A Visit to West Pines

We did our hospital visits this week including hospice and the hospital. What was different was we got the opportunity to visit with residents of the West Pines Behavioral Health facility located on the hospital campus.

But before sharing our experiences, a little background on West Pines. With a long legacy in treating addiction/substance abuse for adults up to age 60, this facility provides short-term psychiatric care. Short-term care (generally defined as 30 days or less) is provided as well as “an eight-week group therapy program that focuses on improving daily coping skills, establishing safety, and enhancing individual self-respect.” This program is designed for those “who may experience behavioral or emotional difficulties, but do not require (or no longer require) the intense level of psychiatric care provided in an inpatient or partial hospitalization program with treatments for depression, bi-polar disorder and anxiety disorders. Given this background and not knowing exactly what to expect, I was somewhat anxious but simultaneously looking forward to this cool opportunity.

The director of out-patient services greeted us and showed us around the facility. Phil Stone has been with the facility for 12 years. The staff were equally welcoming and professional. Upon introduction, he immediately hugged me when I offered my handshake. I liked the warm welcome. Sam’s tail didn’t stop wagging during the intros and as Phi was providing background info, Sam leaned against him indicating he was more than content. It may have been the first lean of the day but it certainly wasn’t the last. The only challenge for Sam was deciding whether to leave Phil’s most welcomed ear scratches and start greeting others in the reception area. I think the numbers ‘persuaded’ Sam to make the rounds of everyone in the room (guess his mama didn’t raise an ordinary shameless, attention-seeking fool). All the aw’s and ooh’s from everyone just egged Sam and his wagging tail on and he then spent time with each and every person we encountered.

Going from building to building (West Pines is a 76-bed facility), there were a couple of encounters that were most touching. First, was a young man who clearly had been crying in the common area. He was wrapped up in a blanket and trying to gain control over his emotions. Sam eagle-eye spotted him immediately, walked right over and began wagging his tail until the young man started petting Sam. He glanced away from my smile but his face lit up slightly as Sam got as close as he could. This encounter was incredibly touching for me. Sam knew this young man needed him and Sam made sure to let him know he was safe and wanted in return. Clearly the power of animals with those struggling with mental health issues was on full view and practice.

Our second memorable scene involved a young woman who was so taken with Sam she asked me if I knew where she could do something like what we were doing as she hugged and petted him. I asked if she had a dog and she smiled and then blithely responded, “oh shoot, I can barely take care of myself, let alone a dog.” It was a sad comment for me initially, then I thought how unencumbered she was to blurt it out and took comfort in her completely unfiltered observation, much like a small child. This woman knew her limitations yet she didn’t retreat from the fact.

And finally there was another young man, who was very shy and who stuttered. His dark features masked his face and yet when I asked him if he wanted to pet Sam, he embarrassingly smiled and ran his fingers through Sam’s fur. His voice was barely audible but he clearly was mesmerized by Sam. After a couple of minutes, he picked up his cell phone and I thought perhaps he was utilizing some deflecting kind of behavior to avoid contact with a stranger (me). Instead, he pulled up a photo of his own dog, a Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix. Cute little fluff ball, too. I commented on what a terrific photo it was and asked if it was taken by a professional photographer it was so well composed and the dog perfectly posed. He smiled, and said no, it was one he had taken and he had used software to provide the nautical-themed background. “Incredible,” I noted. “You must be very good with software and computers.” Again he smiled and whispered he was. About this time, his group was ready to resume their discussion and we left but not before he followed us to the door. I think (at least I hope) we made a difference in his day.

Our visit was so touching to my heart and so profound that I vowed to request the assignment again. It was a remarkable day even if a somewhat shortened time that we were able to spend with people (our visits are chaperoned by the director while on campus and I wondered if Phil got any work done on Wednesday’s ‘dog-visit-day’). I left with a couple of observations of our visit. First, there seem to be more men at this facility than women and it made me wonder if substance abuse is more prevalent in younger men. From my experience visiting the senior behavioral floor at the hospital (see previous posts here, here and here in case you missed them), more women than men seem to have mental health issues as they get older, perhaps because they generally live longer than men. But certainly having a warm, engaging environment with committed staff makes all the difference in the world. I can’t imagine a staff more focused and dedicated to their patients with a successful history of treatment.

