Braam is rapidly building his therapy dog momentum! He loves therapy visits more than any other activity we have done, so we are hoping to do more visits in more places in the future and maybe work towards an AKC Therapy Dog title! Right now we are going on visits with College Dogs, which focuses on doing visits with students, especially during midterm and finals weeks, when stress is at its maximum.
A few months ago we went on our first official visit after completing our pre-requisites with our trainer Laurie. We went with four other dog-handler teams to a job skills training facility for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. At first I was worried about this being our first visit – I thought college students would be a much easier introduction to therapy work in situ than adults with disabilities. But despite my nerves, Braam did wonderfully. He knew exactly what was expected of him and treated the students gently. Some of the students that came to see the dogs were uncomfortable about approaching them, or had trouble doing so physically. Braam was excellent and he would put on his happy face and wag his tail to get new people to approach him, which worked very well for him and he made a lot of friends. He sat calmly for petting by everyone, and didn’t react when some petting was a little rough and uncoordinated. I was so proud of my boy for that visit – he loved all these strangers unconditionally and treated everyone equally. Everyone, myself definitely included, could learn a thing or two from such a magnanimous little dog!
Now we are into finals time and are going on College Dogs visits to more traditional college campuses. I am more comfortable doing this, plus I was familiar with the concept from my own time in college – I would go visit the therapy dogs that showed up at my school in California years ago!
Two days ago we went to a residence hall at the University of Washington. On our way there, not three blocks from campus, a woman made a left turn in front of us as we went through our green light. Nobody was hurt and the cars were merely scratched, so it could have been much worse, but we were thus late for our therapy visit and my brain was going every which way as my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. At first I thought we should scrap the therapy visit because Braam would be too concerned about me to focus on anyone else, but we were so close I thought we’d just go give it a try. We walked in the door and were totally mobbed – we could barely make it to the common area where the other dogs were because we were surrounded by a ring of at least 6-8 students at all times. Braamie handled this like a pro. Instead of being stressed out, he blossomed. I finally made it to a place to sit in the common area, and he went around the circle of adoring fans, greeting each one in turn. He would use his special flirting skills to bring in anyone on the outside of the circle unsure if they wanted to muscle in and pet him. Most of the students moved off to see the other dogs after a few pets, but a couple individuals stayed longer, and Braam would go sit with them. One girl sat quietly with us for nearly a half hour and Braam went and laid down against her leg for a while.
We then went home to get Casper and drove out to Redmond for handling class, and I brought Braam as we were scheduled to meet a couple interested in Kooikers at this place. I had to explain that Braam is much sweeter than 99% of Kooikers, and not to judge the breed by his stellar example!