If you’re feeling a tad disheartened by the news, or maybe the view in the mirror when you went to buy new pants (okay, that’s probably just my problem), I have a suggestion: Go out of your way to go to the Assistance Dogs International Conference, wherever it might be held in the years to come. I’m at the 2014 conference in Denver, as I write, having spoken yesterday about People, Trauma and Dogs (focusing primarily on identifying trauma in dogs and using what we know about healing from it in humans to apply to helping traumatized dogs). It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring place. The rooms are full of awesome people doing wonderful things, many accompanied by equally awesome service dogs doing equally wonderful things themselves.
One of the things you take away from a conference like this is the variety of assistance that dogs are providing people all around the world. Here are just three stories that illustrate the breadth of what dogs can do for us:
The Courthouse Dogs Foundation This is Molly, curled up during one of the sessions, and here is a story about what she, and other Courthouse dogs do, and how they benefit crime victims. Petra, another courthouse dog, was used in a child sexual assault case, in which the interviewers were unable to get enough information out of the child to move the case through the legal system. The girl simply froze up and was unable to speak about what had happened to her. Finally, she was left alone with Petra, a dog carefully evaluated and trained for just this situation, and she poured out what had happened while hugging the dog. Through the glass, the interviewers heard her say to Petra: “I’ve told you more than I’ve ever told anybody. You’re such a good dog, when you die I hope you go to heaven.” When the adult interviewer returned to the room, the child sat up straight and clammed up again, but now the detectives had what they needed to proceed with the case and work to protect other children in the future. Courthouse Dogs are carefully evaluated with children (I was surprised to learn many other programs do not include an evaluation with children as part of the requirement before being certified to work with children. Oh my. That might be a subject for another blog….). Courthouse Dogs are also allowed in many jurisdictions to enter the courtroom and provide solace for those involved in highly stressful environments. Imagine having to testify, as a young child, against your mother’s new partner, or your uncle. What a great program! For more inspiration, read the story from the founder, Ellen O-Neill-Stephens, about her son Sean and the dog Jeeter who changed their life.
Dementia Dogs This is the working (not final) title of an important pilot project in the UK which has placed three dogs in the homes of people suffering from some form of dementia. It is a collaborative effort from several organizations (including Guide Dogs and Dogs for the Disabled), that is looking for ways to safely place dogs in homes in which a person suffers from dementia. This is a photo of Gladys, Ken (who suffers from vascular dementia) and their assistance dog Kaspa. Ken suffers from anxiety, especially when his wife was away, but now Ken and Kaspa can sit outside of the supermarket together while Gladys does the shopping. Ken and Kaspa get lots of social interaction with passers-by, and Gladys can manage to maintain the household without constant stress. It sounds like Kaspa has been a life saver. I should say here that the presenters, led by Helen McCain, were very clear that the recipients can only be in the early stages of dementia, that they are carefully screened to ensure that the dogs are safe and that this is a project very much in the pilot stage. But how wonderful that they are doing this work.
Here I am this morning with Rick and Laura (and Titus and Bosor), after talking about their work for Canines for Service in Wilmington, N.C. We talked about their work in the Naval prison (brig) that allows prisoners to train service dogs for mobility and as PTSD service dogs. Talk about a win/win. In the program, the volunteer prisoners, who are completely devoid of any kind of touch (touching anyone is never allowed), live with the dogs for 9 to 14 months, working hard to train the dogs as service dogs. Rick told me about one prisoner who spent eleven years in the brig, who got into the program when it first began six years ago. He is now free and doing well in the community, after having spent 10,000 hours training service dogs for others. He told Rick that, pure and simply, the program saved his life.
Heady stuff this. And profoundly inspiring. Those are just a few of the stories you’ll hear at an ADI Conference. Of course, this is not a TV show, so there are lots of controversies and concerns in the assistance dog field, but I can’t imagine being here and not being uplifted.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Well, needless to say, I’m not actually. I’m still in Denver, the mile high city soaking in the conference, w while Jim is holding down the fort at home. I’ll be going to more talks this afternoon and… wait for it… a tour of the Kong factory late this afternoon. I’ll keep you posted.