We saw so many people in the past couple of days and my little boy was completely wiped out. But I’m sure he’ll definitely be ready to visit again soon with a ready tail wag and a lean against a willing leg.

Live, love, bark! <3

Fluff, buff…then off it’s off to work we go

As I mentioned the other day after I was so rudely woken up, we received our assignment and needed to get ready for our visits. Sam here. Therapy work can be daunting and difficult. This month’s assignments were some of the most intense we’ve ever done. But first…we had to get ready which means…

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…I get tortured. First mom bathes me. Blech! I despise getting wet. Here I am trying to work the pitiful ‘woe is me’ look. What do you think? Pretty effective, huh? Certainly I deserve a handful of treats for having to endure this torture, don’t I? Luckily mom thought so too even if I may have overplayed it just a tad. Note all of the ‘implements of destruction’ next to me? Trust me…with that much torture in a bucket, I absolutely deserve all the treats I can eat.

See, first there’s the bath. That’s bad enough. It means I have to get squeaky clean from top to bottom, including removal of any ear schmutz and eye snot. Mom complains when I don’t cooperate on the ears. But then again, do YOU like water in YOUR ears? Yeah, I rest my case. Then there’s the conditioner. Which means more water rinsing me out. Ugh. If that’s not bad enough, I have to suffer through endure loads of drying with tons brushing out and then mom loves to get carried away floofing out my Swiffer nice tail. Have a mentioned I HATE having my tail messed with?!

Anyway, then she trims hairs around my bum (whoa…that’s kinda personal back there lady…be extra careful!), my feet, my regal nose and head. B. U. Z. Z. What’s a poor mistreated poodle to do? Ooh, I know, I know…work that pitiful look down to a science before she gets out the nail clippers. Yikes!!!

After 87 hours, drying, brushing, trimming and clipping, I was finally able to go to work. We met a lot of people and had some very intense encounters with some folks from the 4th floor. It’s always a gamble when we go to the Senior Behavioral unit. You never know how lucid the patients will be or if they will freak out with a large and, dare I say, handsome pup like myself. Mom tells me not to take it personally and I don’t but this was one visit I’m not likely to forget any time soon.

The charge nurse asked if we wouldn’t mind visiting with “Ethel” (names here have been change to protect their identities) to see if we might persuade her to ‘voluntarily’ go back to her room. Mom said sure, why not. They warned us.

Ethel was at the end of the hallway, lying prone in the middle of the hall in front of the locked exit door with a blanket over her head and shoulders. She was arguing with the CNA about not wanting to go back to her room to lay on her nice comfy bed. The CNA asked her if she’d like to visit with a therapy dog and for a moment I thought I might be able to get her up upright. She briefly looked at me, so I wagged my tail like the good boy I am and waited for her to want to touch me and then she shrieked “I know what you’re trying to do and I’m not going to do it!” Mom was surprised and when the nurse asked her if she wanted to pet the dog, she yelled, “No, I know what you’re trying to do and I’m not falling for it.” As a calm therapy dog, I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I laid down next to her hoping it would make her feel better. She just said to go away so mom and the nurse shrugged and we went down to the Day Room to visit with “Mary” and “Henry.” They enjoyed my visit very much and Henry was wearing a t-shirt from the Orange County Animal Shelter where he had volunteered with the dogs. He loved on me and then I spent time with Mary. She almost wouldn’t let us go…she was so excited to have someone to talk to who had a dog but her conversation was confusing and all over the map. I just looked into her eyes and wagged my tail while she went on and on about every subject under the sun. It was a challenge trying to follow what she was talking about so eventually we bid our good byes and then I got to spend some quality time with the nursing staff.

Those ladies are angels. They deal with some difficult patients yet always have a smile for me. Plus their treats are pretty tasty too. Mom is ever so grateful for these angels. They have challenging jobs with some hard to handle patients. Mental illness and dementia are tough areas to work in and these nurses deserve all the kudos they can get. Big tail wag applaws from me.

We also visited at Coronary ICU where I ran into “Marie” whose husband was making a recovery after months of being very ill. She took one look at ‘Moi’ and melted. Then her husband’s PA came by and did the same. You bet I strutted my stuff and received lots of attention and ear scratches for it.

