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From Cottage Pup to Therapy Dog

 

I remember it so well.It was the morning after our first night with a new puppy.I posted this picture of Gavin on the Cottage Life Forum and asked for help to raise a cottage dog.


 

You see we were leaving for a week at the cottage that very afternoon and we were rank rookies at dog ownership.We both had dogs growing up, but they were the outdoor type.I did extensive research; I read books on raising a puppy and how to train a dog.But…when the four paws hit the ground, I needed to hear from my forum friends what I really needed to know to make my pup a healthy, happy and respectable member of the cottage community.They came through in spades with advice on vaccinations, preventatives, inherent cottage dangers and many training tips.Happily that first week set the stage for what has been a wonderful relationship.

Time marched on and our commitment to training continued.Something very special about our dog Gavin began to emerge.Sure he was a friendly and affectionate guy, but he began to display a 6th sense for people in need.I first discovered this when we were at a large outdoor cottage gathering.There were 40 or more people and three other dogs (he loves to play with other dogs) but he went straight to one man at the party.The man had Parkinson’s disease and was trembling quite violently.This behaviour may be off-putting to many animals, but Gavin was immediately drawn to this man.He sat up nice and tall leaning against the man who began petting him.And you know what?The trembling eased up some.Gavin lay down at the man’s feet and stayed with him for twenty minutes before finally engaging with the dogs and other party-goers.The next sign emerged when my mother's friend, who has just lost her husband, came to my house.Gavin had met her a dozen times and was his regular friendly self, but this time was different.He ignored everyone else in the room and glued himself to her during the entire visit.On other occasions he showed himself to be incredibly gentle and receptive with a number of different special needs individuals we encountered on walks.I knew Gavin had a gift and I knew it was my job to continue our training so that we could share his gift with others.

I began investigating pet therapy programs and found an on-line mentor.I found a local trainer that is a tester/certifier for Therapy Dog International.Gavin was assessed for temperament and basic obedience through a series of trails.He passed with flying colours and was deemed “a natural” for therapy work.Once he received his TDI Certification, we were off to find him a job!

Currently we volunteer at the Stroke Recovery Group where Gavin and I visit people recovering from stroke and brain injuries.They always post what days we will be coming and attendance on those days nearly doubles!He is diplomatic, visiting each of the clients, but of course he has his favorites.One man has lost his verbal abilities and is severely impaired physically.Gavin always goes to him first. The man squeals with delight as he awkwardly tries to pet Gavin and Gavin licks his hands and face.

Recently we have begun visiting the staff and students at the college where I teach part time.Gavin has come to class with me and visited with the stressed out students in the hallways.It took convincing to get the administration to open up to the idea of bringing a dog into the college, but everyone is thrilled with the results and we have been overwhelmed with requests to visit all of the different programs.

And on his off-time?Well Gavin is still a cottage dog at heart!