Do you volunteer your dog? What's it like?

In thisthread, **diggerwam **indicated that he/she is looking to train with their pet for hospice volunteer work.

I thought this sounded like a TREMENDOUS idea since I have the cutest, sweetest puppy this side of the Mississippi and I’ve always wanted to volunteer in a way that I feel truly helps people and brings comfort but I’m a bit afraid of the unknown. Volunteering with my dog means that he’s the focal point of the visit and I don’t have to feel so out of place and nervous (I hope!)

So those of you who have volunteered with your pets, I’d love to hear your experiences. It doesn’t have to be in hospice, I just want a general feel for what to expect and what kind of response you’ve encountered from folks when you volunteer.

I used to visit nursing homes with my corgi, who was an extravert (which I am not). It was gratifying and fun, and sometimes very touching. You usually need to work with a certifying organization which does that sort of thing. Your dog should have basic obedience training and be used to unusual encounters such as electric wheelchairs, abrupt movements or strange noises/responses from strangers, and have a gentle, careful, trusting, and outgoingly affectionate nature. Not all dogs are suited.

My first rabbit - Sharon the Wunderbunny was a visiting rabbit. She did controlled visits with pre schools (ie no picking her up, the children sit quietly in a circle before she comes out - and when presented with a circle she would nuzzle and get pats from every kid in the circle), was the library mascot - man I got to do some good information dispersal on appropriate rabbit care at the same time. She also became part of the pets as therapy team at the local assisted care facility and nursing home. It was wonderful and oh so very sad at the same time. Folks who had long since stopped responding the humans would respond to her, folks crying because she could not stay with them. That sort of stuff

This is fantastic information. It didn’t occur to me that Foxtrot (the pup in question) would need to be comfortable with a number of sounds that he has likely never heard before.

I did consider what it might feel like to leave the room with him and the conversations I might have with patients who don’t want him to go, I planned to promise that he would be back to see them on X day–both to give them something to look forward to and to commit myself to the next trip. How did you handle similar situations, madrabbitwoman?

And because no pet thread is complete without pictures, I give you W. T. Foxtrot.

Brief update!

I spoke with the amazing volunteer coordinator for Hospice of the Valley and we decided that I will, for the time being, be a people volunteer vs. a person/pet team.

My dog will need to become a certified therapy dog and pass some strict behavioral tests (very similar to the AKC Canine Good Citizen test) that he’s not quite up to snuff on just yet.

So he and I are working on “sit”, “stay”, “leave it” (for food–he’s AWFUL at this one), and not bounding after me when I leave the room.

We’ll also need to work on his leash behavior, which means we may be taking a jaunt to obedience school soon. :slight_smile:

Wish us luck!

Good luck for sure.

Bentley (male, neutered mutt) has the personality for it. He’s a 30 pound non-aggressive big baby and he loves people. Keep us informed, I’d love to have him certified and use him to help make some unfortunate people’s day a little brighter. I just don’t know if I have the patience to go through all that training with him.

Please, keep updating us on what’s involved.

Hee! I love “big baby” type dogs. As Foxtrot is a whopping 10 lbs even, he’s just a baby-baby.

Here’sthe list (warning, PDF) of testing requirements to be registered through Therapy Dogs International.

Deltais the other big name in therapy pet certification, although I haven’t researched their site as much just yet.

Delta Society seems to have much steeper costs associated with it than TDI, although this might be because I just haven’t uncovered all of the costs on the TDI site yet. I will be visiting my local Petsmart this weekend to ask them for more information on getting certified/obedience classes and will report back.

At the Hospice that I’m going to volunteer, all new volunteers (including dogs)need to train for 8 sessions. It does not sound like that Wiley needs to become certified for us to volunteer.

Like the OP, I want to volunteer in a way that the focus is not on me. I’ve been hoping for a dog like Wiley for a number of years. What he lacks in typical Border Collie intelligence and herding instinct he makes up for in just by being a great ambassador.

