Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Wisdom of Chester

During our school days, when we have a free moment or two, we will venture to the office. Office people need Chester time too.  And one of the secretaries...she has a drawer with doggie snacks for guess who. 

Also the office is  a good place to connect with students who come in with recess owies,  tummy- aches or tears. Sometimes TLCC, tender loving canine care, is just what's needed.

On this day particular day, a student was seated across the room from us. This student was obviously not a happy camper, and not one teensy bit happy for office time.  We had recently been in this young person's classroom and knew the reason for the needed office visit.

Normally, Chester is quick to greet the incoming.

But this time, Chester looked directly at grumbling student,  then gave out a loud and very noticeable "sigh" and settled down at my feet, not moving a muscle to venture across the room.

I think therapy means staying put.

The wisdom of Chester. 

An Umbrella Story ...With a Happy Ending

This week while we were spending time in my granddaughter's 4th grade classroom, her teacher's son (from another grade) was having a hard morning with headaches. And so, he came in to his Mom's classroom, and nestled into a cozy blue beanbag chair by her desk, to have a place and space to rest and hopefully find relief from pain.  Chester and I went over to say hi ....

I knelt next to Austin. Chester stood still as a statue about 2 ft away. I  could  NOT figure out the why's of Chester's  decision to stay at a distance.   I didn't push him to come, nor did I gently tug his leash ... but,  I watched and pondered while visiting with Austin.  Usually Chester is quick to come to Austin's side, no matter where he is. This very brave young boy has had a rough season with some HUGE health issues, and as often happens, Chester just knows and understands these things and is quick to offer love and compassion.

But not today.

And then I noticed........and understood.  While snuggled into that cozy chair, Austin was fiddling with a small white looped chord,  and the chord was attached to a folded-up UMBRELLA.     One of Chester's fears, right up there with thunder claps and booming fireworks, is the dreaded pop-open UMBRELLA. (another story for another day).

I looked at Chester and felt his dilemma .....  His eyebrows kept twitching as he looked from umbrella to Austin and back again. 

Finally............finally.... Chester's love and compassion for Austin won, becoming  bigger than his fear. And he scooted in to offer a snuggle and a smooch, even while scary-umbrella was still in Austin's hands.

I filled Austin in, on a bit of  the umbrella story,  and thanked him for sharing a bit of his courage with Chester.  His eyes twinkled as he patted Chester's furry head, and of course in classic Austin style he encouraged his friend, "Good Boy Chester."     

Friday, February 2, 2018

Sensational Chester Moment

 A Happy Friday note to our Almond Acres Teachers ~~

This picture of Chester popped up in my fb feed this week. It seemed especially timely in light of our Habit of Mind.... Sensational Learning.

A little background on this Chester Moment.  5 years ago we landed on the Central Coast. As I sat atop this picnic table, I was feeling so anxious, wondering how all the puzzle pieces of  life in this new land would fit together. I glanced over at my buddy Chester, here he was sitting atop the same picnic table ---- eyes gently closed, listening to the sounds of the sea, smelling all the fragrances, and feeling the warmth of the sunshine atop his furry head.   He's my best teacher. I closed my eyes too, and followed his lead.

I hope this weekend (after the play!) each of you has a Chester feel the sunshine atop your furry head!

I'm so thankful for each of you.... for all you give and who you are.  You are touching lives,  inspiring hearts and minds more than you know. 

Have a great weekend!

Love, Diane and Chester


Fire Fighters and First Responders ~~ My Christmas Blessing

Sometimes seasons of life seem especially full. Life can feel overwhelming. We've all been there.  I'm there.  And during the Christmas season life can feel fuller. During these times, usually the last thing I want to do is add one more thing to my schedule.

Sometimes though, that's just what I need.   During November/December California was experiencing her largest wildfire in history,   --- coming on the heals of other huge fires throughout our state.   When the last-minute request came through for pet therapy teams to visit  the fire fighters at their base camp, first responders in Santa Barbara, and evacucees at UCSB, ~~ well, the stuff of life fell away, and Chester and I said yes.