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We stayed for a very long time for me and I was pretty exhausted. Mom drove me home (at least she’s good for something, right?) and I didn’t eat any dinner but instead went straight to slumberland. When I woke up later that night, mom was talking with a friend on the phone so I curled up by her feet and zonked out again. Those girls blabbed talked for a couple of hours catching up and every once in while I’d look up to see if they were talking about me. Once I realized I was the subject, I’d drag my butt get up and put my head in mom’s lap and look up lovingly at her. She smiled and then finished talking with her friend sheesh you uprights can sure gab a lot about nothing.

On Friday we went back for more patient visits and surprise…a photo shoot touting pet therapy. Yours truly was there and hopefully once those pics are ready, mom will share them. Woof! Following our visits there were more naps. Hey, I have to be ready for the weekend, right?

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Wishing you and yours a pawsome weekend with fun and loads of rest. Looks like autumn is finally starting to arrive most everywhere and this here pup couldn’t be happier about it. We’re going to a picnic rescue benefit for fun and games with dogs that need new homes and I’m hoping to snag a crumb or two. Let’s hope they find new fur-ever homes.

Live, love, bark! <3

A New Partner

Sam here. We went to the hospital and hospice this week and were joined by someone who was able to came along on visits with us. Normally, pet therapy teams operate alone so this was a great treat for me to have someone else by my side all day. Our new fur-iend Sandy, is joining our merry little band of volunteers at Pet Therapy. We were asked to have her shadow our visits to see what it is we actually do. Once again I did the work with patients and staff mom just drives me and holds the leash. She seems to be a weak link in this ‘pawtnership,’ but that’s a subject for another time. We arrived early and waited in the hospital lobby to meet Sandy and I got to spend loads of time schmoozing with a number of volunteers and visitors. I didn’t get my normal lengthy meandering in the morning because mom had this weird idea I needed a bath and to have my furs trimmed so I didn’t cooperate too much. Let me just say I AM NOT a fan of that process and absolutely despise having my feet furs trimmed!

finalAny who…yesterday was a super busy day at the hospital and fortunately I had plenty of pogo-sticking in me plenty of energy to spare for everyone. There were lots of comings and goings with people everywhere. I met the nicest man being discharged who was so excited to be going home to his own pup that he had been missing. He was willing to give me nice ear scratches so I wagged my tail for him and looked deeply into his eyes. He smiled and praised me for stopping to say hello. What…are you kidding, it’s what I do best! Saying hello is my middle name. Then we went up to the Senior Behavioral Health Unit and I was lucky enough to meet Phil who loved me from the first second our eyes met. He walked down a long hallway just to greet me and I felt the same and enjoyed his sweet smile, twinkly eyes and the stories he told. Usually there are more women at the unit so it was a welcomed change of pace that we were able to visit with a number of fellas this time. We never know what to expect on that floor but it turned out to be a great day for visits and Sandy enjoyed it as much as I did. Phil was a real special upright who has an amazing ability to connect with animals. Those kinds of people always make me feel extra special. The staff was super excited to see me perform my one and only trick, licking my chops on command. First I do one side, then mom asks me to lick the other side so I do it (I mean, how hard it that?). Then she tells me to do it again while holding on to an extra special treat so ‘natch’ I do it. I’ll do just about anything for those Zuke’s treats. We play this one side/other side licking of chops to the delight of everyone. No one seems disappointed it’s the only trick I do. I mean seriously even cats can shake paws, so why would I do something that easy? Why is it uprights think dogs want to shake hands with them anyway? Eew…they touched my feet – gah!!!

Sandy’s pup is a 2-1/2 year old Golden Retriever named Captain. No doubt he will command the pawfect ship once he officially passes the remaining  requirements. Sandy told me he’s super smart and so well-behaved with loads of energy. With her husband, the 3 of them will bring smiles and comfort to patients, staff and visitors alike. And she hopes to meet as many terrific people as we did.

Trust me, it was a very long day with lots of people to visit and chat with for a few hours, far more than usual for me. After we finished up, I was completely wiped out. I didn’t even eat dinner I was so tired. Being a therapy dog can be hard work but I completely love it. Keep your paws crossed I get to see Sandy again and get to meet her Captain soon! We wish them the best of luck as they begin their own comforting work in pet therapy.

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Live, love, bark! <3