When people meet Buddy, our OT dog, they often ask me how I became interested in animal assisted occupational therapy. While this picture says 1,000 words, I will still write a few more!
Well, the journey began when I was born. No, really! My family adopted a golden retriever puppy a few months before I was born and I grew up with him. His name was Jake, as most golden retrievers were named at the time, and he always wanted to be close to me. I read to him, shared my music, and styled his “hair” on a regular basis. He was fun and gentle, and the #1 reason why my family and I became such big dog lovers.
Karen and Jake.
When I was 12-years-old, my mom started raising puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. It was hard for all of us to love and help raise a puppy, only to say goodbye after 16 months. We kept raising though, because we saw what a tremendous impact these dogs have on the life of a blind person. When I was a senior in high school, I decided I wanted to be the primary raiser of a puppy. Her name was Julie and I took her to training, I took her out in the community so she could be comfortable in any setting, and I watched her grow from an 8-week-old puppy to a certified Guide Dog. It was hard to say goodbye, but I couldn’t be prouder of the work that she has done.
Karen and Julie, a puppy she raised for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
When I went to college I realized that I needed a dog for myself. I brought my family dog, Ink, with me when my sophomore year started and he made a tremendous difference in my overall well-being. He was my “doggie soulmate” and followed me to graduate school. I can honestly say that Ink deserves every bit as much credit for my diplomas as I do. He was a constant ray of sunshine and encouraged me to exercise more, laugh more, and take time to play around.
Photos by Shelley Castle Photography.
Needless to say, from the moment I decided to be an occupational therapist, I knew I wanted to have a dog to help my clients. There has been an explosion in the types of jobs dogs are now doing. Just to name a few, dogs lead the blind, sniff out bombs and bed bugs, alert people with diabetes and seizures, and detect cancer. They are being used more and more to reduce stress and anxiety. Because dogs are very attuned to humans after living with us for thousands of years, they are especially suited for therapy work.
Karen with Prince, a service dog her family raised for Veteran’s Moving Forward.
My goal is for Buddy to aid in regulation and provide a new, fun way to practice purposeful movements. My mom is Buddy’s primary trainer. It takes a long time to train a service dog and a long time for a puppy to mature enough to be a working dog. They also have to want to be a working dog. We are having Buddy visit the office for socialization and becoming familiar with the environment. He is interacting with clients on a very limited basis so we can gain some insight into what tasks he could be trained to do and how they might need to be modified for our clients. For example, it is much easier for a student to give Buddy a treat in a bowl rather than directly by hand.
GKTC staff and interns working with Buddy.
He is only eight months old, but I am very excited by the potential I see in “the Bud.” Some of the tasks I foresee Buddy doing with students are:
- retrieving a ball that’s been thrown
- responding to commands given with only hand signals
- coming to the sound of a clicker
- copying a client as he or she sits, lies down, crawls, or rolls (Doggie Yoga anyone??)
- solving a food puzzle the client has loaded
- finding things a client has hidden
- navigating an obstacle course with a client doing various tasks at stations
I am excited my Therapy Dog Thursday Facebook posts are being enjoyed by so many people. It is a nice way for people to watch Buddy grow up and see what he is doing for training (follow #BuddyTheOTDog). I will be writing a series of Buddy lessons that describe his journey, challenges, and what he learns as he grows up. One of Buddy’s current challenges is to stay calm wherever he goes. He loves people and is highly motivated to work with them, but he needs to calmly approach a new friend and not give them as many kisses!
Growing Kids clients are our best autism experts. So, I want to ask the experts, “What would you like to be able to do with Buddy? What would you like to learn about Buddy?” Please let me know in the comments here or in the comments on Facebook!
Buddy at 4-months-old.
Karen and Buddy snuggling after a long day.
Until next time!