Thursday, September 21, 2017

Everyone needs a little Sunshin at the Airport!

As narrated to Goldie by Comfort Dog SUNSHINE

Did you know that humans can fly? Surprised? Yes, even I was amazed when I heard my human colleagues talk about stress and anxiety people experience when they fly! I have lived 4 years of my life surrounded by all types of humans but I have never seen anyone fly. I thought maybe my colleagues have gone crazy. I perked up my ears and started listening more carefully. After an hour or so of eves dropping and following them around the house I concluded that my humans are not crazy! They were talking about a new project at the at humans can fly? Surprised? Yes, even I was amazed when I heard my human colleagues talk about stress and anxiety people experience when they fly! I have lived 4 years of my life surrounded by all types of humans but I have never seen anyone fly. I thought maybe my colleagues have gone crazy. I perked up my ears and started listening more carefully. After an hour or so of eves dropping and following them around the house I concluded that my humans are not crazy! They were talking about a new project at the airport!

Have you ever been to an airport? It’s a very busy place, just like a bus stand or railway station but much bigger. Airplanes are nothing like normal vehicles. Airplanes fly in the air, far above the roads and cities, up above the clouds. Humans fly in these things from one place to another. This flying business can get very stressful for some humans. There are many travelers who fly 3-4 times a week or more. There are many who have never seen an airport and have never set a foot inside an airplane. They get very nervous and anxious when it’s their first experience of flying. Some are afraid of flying and it can be a very dreadful experience for them. Some humans come here from different countries; some are leaving here to visit other countries. They have to leave their families and friends at home sometimes. They become homesick. I can totally understand there situations. Ones my human parents had to keep me with a pet sitter for a few days. I completely freaked out at first. I could not stop missing them. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I didn’t even feel like playing fetch and that’s the most favorite game of mine. So Yea, I can understands how humans must feel. There is stress and anxiety, nervousness, tiredness, helplessness, exhaustion and all those not-so-healthy emotions.

This is where I enter the scene. You must be thinking what can a dog do about it? Well, I am not just any dog; I am a trained therapy dog. I help humans relieve stress by comforting them. Petting, hugging or playing with me can calm your nerves, decrease blood pressure and give a sense of happiness and well-being. That’s all a stressed out and anxious passenger needs; a wagging tail and warm hug from a therapy dog.

Pepe, Pearl and I just started working on airport as Comforting Angels along with our human therapists. We were mentored by our senior most Therapy dog Goldie, who showed us how to make people smile by wagging our tails. She also taught us how to sense if something is bothering them. Pepe being senior to me in age as well as experience, shared her wisdom with me and Pearl. And I am sure she will guide me on the airport job too. Pearl is new kid on the block. She is young and mischievous. But she has all the qualities of a good therapy dog. Today was our first day at the airport and what a day it was! So many new experiences in just one day! After a nice drive and a few minutes of waiting in the queue we finally got our entry passes and headed for the lobby. We were waiting to be allowed to enter the airport. I was observing my surroundings. It was a crowded place. There were so many cars and trolleys and bags and humans. Everyone was in hurry to go somewhere. I noticed that people were looking at us with all sort of different emotions; interest, curiosity, affection and even fear. Some wanted to approach us but they were hesitant. Kids were looking at us with fascination. Some were smiling and some were scared. There were all sorts of reactions from passengers. Pearl and I looked at Pepe for guidance. She was calm and at ease. So we decided to follow her lead.

I was about to sit down on the floor when I felt flow of cold air on my face. The doors opened and they let us inside. I had to stop a moment to take in everything. Few pairs of eyes turned towards us. Those eyes followed us as we walked forward. We found a nice place to sit and relax for a bit. Our human partners Aakash and Malvika gave us some water and let us sniff around. Now that we were comfortable we were ready to comfort others. 

I started walking around with my partner Malvika. I saw a child pulling his mother and pointing at us. I knew that he wanted to pet me. His mother picked him up and walked towards us. She asked if I was police dog. Malvika explained to her that I was a therapy dog named Sunshine and I work at the airport as Comforting Angel. The lady asked if it was okay for the boy to pet me. I wagged my tail and walked slowly towards the boy. I nudged him with my nose and encouraged him to touch my fur. He smiled and started petting me. He
played with me for a few minutes. His mother was telling Malvika that their family was going on vacation and had left their pet dog with the boy’s grandparents. He was missing his dog. Because I looked just like his dog he wanted to play with me. The boy and his mother went back smiling. I felt so wonderful.

Malvika and I roamed around for a while, meeting new people. We met an old couple whose flight got delayed, a businessman who had been flying for 20 hours straight, a lady who was flying alone with a toddler and a two year old and a college student who missed his flight. I knew that I couldn’t change their situation but I tried my best to create a distraction from their worries and comfort them to the best of my abilities. I gave them an extra dose of energy and enthusiasm that they needed to deal with their problems.

Malvika and I met with the rest of our team for lunch. I was so eager to listen to their stories. Pepe and Pearl also had a few interesting things to share. They met a family with 2-3 kids. The kids wanted to meet Pearl and Pepe but the elders were so busy finding direction to gate no. 83 that they rushed passed Pearl and Pepe without even a single glance. Pearl was complaining about it to Pepe who explained to her that this will happen. Some humans are fond of dogs and others not that much. Some cannot have enough of us and some will not even look at us but that’s okay. We will try to comfort everyone who wishes to play with us or pet us or just sit with us. She is so wise! Poor Pearly, she wants everyone to play with her. She is just a kid of 1 and a half. She’ll learn all these things soon.

We were so busy on the first day itself that we didn’t realise it was time to go home already. We started walking towards the exit. We met so many new people. Some of them came to say goodbye on our way out. It was a fun day. We got inside the car. I looked at Aakash and Malvika. They were tired just like us. But I can tell from their faces that they were very proud of us. I nudged Malvika’s arm. She smiled and scratched under my ear. Pearl was already snoring. Pepe was slouching on the armrest. I sat by the window, enjoying the cool breeze and woofed into the night.

Therapy dog Sunshine is a working therapy dog with Animal Angels. She, along with three other therapy dogs are India's first therapy dogs to work at an International Airport in India to comfort passengers.

Animal Angels Therapy Center, partnered with Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport on creating Asia's first ever Comfort Dog program 'CSIA Comforting Angels' for the Mumbai Airport. The program, which was launched in Sep 2015 went on to be a big hit among the passengers, making Therapy dogs Goldie, Pepe, Sunshine and Pearl, household names and at the same time creating more awareness about the fabulous work of Animal Angels Therapy dogs in India.

You can visit our official Fb page - CSIAComfortingAngels or log on to our website, to know more about the program.

Blog wirtten by Aditi Bodas.

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

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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

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