Monday, July 22, 2013

We Passed! We Passed!

Yesterday was our evaluation to be certified as an animal-assisted therapy team. I almost didn't go. Chou had a stomachache, I had a migraine headache, and I am always nervous when I am being evaluated for anything. But we went. 

I am confident that Chou Chou will be a wonderful therapy dog. We have been visiting my mom in rehab almost daily; staff and patients make a big fuss over the puppy and she is happy with the attention -- and she loves children; I want us to be certified so we can go with other therapy teams to work with children in schools and libraries. 

Meanwhile, I bought this "therapy dog in training" vest for visiting the nursing home. Although she visits as an invited guest -- all dogs are allowed -- the patients are most comfortable knowing we are getting certified. We are practicing. ("Oui! Très chic and very cute!")

My pup may be doing better with noises. Maybe the supplement recommended by the veterinary behaviorist is helping? Still, I didn't know what would happen when the evaluators started dropping objects behind her as part of the test. Last year, when she earned her Canine Good Citizen title, the evaluator dropped metal bowls and brooms and nothing bothered her. But since the rhodesian ridgeback attacked her, she is less confident. 

The evaluators really put us through our paces: we had to walk in a heel with loose leash, stop at points along the course; walk forward to greet a person walking a dog, without Chou Chou reacting to it; go through basic obedience commands; Chou had to allow herself to be brushed by a stranger, then be pushed by evaluators who were role-playing as nursing home patients with walkers, canes and wheelchairs, wearing hats and walking unsteadily. 

Chou Chou took all that in stride. After all, we've had the unexpected practice visiting my mom. But we had to get past the exercise where a wastepaper basket was dropped behind her. 

She jumped! But I was able to get her focus back quickly.

After the exercises, we were taken into a conference room to await "the verdict." One of the leaders was there and offered me some ice tea while we waited for the evaluators to come in and discuss our performance. Chou Chou was being rated on her behaviors, and I was being rated on mine.

We waited and waited and waited. The longer it took for them to come in, the more I was convinced we didn't pass; if they all agreed we passed, wouldn't it have been a quick decision? But the "jury" kept deliberating, it seemed to me.

Finally, the team of evaluators came in. They said they wanted me to have a shorter leash. And they said we passed! I was given a badge with my name and Chou Chou's.

Now we are Trainees. After passing the evaluation, all new teams have to make 6 visits where the Team Leader of each site fills out an evaluation of performance -- more evaluations! But this is good. We are being mentored. 

I was given their website log in information where I can sign up for our volunteer therapy visits. I will choose mostly library programs to help children become better (and enthusiastic) readers; the children sit and read to the dogs. And our first visit is tomorrow! I am excited! ("Let's go!")

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