With the firefighters, what touched me the most......... was listening to the conversation that often flowed when they knelt, or reached to pet Chester. I heard stories of their own families, pets included. Stories of  'home'.  A gently wagging tail, the feel of soft warm fur, often invite warm hearted memories to surface and conversation to flow.  It's almost like for this brief moment-in-time the weight of their hard work and huge sacrifice is lifted, and it just kinda feels like home.  Therapy Dogs can do that. 

A small way for us, to say a big thank you.

Another highlight ~~ visiting men, women, and children at the evacuee site in Santa Barbara. I can't imagine being in their shoes. Waiting. Waiting to return home, or what was left of home.  Chester found two little brothers. The boys took turns walking, running, and playing with their new 4-legged friend. Giggling with abandon!

The Red Cross volunteers who had been tirelessly giving and serving for weeks,  seemed to breath a little deeper and find a bit of rest for their souls.... as they took a long moment to pause,  pet our pups, and talk story.

               Denise Fitzgerald (left) and Mr. Bingly, pet therapy teammates and dear friends  ~~
taking time to sit on the floor with someone who needed a friend.
Chester giving a smooch of encouragement to a Red Cross volunteer

One of the many things I love about the the two pictures above ~~~ is how they reflect  the heart of pet therapy, and what can happen when multiple teams visit sites together. We allow our dogs to find their nitch with people. We don't cluster together --- we disperse.  Our therapy dogs have built in radar for people who need them ~~ and we get to follow their lead and participate. Sometimes conversation flows, we listen, we encourage, we love,  right along side our dogs. Sometimes, as with this Chester moment, no words needed on my part. I just am blessed to soak in the  moment.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Working Interdepently

Working Interdependently
Interdepently~Work together, learn together, depend on each other

I'm not sure there is anything cuter than listening to 1st graders pronounce big words with a bazillion syllables.

This is a hard word to say ....   In - ter - de - pen - dent - ly.

We said this word a lot of times today.

And I explained to my students that  this is the only way Chester and I function. We work together, we learn together, and...we depend on each other.

Besides our everyday life as a pet therapy team, a story came to mind, once again from Schreiber Pediatric in PA.  We were working with our little friend Naia.

Naia's Occupational Therapist was helping her to overcome big fears in order to  feel safer in her huge world.

Naia had come to trust Chester, so working with him in OT was not only healing and fun, but groundbreaking for this little one.

On this particular day, Naia was to crawl through an expandable tunnel.  For some children, this would look incredibly fun.  For Naia, it was overwhelmingly frightening.

 The thought was for Chester to pave the path through the tunnel.  And of course, Chester would loan a bit of his bravery to Naia, and she would follow.

 Chester and Naia both looked through the tunnel together.

I went to the other end of the tunnel and called Chester.

He looked at me. He did not move a muscle. He would not come. No way Jose. He was frozen.

This was not going as planned.

And so, I brought Chester to the opposite of the tunnel. He and Naia looked at one another through the very scary tunnel.

His four paws stayed firmly planted on one end, Naia's hands and knees firmly planted on the other.

Neither budged.

The therapist and I looked at each other.

"Naia," I said.  "Do you think you could help Chester   He's having a really hard time."

I pulled out the peanut butter jar and handed it to Naia.  "If you could just reach into the tunnel a little bit, maybe he will sniff the peanut butter, find his courage, and come to you?"

She pondered this situation, then nodded, and stretched her arm into the tunnel gripping the opened peanut butter jar.

Chester's nose twitched. mmmmmm  

Naia moved a bit further into the tunnel, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g to Chester.   He could not resist. He came.

 And they met in the middle.

In the middle of the tunnel.

Chester licked the jar, and kissed Naia's outstretched hand.

"Good boy Chester," she whispered.

And  together, in-ter-de-pen-dent-ly, they crawled through the tunnel to the other side.

And then..............they did it again.  And again.   :)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Special Olympics

Yesterday was our  first time to share in the Special Olympics. What a blessing to be there. The day was filled with unexpected surprises, amazing athletes and volunteers, and a million memorable moments.

Chester gave and received SO much love throughout the day, no matter where we roamed there was always time for an athlete or helper to pat this pup and share some lovin'. Each moment was special at these olympics ~~  but, the moment forever etched in my memory is Chester poolside at the Special Olympics.

