Who Let The Dogs In?
Written by Guest Blogger: Melody Lay COVT
In our VT practice, we enjoy a part-time associate with fur! Carl, my son Andrew’s service dog, is a four-year old German shepherd mix. Two and a half years ago, Andrew’s diagnosis shocked our family when the tests read positive for Type-1 diabetes. Shortly thereafter we obtained Carl, who trained as a diabetic alert dog. When Andrew’s blood sugar drops dangerously low, Carl alerts by pawing Andrew’s leg. This serves as Andrew’s cue to check his blood glucose level and treat appropriately. As technology has advanced, Andrew now wears a medical device that continually monitors his blood glucose levels. This technology gives us peace of mind, but has subsequently put Carl out of a day job accompanying Andrew to school. Carl now works for Andrew at night, on weekends, or when he takes a break from the monitor.
My doctor and a few of my co-workers witnessed Andrew’s diagnosis and our decision to train a service dog on his behalf. Since Carl trained and successfully obtained his service dog credentials, my doctor asked me to bring him in. Of course my co-workers didn’t mind since we all love animals. After speaking with Andrew, we decided everyone would benefit from Carl’s presence in the therapy room.
Carl integrated into the therapy room seamlessly, but we needed to develop a protocol for introducing patients. Carl patiently waits in my office while we retrieve our patients from the waiting room. If the patient has never interacted with Carl, we prep them by mentioning there will be a guest therapy dog joining us in the VT room today. As long as the patient comfortably approves, we greet Carl at my office door and walk to the VT room together. During therapy, Carl hangs out wherever I instruct him to stay. Inevitably, the patient’s curiosity will win over moving him or her to pet Carl. I have one rule; ask before you pet the dog.
I’ve noticed numerous benefits from having a therapy dog in VT, including lower anxiety, better communication, comfort, increased socialization, and higher motivation. Watching Carl benefit the therapy room in this way has amazed me. His first day at work he met my college patient with Asperger’s syndrome. The patient rarely engaged me in conversation because her comfort zone was silence rather than explanation. The first day she met Carl, she opened up. First, I saw a smile from ear-to-ear followed up by many questions about the dog. Until that day, she experienced great difficulty providing me with the basic feedback needed for therapy. With Carl in the room, she demonstrated a more relaxed demeanor and gave me more communicative insight into her visual world.
Carl offers a calming force to many of our patients with special needs. He inspires them to focus on their tasks in order to take a “petting” break. For our sensory patients, Carl provides tactile reinforcement with the silkiest fur you’ve ever touched!
The teenagers laugh at his name, after all, who names a dog Carl? We surely did not! He arrived with the name Carl. 🙂 Even our adult patients who’ve met Carl break out in a huge smile while in his presence. When Carl takes a break from his days at the office, my patients constantly ask me when he will return. My co-workers adore him and enjoy how he livens their day.
It’s been nice to experience Carl’s presence at work. His love and care helps our patients feel open, expressive and comfortable. Carl…man’s best friend taking care of some very important people! And best of all, he works for love.