Denver - August 30, 2013
A few weeks ago Marianne opened an envelope she'd received in the mail and a small cardboard person fluttered to the floor. I walked over and sniffed it before she picked it up. "I'm getting several humans, creamed corn, dog and whiff of antiseptic," I said. I gave it a quick lick. Crayon, cardboard, hint of peppermint candy. "What is it?"
"Jeb, no! Don't eat Flat Stanley!" Marianne held it up so I could see. "Flat Stanley is visiting from California. We are going to keep him for a couple of months, take him places and take lots of photos, which we’ll send to his person, Peg, at an adult day care program at a senior community called The Chateau at Carmichael Park."
I shook my head. "Sounds weird. I don't understand."
Marianne thought for a minute. "Why don't you ask Linda Zisko, who sent Flat Stanley to us, about the program? I'm sure she can explain it better than I can. You can also ask her about Summer, the CCI Facility Dog, who works with her!"
I nodded. Made sense. A good Canine Correspondent always goes to the best source. So, here's my interview with Linda and Summer:
JEB: Let's start with the important stuff: dogs! Marianne told me that you have a Canine Companions Facility Dog; is that right? How long have you been matched?
LINDA: I am privileged to have a Facility Dog named Summerlee AKA Summer, Summy or just plain ole Sum. We were matched in May 2011 class on the Northwest campus at Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa CA.
JEB: How did you hear about Canine Companions?
LINDA: Back in the late 90’s when I was working at an adult day care center I read an article in the local newspaper about a local CCI graduate. I contacted Canine Companions and that same graduate came to give a presentation to my group of folks. Fast forward to April 2009, when I was directing an adult day care program with a very limited budget. I wanted to have a pet therapy program and was not able due to the cost of having a professional fill that need. I looked up Canine Companions for Independence on the internet and was put in touch with a local chapter. (Oh no…here comes the good stuff!) Two local puppy raisers came to visit with their pups. It was a smash hit! The clients loved it and I loved it. Of course, being good puppy raisers that they are, they threw me the bait and I took it hook, line and sinker! In July we began raising Seven, a sweet yellow lab cross.
JEB: Yup, CCI puppy raisers are really good at
tricking enticing other people into raising puppies. Did Seven go to work with you?
LINDA: Yes, she immediately became part of my work with the clients. I made up games to include the clients in her training. We did everything from distractions, to competitions, to just being a calming effect for anxious clients. Seven did really well working around wheelchairs, walkers, and slowwwww moving people. She tolerated ear tugs, lots of petting and love.
JEB: Why did you decide to apply for a CCI Facility Dog?
LINDA: When I saw the effect the puppy had on my clients I decided to apply in May, 2010. Seven turned in for Professional Training in February, 2011. It was hard to return Seven to Santa Rosa. I was missing “my puppy” but mostly the clients missed her too. Then I got invitation to attend the May 2011 Team Training. Oh boy, the countdown was on! At work we made a huge countdown sheet and every day the clients would cross off a day as we ticked toward my graduation with a Facility Dog.
JEB: What about Seven? Did she graduate?
LINDA: No, she didn't. Seven was released from the program due to a medical condition. I had a home chosen for her with my friend Jody in the event that happened. Seven's new family was not ready for her, so I got to take her home with me. She went to work with me and enjoyed hanging with her peeps until she went to her new home. Jody got Seven certified as a therapy dog and she works with Mercy Hospice. She is also the cover girl for their fund raising calendar. I get to see her all the time and she gets to join us at work upon request/occasion. She is a great dog!
JEB: Marianne is participating in your Flat Stanley project - can you tell me more about it?
LINDA: As a Program Director, I am always seeking ideas and activities to engage our clients. Our Flat Stanley Project was born when a fellow puppy raiser friend was participating in a Flat Stanley project with a child. I loved the idea and adapted to the adult level. The basic idea is that each Flat Stanley is matched with a client and a sponsor. The sponsor takes Flat Stanley on various adventures and sends photos to us.
JEB: But why include puppy raisers?
LINDA: I tried to contact other adult day care centers to participate, to no avail. Then I thought. "Hey! Summer has a nationwide family!" so I sent out the idea to the CCI network. We reaped 20 responses in an hour and ultimately we sent out over 50 Flat Stanleys all over the US! Our project includes an educational component by incorporating “Armchair Traveler” virtual visits to the states Stanley has been. We are also cooking or baking local dishes as part of our creative component.
JEB: Why is it a good project for your clients? Has it been going as well as you'd hoped?
LINDA: Everyone loves to receive mail and having photos is a huge bonus! Each client has a folder with all their messages. We share them on a daily basis. At the end of the project, Stanley and his messages will go home with the client. We have also posted a United States map with all the places noted with the name of the client. My hope was to post the photos; however, the sponsors have been so over-enthusiastic I have NO room to do that!
JEB: What do the clients say about it? Any surprises?
LINDA: Since we have had Seven and Summer, two yellow female dogs, in the Center for over four years, the questions I get are, “How did Summer get to (fill in the blank, location)? How did Summer get to be black? When did Summer grow long hair?” They are not surprises to me, as I work with my dementia clients all week long. Very little surprises me. Folks with dementia live in the here and now.