We were invited to share in this day from one of our favorite athletes at Almond Acres ~~ she is someone who has climbed into Chester's heart, and mine.  Audriana and Chester share a special bond that I can't explain, but, from the moment they met, it was love at first sight.

Our day began with walking into the Opening Ceremonies, Chester was at his friend's side. She proudly held one of his leashes as she marched in, leading the way for her  AACA friends. Uniformed Officers from Law Enforcement and Public Safety lined the walkways, greeting each athlete with encouraging words, a high five or knuckle bump....many with tears.  tears in these eyes too..........

Our plan was to stay in the packed gymnasium with Audriana and friends throughout the entire Opening Ceremonies. Soaking in every magnificent moment. However,  things did not quite work as planned. Imagine ExCiTeMeNt, thunderous applause, cheers & stomping feet on bleachers, exploding from over 2,000 people.  Great for people, not-so-great for my pup.  Thunderous applause sounded a bit too much like real THUNDER to his ears.  Chester gave me the this scares the bejeebers out of me lookwhich meant it was time for me to take my buddy outside to a quieter spot, so outside we stepped. 

After the Ceremonies we met our athlete poolside. Poolside for Chester usually means woohoo and swim time. Fortunately, he did not make the plunge, but greeted his treasured athlete at water's edge with a smooch, wishing her good luck in her swim. He would have joined her if he could!

As soon as she entered her lane for her swim event, Chester and I positioned ourselves at the opposite end of the pool, along with a few other cheerleaders from her family and school. When the race began, our little swimmer was kind of stalled in start position. The crowd cheered for her, and Chester began to bark, I am talking GIANT and LOUD woof woof woof. His eyes were on his girl in the pool, urging her forward. And forward she swam! Chester's tail was swooshing like a propeller. His barking was so loud and incessant that I pulled him back, looked into his eyes and whispered ....Chester, quiet.

He looked right back at me as if to say,  It's the Olympics for cryin' out loud, and our girl is swimming!

You're right.

Back to leaning over pool's edge and barking his brains out. He did not stop barking until his swimmer reached the end of the pool and popped her head out of the water ... and then he gave her a big ole doggie kiss.   .....And then took a serious drink of pool water.

It was the sweetest moment ever.

And then.

When Audriana stood on the podium getting her gold medal, she motioned for Chester to join her. And he did. And he posed with her.  And together they smiled.


 The Special Olympics --- beyond Special :)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Habit of the Week ~ Responding With Wonder & Awe

Responding with Wonder and Awe
Absolute Ahh-mazement, Jaw dropping Moments

This week I asked the students to say Ahhhhhhhhh. And freeze. That is Wonder and Awe, I explained. It's the moment when your jaw drops open and you are amazed at something....  Or someone. Or a thought or discovery. An idea. Or beauty.

I encouraged them to NOT pass these moments by, but to stop. Stop and step into the moment of Wonder and Awe to see what is there.  "You don't want to miss it," I said.

Which reminded me of a Chester story... of course it did :) . 

We were walking down the hallway at Schreiber Pediatric, on our way to visit Melissa, (our Girl Scout Cookie Friend!), when I heard someone call me. "Excuse me, you with the dog :)."

I turned around. The woman quickly explained to me that she was a Speech Therapist and her patient, who had never spoken a full sentence, was able to put words together for the first time, asking  "Can I pet the dog?"  

Talk about jaw-dropping moments.

The Speech Therapist continued, "I know you are on your way to an appointment, but would you mind letting my patient pet your dog?"    Oh my goodness, OF COURSE!   About face!

We stepped into her office and there we found a smiling little girl, about 6 or 7 years old, who sat quietly & eagerly waiting to pet the dog.  

"I hear you would like to pet my dog, Chester." I gently smiled.

She nodded, touching his soft fur. Then out came the words,  "I have a dog."

The Speech Therapist, with tears in her eyes, held up 2 fingers, "Sentence # 2", she whispered.

"You have a dog too?" I asked.

The little girl unzipped her backpack, pulling out a stuffed doggy. "This is my dog." she said.

 Sentence #3.

Sometimes the most magnificent Wonder and Awe Moments happen when you are on your way...
I'm so thankful we pawsed and stepped into the moment. 
It was a miracle moment indeed.