People who have known us for a while know that we have been volunteers with several dog-related activities for some time. One of our favorites is visiting at the nursing home with Paw to Paw, a dog therapy group in Bloomington. We have gone over there for more years than I can count. We started after we'd had Treat for about two years when we realized that it simply wasn't possible for us to ever pet her enough in a shameless bid for free supplemental petting. It worked like a charm. Treat was a natural and Hawk did tricks to amuse the crowd when he didn't feel like being too close to people. After he was sidelined due to an odd shot reaction, Blueberry began to go, and she enjoyed it much more than he did, so he retired from visiting. He was more than happy to help Lilac hold down the dog beds at home. After Treat passed away, I looked for a new hound that I thought would be good with nursing home visits, since my husband and Blueberry are a pretty tight team. Bunny hasn't disappointed me. She turns on the charm the minute we walk in and she doesn't leave anybody wanting for an opportunity to pet a greyhound.
We're often asked why we go all the way to Bloomington to volunteer. It's not particularly close to us and we have had to cut back because gas has become so expensive, but the dogs love it and so do the people there. For many of them, it will be the only visitor they get all month. Often they tell us stories about dogs they had when they were young or that were particular favorites. I do have some of the stories memorized because I've heard them so often, but it costs me nothing to hear them again. It would be closer and easier for us to visit in Peoria, but unfortunately, the local animal welfare society there has a stranglehold on visits to anything in town. We've taken our therapy dog test with TDI, a national therapy dog group, and I am not comfortable with their test nor their policies on visiting. So, we've enjoyed going to Bloomington for many years and have been satisfied with our decision.
Getting a dog certified as a therapy dog isn't cheap, but I feel it is worth it. We took a basic obedience class together, which is not required, but is very worthwhile. One component of the therapy dog test is passing the Canine Good Citizen test and obedience helps a great deal with that. So, there's obedience class for around sixty dollars, a vet check, and around a hundred dollars in fees for the dog to be evaluated, although that is only when you take the test. After that, there are yearly maintenance fees to keep your certification, which isn't as expensive.
One thing that I've always dreamed of doing as a therapy dog team is visiting in the children's ward of the hospital. Recently, the local hospital sent out a plea in the local newspaper saying that they were looking for therapy dog teams to visit at the hospital, including in the children's ward. My husband and I got pretty excited, because we have looked for this opportunity for a while. I knew that it would be through the local welfare group again, but I was considering biting the bullet and signing up anyhow. We'd just be extra qualified if we took a national test and then passed their test as well, I reasoned. Then we got to their website and the details. They wanted three hundred dollars to take this evaluation to volunteer in the hospital. My husband and I decided that was the end of that dream.
Not too long ago, we ran into an acquaintance who does volunteer with this group. He was telling us about how he is in the program to volunteer at the hospital. Often he tries to recruit us to volunteer with this group. We had a pretty interesting conversation with him, while I was having a completely different conversation about it in my head.
Volunteer Man: The program is great! You should really try it!
Me: Yeah, I've heard this song and dance before... I was interested, but honestly, three hundred dollars seems like a lot to ask from volunteers.
Volunteer Man: Yeah, but, you can get sponsors to help with part of the fee.
Me: Um, we're in the middle of a recession! I'm sure people are shelling out sheckles for that kind of stuff left and right! That seems like a lot of work and a lot to ask of people...
Volunteer Man: Really, you can get the price cut down to just about half the fees coming out of your pocket!
Me: I have moths flying out of my pockets! Well... What is the test like? How many people who have taken the test passed it?
Volunteer Man: There are a group of people who evaluate the class. Over half of our class didn't make it. The testing was pretty subjective, but we're one of twelve who passed.
Me: (If you have met me in person, you can probably imagine the look on my face at this point. If you haven't, picture Will Ferrell's face when he spies the fake Santa at the store in Elf.) Oh yeah! Sign me up! I, um, wish we could, but it cost us enough to be ready to visit the nursing homes and do the READ program!
Volunteer Man: Oh, you can't visit nursing homes with the dog if you take them to the hospital! They track in germs! You can still do READ, though.
Me: (I was completely dumbfounded, but I think I managed to keep my mouth closed. That or my husband closed it for me.) Germs? The hospital is full of germs! Are you kidding?
Volunteer Man: Old people in nursing homes have germs that are dangerous to people in the hospital. They don't allow dogs that have visited nursing homes to come in.
Me: What happens when old people go into the hospital? Well, thanks for the info, it's certainly a lot to think about!
I have to admit that I've still thought about visiting the hospital, partly because Bunny is so good with young children. However, I just don't have the money required to swing it and then I think of the people we visit in the nursing home, too. They are thrilled to see us when we arrive. The people in the hospital will most likely always have someone to visit them and bring them cheer. We'll stick to the nursing home and enjoy the priceless feeling of being the bright spot in somebody's day.