JEB: From a dog's perspective, that's the best way to live! What else should I know about you and/or the project?
LINDA: I had high hopes and the Canine Companions community exceeded them! I am so grateful for the responses, commitment, caring, and dedication the project has yielded. The results are overwhelming. It is unreal to see six to eight pieces of mail in my box every day and the excitement of the clients when I show them what we got today! Summer is earning her keep by using the get and give command she leaned in Advanced Training. The administration staff is always asking “So how many Stanleys showed up today?” It has been a very rewarding project in many respects.
JEB: Sounds like a perfect match. Speaking of matches, I have some questions for Summer. Where were you raised?
SUMMER: I was born in Santa Rosa on April 19, 2009 on a little farm. I have nine brothers and sisters. My mom is Rhianna and dad is Weiss. Three others from my family are Facility Dogs just like me! Looks like we were all cut from the same mold. When I was eight weeks old I went to live with my puppy raiser Aaron in Granite Bay, CA. I was a school project, whatever that means, for his senior year in high school. He or his mom Kim took me to puppy class. I met lots of other dogs including another dog with the same dad as Seven! We are half-sisters - imagine that! We've became good friends and Seven sometimes stays with me when Linda goes out of town.
JEB: What was Advanced Training like?
SUMMER: I worked really hard to learn new things. Shelley Dickenson was my trainer and she knew I had a lot to give but had some problems bonding. So for five months, Shelley took me home with her husband Chuck (CCI trainer also) and their two children. I guess I made the grade because I was selected for Team Training.
JEB: Did you know Linda was your partner right away at Team Training?
SUMMER: Linda was looking for an easy-going dog, so I showed her how gentle and calm I could be. After working with several different dogs, the trainers asked Linda if she had the choice who would she pick and she said ME! I know she was bursting at the seams to call Aaron and Kim to let them know we'd been matched, but we had to wait and wait and wait. That was really hard because she was so excited. But when the trainers gave us the OK, Linda was on the phone, crying!?! I didn't understand - I thought she was happy. At graduation when they called Linda's name to come to center stage, she started crying all over again and Kim and Aaron did the same thing! People, I just don’t understand.
JEB: Yeah, Marianne calls it "happy tears." Humans are weird. What is your job as a FD? What's your favorite part?
SUMMER: As a Facility Dog I go to work with Linda. She has a pretty nifty setup for me. I have a crate (my dog cave), a comfy bed, several water bowls, and I really think I run the place. Oh yeah…a whole basket full of toys. I get to greet the daytime clients at the gate when they arrive, hang out with them, get pets, belly rubs and show them how to do things like bowling and golf and other fun stuff. I learned to dance on cue and chime in on my favorite song, "How Much is That Puppy in the Window?" It is a fun job and I love it. Sometimes I get to visit the people that live there full time and they love me. There's a lovely yard when I want to lie in the sun and roll in the grass. The only disadvantage is when there are tasty morsels on the floor and I have to leave them because Linda gives me “that look." What a waste of good treats, but she doesn’t give in.
JEB: Yeah, another example of humans being weird. Do you have anything to do with the Flat Stanley project?
SUMMER: I get to deliver the Flat Stanley letters in a basket. And I watch my friends look at the photos of other CCI dogs. Some are little puppies and some a service dogs and some are like my sister, Seven. I guess it is fun because they clap when I have my basket with stuff in it. Linda says I have a calming effect, but I am just being a nice dog to nice people. Sometimes when people get nervous, we go for a walk outside. The person thinks they are in control, but I know better, Linda is in charge. Whatever it takes, I will try to make someone feel better.
JEB: What do you like to do in your off hours?
SUMMER: Linda takes me to visit with other puppies that have a yard so I can play with them because we live in a condo without a yard. She is a baseball nut and we watch the Yankees play on TV. I think it is a waste of good balls when they don’t let dogs chase them, but that is my opinion. I hang out with Daisy, an 18-year-old ginger tabby. We had another cat named Alice who was just as old but she went to the rainbow bridge. Linda was sad so I just hung out with her to make her feel better. We go for walks around the neighborhood when it is not too hot. I also have another very important job at home: I wake up Linda EVERY day at 5:45. She knows I need to be fed, so I make sure I get her up. Some days she is happier than others; I will never figure out this weekend thing.
JEB: HA! How funny - it's the same at my house. Anything else I should know about you?
SUMMER: We do lots of things for Canine Companions for Independence. We belong to a group called the Gold Rush Champions. Linda says helping out is paying it forward, but I say Yippee! I get to see some of the grads from my class, little tiny puppies learning commands, friends I have made along the way. We give people information about what I do and what my fellow puppies might be able to do for them. I love doing what I get to do. You know, every dog has a purpose and I am so glad I was chosen to have this one. Linda says the same thing and she does that crying thing again. *sigh*
Thanks, Linda and Summer! I'll make sure Marianne keeps taking photos of Stanley and sending them to you!
Readers, click on the slide show above to see some of our photos of Stanley.
Chow for now!