Canine Angels Success Stories
How do you teach a young adult:
Leadership, responsibility, assertiveness, a positive self esteem, awareness of one's surroundings, appropriate social conversation, nurturing or caring for more than oneself, when they face the obstacles of Cerebral Palsy, Asperger's Syndrome and Developmental Disabilities.
For 18 years my wife Heidi and I have been working on these goals with our daughter Sophia. Several years ago a friend suggested we look into a service dog to help us with these goals.
Fast forward to March 21st, 2011, and we landed in our first 1 week training program.
We worked hard. We learned ...
Dog training, dog leadership, the difference between the two. We worked dogs without knowing their names for two days. We had to get them to perform a task with only saying a command no more than two times.
In the end we got to go home with Sally, a pal dog for Sophia. In the three months we had her we continued dog training, for us more than for Sally because she already knew the commands. We would walk Sally in the community so Sophia could have interaction with other people.
Sophia responded positively to the attention. Appropriate conversations started. It went like this, "Is that a Labradoodle?" "No! It's a Goldendoodle." "You are so lucky, she is a beautiful dog." "I know. Thank you." It isn't long. It doesn't have to be because it is followed by a smile and her feeling good.
Approaching June, I talked to Sandy about the next class and what we could expect. I told her that the bonding was proceeding nicely. One thing we thought would help Sophia more is to have public access with Sally so she could have more interaction. She said Sally was capable - it was up to us.
We asked Sophia and she was up for the challenge. So here we are at graduation after another week of training and more working with the dogs. But what about Sophia?
The testing said it all for me. It was Thursday evening. Sophia had a mini melt down before lunch. So after lunch we took her back to the hotel for a nap. It paid off. They were a great team. She walked with purpose. She was confident in herself. Sally was amazing too.
Life with Sophia is "it's all about Sophia". Sophia will be learning with Sally awareness of where she is with other people, being courteous when other people are approaching to have Sally out of the way. She's learning that Sally has needs too. She needs praise, water, food, bathroom breaks. Sophia has to accommodate those needs. She has to plan ahead, know where she can and can't go with Sally. Decide what is best for them both. The benefits are already showing. People smile when they see this team. That means a lot... it builds her self esteem.
Sophia is a part of the 'hidden' community within our community. Her disabilities are not visible at first glance. Still she doesn't feel like she fits in and desperately wants to be a part of it all. Sally bridges Sophia to the Community but it's Sophia that can bridge the community to the disabled.
We are proud of her and thankful to Canine Angels.
The Great Pumpkin (one of the Peanuts litter) is now working as a facility dog at Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento. Her duties include, but are not limited to: playing ball (with kids, families, staff, Shriners - she really doesn't discriminate), lying on beds with kids, impressing tour groups and other visitors and attending special events and fund raisers, walking scared patients to the operating room, sitting with anxious families waiting for their children to come out of surgery.....the list goes on.
Pumpkin (AKA Punkie) is always busy and on call. She is frequently asked to visit a child who is sad and missing a beloved pet - petting that soft curly hair is warm and comforting. Punkie is happy to go to the units and cuddle on the bed.
Since 30-40% of the inpatients at Shriners are Hispanic, and most of those do not speak English, Pumpkin is becoming bilingual. Kids come to the office asking for 'perrito' (cute little dog), and say that she is 'suave' (soft) and 'bonita' (pretty). She knows to bring the 'pelota' (ball) and put into 'los manos' (hands), 'una mas' means the game is almost over, and 'no mas' means that she might as well take a nap now.
However, most of what she does is in the universal language of dogs, understood by everyone. With her lovely brown eyes, soft curly hair, and fluffy wagging tail - when she makes eye contact and approaches, almost everyone responds with a smile. Petting her appears to be a stress reliever, and you can see both the petter and the pettee visibly relax. If they stop stroking, a cold wet nose encourages them to continue. The staff psychologist is an almost daily visitor, and claims that Punkie is better than any drug for reducing blood pressure.
All of the animals in the Pet Therapy program stop by the office to say hello when they visit - mostly dogs, but some bunnies and cats too. Pumpkin's glad to see them all!
Ruby’s trainer, Canine Angels founder Sandy Mays, had warned me that Ruby was a “head turner.” She said I wouldn’t be able to take that Goldendoodle anywhere without every person I encountered stopping me. It’s true. Everyone who sees Ruby HAS to know her breed, age, gender, etc. But mostly they just want to touch her, look closely at her extraordinary features and funny expressions, watch her graceful movements, playful antics and bask in her mellow, sweet personality.