We currently volunteer for the Park District chasing Canadian Geese and everytime we are out working people will come up to chit chat about the program or the Park District in general. He loves the attention and he is so good with people that I wanted to get him involved in volunteering with people.

Hospice was the first thing that came to mind, I dealt with my mother in the nursing home for 7 months before she passed and animal visitors in that environment were very helpful. We’ll see how it goes.

Obligatory picture. Damn Can’t figure it out.

I’m so inspired by your story. :slight_smile: It just really hit home for me and it’s the reason I decided to pursue this line of volunteering for Foxtrot and myself.

If you want me to upload the photo for you, PM me and I’ll give you my email address.

Does Wiley really chase geese? I’m not sure what this sort of volunteering looks like, we have a few geese in Phoenix but I don’t think anyone would actively encourage us to chase them around. (nor would we, they are MEAN, fearless giants!)

When I volunteered Wiley to chase geese, I thought that he’d be off leash and actually, ya know, chase geese. Actually he’s on the end of a retractable leash so herding really doesn’t come into play. At this point, once Wiley and I hop out of the car, the geese see us and start scattering. We just guide them into open water and then move on. I’m not really certain that he knows what he’s getting praised for.

You from Phoenix? I got cousins in-law in Surprise and Glendale. I’ve visited a couple times and no, I wouldn’t volunteer my dog outside during the high heat. Inside volunteering is probably for the best.

When my stepdaughter was in the hospital, there were Therapy Dog Days- this was at Children’s Hospital, so that may be another avenue to investigate. I know the sick kids were always pretty happy to see the dogs. I’m not sure now what organization it was, but perhaps calling a local CH may get you some more information?

raventhief, that is something I considered, but I’m a little afraid of kids. More specifically, I’m a little afraid of kids being ear-pullers and my dog has incredibly pullable ears. In your experience, how did the children treat the therapy dogs that came to visit?

And because I feel the need to clutter up this thread with more doc pictures, here’s W. T. Foxtrot sleepingand living the good life.

The kids I saw interacting with the dogs seemed pretty respectful, and thrilled to have a dog to pet for a bit. Of course, the kids I saw were pretty sick. It would have been a very different story if the kids were at school, running around and (potentially) acting up.They also had the dog’s owner, usually their own parents, and a nurse or two with them, so were made very aware of the rules of doggie time. It seemed like a very controlled environment, for everyone’s protection. I talked more to the dog owners, who all said how rewarding it was, for owner and dog. I understand your concern though. I wouldn’t want to put my pups in a position where they might get hurt!

WT Foxtrot is ADORABLE, btw.

That pic of him sleeping in the dead-bug position is too cute. What a pretty doggy! Is he a mix?

Thank you both. :slight_smile: He is a mix! He’s a stray who showed up in our carport and was never claimed, so I’m not certain about his breed(s), but the vet says she’s pretty sure he’s mostly Chihuahua and Pomeranian. He’s about 10 lbs.

raventhief, that sounds promising! I will try to get him around some kids in the family and see how he does with little ones. :slight_smile:

We didn’t have our dogs go through any specific training when we volunteered them to visit our local nursing home. The only criteria was that they needed to be leashed and know their basic commands. Of course it helped that they were both adults – Missy the Malamute was a senior citizen in doggie years – and Ember (aka The Little Brown Dog Of Unknown Parentage) was past her mischief-making adolescence.

It was all about them and hardly about us when we took them to visit. I cannot tell you how many joyful exclamations we received. Patients told us stories about their dogs while they gave M & E scritches; Ember liked to scrunch herself between the wheelchair foot rests so she could get scritches under her chin and put on her most “Aren’t I adorable?” expression. Meanwhile Missy would sit pretty next to somebody and just nuzzle.

Neither of them were afraid of any noises, nor of any of the equipment. At first that struck me as strange because neither of them had any prior experience with such. I do believe, though, that from the smells they knew they were in a place where there were fragile people, so perhaps that spurned them to be on their best behavior.

Formal training would be essential for a younger dog, I’d think.