everyone who visited us, sharing a happy tail every time they petted me, and sometimes, even correcting my little therapy dogs, to behave like one! Ah! Retirement, what a beautiful feeling, it is!

It’s not usual to have my human trainers choose me for any of the sessions they undertake these days. So its mostly Pepe, Pearl, Sunshine, Myshka and Moshe who go along wagging their tails of joy! So happy and proud I feel to be shaping these babies into Therapy Dogs!

So I was saying, that I do not attend any sessions after my retirement, but when came an opportunity, I gladly and excitedly took it up! I winked at my baby bunch, and marched out of the house, with Aakash. Can you guess what was that I was all this excited about today? Okay, let me keep you hanging there a bit.

Aakash, my trainer and my family, chose to get me in the car today, to take me for a session. He kept it a secret from me too! So while he drove us, I started guessing it to him,
“Must be special kids that I’d be interacting with today!”, said I, full of excitement.
“Nope”, denied Aakash, as he drove.
“The airport pax?”
“Haha! No!!”
“Hmmm…who is it then?”
“Someone you’ll definitely love! You’ll soon know!”, stopped Aakash at a huge building in Powai.

My curiosity was building up all the more, as we climbed up, closer. And there we were! Voila!! It was at Dignity Foundation!! There were humans, my age!! Yayy!!

Aakash introduced the human bunch to me, and I introduced myself to them, “Hello! I am Goldie, 11 years, and 77 years in human age!” and I smiled with a wagging tail. Such a great feeling to meet humans of my age! They welcomed me with wide smiles and love! A couple of them raised their hands with joy and said we three shared the same age! Haha! What fun it is to be back to sessions! I looked up happily at Aakash, and we couldn’t keep smiles off our faces.

My new pals sat on a chair and all of us chatted for a little while.
“How is your retirement, Goldie?”, asked one of them.
“Fun and peaceful”, said a happy me.
“Who’s your favorite Therapy Dog?”
“Ummm…that’s a tricky one. Actually, I love them all”.
“Why are you sitting in one place? Why don’t you roam around like other dogs do?”
“You see, I am old now, and it’s a little difficult to keep up with everyone’s spirit”.
“Oh! Do you have joint pain, like us?”
“Oh, yes! But I play to stay fit”.

“You’re just like us!” And I smiled at them. We related to each other. The pain, the love, the age, everything. And the chat went on for sometime. We realized that we shared so many common things. But not all us was happy, some shared their bitter pasts of their children abandoning them and some lost their spouses. I could feel their sorrow, and I was determined to make them happy for the time we were together, so I shared my experiences, stories from my life and my journey. How I have seen people abandon their parents and kids, which made them sad. While we spoke of the sorrows, I spoke to them about so much that life has given us, and that we should be thankful to each of the things and the beings. Cherish your present, is something we Therapy Dogs always believe and practice. Be happier than ever, live in the moment, give others a reason to smile.

Just the way I have told every little Therapy Dogs, I told my old human pals,
  • Take care of your health,
  •  Trust people,
  •   Be loyal,
  •  Get yourself some playtime, throw-a-ball,
  • Treat age as just a number,
  • Don’t hold grudges, but welcome everyone and everyday with equal happiness and love,
  •  And most of all, Stay happy, for yourself, and for others

We bonded as we spoke, age does make people bond faster, relate faster. I realized, that even though they were in physical and emotional pain, they came down to my level, and petted me, empathized with me; since they knew I had problems in getting up each time they called me.

Oh! It’s two hours already! How time flies! It was time to greet my pals a bye for now! I really enjoyed interacting with my pals, sharing their experiences and mine, being loved and petted, and just being us! How excited was I to be back on field! J

Hoping Aakash gives me another such surprise soon, real soon J

Written by Sneha Lonkar

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