My cousin Page knew about Ruby, and when Sandy decided to change Ruby’s career placement status from “Service Dog” to “Pal”, Page decided that Ruby and I were meant to be together. I had just gotten a scary diagnosis, and Page was determined that with Ruby by my side, everything would be better for me. She offered to get Ruby for me. Page’s enthusiasm about Ruby was contagious, and I quickly realized that Ruby would be the most extraordinary gift I would ever receive.
I flew out to Oregon to meet Ruby and Sandy, and I also met Ruby’s Canine Angels charter class. Sandy knew each dog’s strengths, and she could describe each of their challenges in clear detail. She understood their learning styles by “thinking like a dog”, and she used strategic approaches to help them overcome their difficulties from the source: insecurity, fear, inattention, etc. In just three days, I learned more from Sandy about teaching and learning than I had in 25 years of professional development workshops and trainings for my job as a (human) teacher and learning specialist!
Ruby now lives with my husband and me on a small island off the coast of Maine. She is not only my Canine Angels “Pal”, keeping me safe and keeping me company, but she also plays 3 important roles at our one-room K-8 island school, where I teach. First, Ruby serves as a Reading Dog, snuggling with younger students while they read aloud to her. Second, she helps children when they are having a hard time with their behavior or their emotions. Third, since we don’t have a school secretary or a “front office”, Ruby’s barking, whenever she hears the front door open, alerts us when someone comes into the school. This warning is especially helpful, since we can’t see the front door from the classroom. In the end, her “alarm barking” liability which prevented her from becoming a service dog, has become an asset in Ruby’s new role!
Each morning, Ruby sits attentively at our daily “Morning Meeting” circle on the rug. When it is her turn during our morning greeting, Ruby shakes hands with the person on either side of her. She does not move until I release her with a “break” or a “bed” command. When my 5-year old kindergartners start to squirm, the older children remind the squirmers that they “trained Ruby to sit still at Morning Meeting”, and that if they squirm...they will “confuse Ruby”. Ruby keeps us all in line.
Ruby is more than a mascot, she is an integral part of our school community. Thank you Sandy Mays and Canine Angels for the gift you have given to me and to our whole island! We are so proud of Ruby for carrying the Canine Angels message all the way across America’s coasts from Oregon to Maine.
A 2009 Canine Angels graduate, Michael is a sparkling 7 year old boy who was diagnosed with a brain tumor which, despite 3 chemotherapies and 2 craniotomies, took all of his vision from one eye and half from the other. Thank you to Michael's mother Dorithy for sending us this update on how life has changed for Michael with Bailey by his side.
August 19th was the magic day Bailey entered Michael’s life. Since then, every day is brightened with her smile and fantastic positive energy.
We were still in Oregon when Michael had to have his weekly blood test. For four years, he always had been very courageous and never moved during a blood draw procedure under one condition – he had to be on Mom’s lap. As usual, I asked him if he wanted to be on my lap and the answer was: “It is ok, Mom. Bailey is here”. Wow, that was unexpected but so great.
Since then, every week, we go to the clinic for the blood draw and
they have their ritual: open the two access buttons doors, say hi to the receptionist with an “up” on the counter, go under the chair to wait, both of them, go to the procedure after opening an access button, have the procedure, get a lollipop and … run out! Oh wait the access button again!
For his chemotherapy treatment, he usually spends seven long hours in the hospital. This is how the long wait is done with Bailey. To access his mediport, he always wanted to lie down on my belly and wanted me to stay close to him. As usual, I asked him how he wanted to proceed and the answer was: “Mom I do not need you. I just want Bailey on my bed.”
Michael is also much more stable and confident walking. This improved a lot by walking to school proudly with his dog.
All those little points might look insignificant but they are
unpleasant moments turned into better experiences, confidence and independence gained little by little. We will never be able to express our gratitude enough to everybody who is contributing to raise great angels like Bailey. Thank you to all again.
Elina is an incredibly determined 12-year-old who is willing to work very hard for the things she wants. Born with cerebral palsy, Elina didn't let that stop her from leading a full and active life. This joyous California pre-teen is involved in Girl Scouts, her church youth group and swimming activities. Elina is a spunky girl who will keep you on your toes with her wit and humor.
Nicknamed “The Computer Wizard”, Elina will gladly give you a tour through her Tango speech device. Complete with digital camera and the ability to morph speech into a child’s voice, Elina and her Tango are able to communicate with others that might not otherwise understand her. Elina's persistence paid off when we were able to teach her new Assisted Service Dog to respond to voice commands on her Tango. This begins the process of Elina being able to work her dog independently.
Always etched in our minds as "the girl in pink" (even her wheelchair is pink), Elina has certainly won a place in our hearts. She will go on to do many great things and now, with her Assisted Service Dog by her side, you can see a twinkle in her eye and a determination to live life to its fullest.
Elina received Assisted Service Dog Zoe, a female GoldenDoodle.