DENVER - October 16, 2013
You probably know that I have several CCI Graduate Dog pals in Denver; we get together for play dates pretty often. I finally found time to set up an official interview with my friend Waffle, Fabulous Facility Dog:
JEB: Congratulations on being a graduate CCI Facility Dog - that's awesome! Please tell my readers when and with whom were you matched.
WAFFLE: I was matched with Elizabeth Holman in February of this year (2013). She's a psychologist at the Denver VA hospital; she works with a team they call "Palliative Care." That means they work with veterans who are sick or are at the end of their lives. She came to Team Training in Oceanside for two weeks. We met on the first day and worked together some the second day. She seemed kind of nervous, but I think she really liked me. Then on the third day, the trainers officially matched us up and we had a great time working together! We officially graduated together on Feb. 15.
JEB: Did you know you wanted to be a Facility Dog?
WAFFLE: When I was little my puppy raiser, Mel, used to take me with her to see people in a nursing home. I really liked meeting lots of people and it seemed like they enjoyed meeting me too. I often hear Elizabeth say, "She just knows who needs her" so maybe I learned that when I worked with those folks. I don't really like to retrieve so I'm glad I'm not a Service Dog or Skilled Companion. Instead, at CCI Professional Training when all the other dogs were practicing picking things up, I was practicing meeting new people. That worked out great for me!
JEB: Can you explain the difference between a Therapy Dog and a Facility Dog? I'm acquainted with some therapy dogs that visit patients in hospitals; how is your work different?
WAFFLE: Most of the dogs that visit people in hospitals are pets whose people worked with them to get certified to visit folks. They're volunteers, and their people are too. They're often called "therapy dogs" but they're really doing what's called "animal-assisted activities." They're not actually part of any formal therapy, more like part of a really great activity.
Facility Dogs are professionally trained working dogs (not pets) and they have jobs, usually full-time. Elizabeth and I together are an animal-assisted therapy team, because she's a therapist and she uses me as part of the therapy. She even includes me in her notes in the medical charts! Some Facility Dogs aren't considered therapy dogs because they have a job, but it's not therapy.
JEB: I think I understand, but can you give me an example of another kind of Facility Dog?
WAFFLE: Our friend Pella is a Facility Dog with an Aurora police detective. She helps her person interview kids and she helps comfort them, but they're doing police work, not therapy.
JEB: Ah, right! I have kind of a crush on Pella you know. She's so pretty. (sighs)
WAFFLE: (Rolls eyes) Yes, Jeb. We all know about your crush, and she's too old for you.
JEB: I know, I know. (sighs again) What are your duties at the VA? What's your day look like?
WAFFLE: My job at the VA is to help the palliative care team with their work, and to comfort veterans and their families. I meet with my team (doctors, nurses, social workers, and us) every morning, then we go together to see veterans in their hospital rooms. Sometimes it's somebody new, and I help introduce the veterans and the team. Other times it's somebody I already know who has asked me to come back. I say "Hi!" to them from the side of the bed, and if they want I can put my paws up on the bed and lean in closer. Some people like to have me up on the bed; in that case Elizabeth puts a sheet down and I hop up! Snuggling with them seems to help us both feel better. Now and again the veterans talk about dogs they've had and tell stories about their lives, and sometimes they like to pet me while they talk about hard stuff with Elizabeth. At times the veterans' families are sad so they like to visit with me, too. When veterans come to see Elizabeth in her office I get to visit with them as well. And often I notice people going down the hall and realize they need some "Waffle love!" Elizabeth is pretty good about letting me stop to say hello, even if we're on the way to somewhere else. She's learning to trust me when I tell her someone needs Waffle love.
JEB: Well, that's what your partnership is all about, and besides, it's your job! Are there any places you can't go in the hospital?
WAFFLE: I can't go into the Intensive Care Units. And if the people have to put on those yellow gowns and funny-smelling gloves, I can't go visit them. I don't think I'd like to wear one of those gowns, and I KNOW I wouldn't like the gloves! I just stand outside their doors and send them love from the doorway. They smile back, so I know it's working.
JEB: What are your favorite activities at work?
WAFFLE: I love snuggling up with veterans on their beds. I also really like going down the hall and visiting. People often smile when they see me coming, and I like to greet them as we go. I like meetings with my team; each morning I check in with each one of them individually. And I also like napping! As you can imagine, all that love and visiting can get pretty tiring, so I often have a nap in the afternoon, on a soft bed in our office.
JEB: Oh, yeah, naps are really important! Do you have any favorite stories from your work?
WAFFLE: One time we went to see a man who was so tired and sad he wouldn't even open his eyes or pick up his head off the pillow. But when Elizabeth told him I was there, he sat up! He wanted me on the bed so I got up and sniffed his beard and made him laugh. Then I lay down by his legs. He petted me while he talked to Elizabeth about his family and whether or not he should go to hospice. One of the nurses saw him petting me and said, "Hey, she's supposed to be soothing you!" He just smiled and said, "Oh, she is, she is." I liked that a lot.
Another time there was a really nice man who came here for treatment. After he passed away, his wife told one of our team members, "I want to give Waffle, the Facility Service Dog a special "thank-you" because the time spent with Waffle was the best time during the entire hospital stay. It made the treatment go much, much better. Waffle's visits were something for him to look forward to throughout the day." We all really wished he could have lived longer, but I was glad he and I got to share some special time. You know, Palliative care is sometimes called ‘Team Comfort’ and I really like to comfort people.
JEB: Do you interact much with the staff? How do they feel about having you around?
WAFFLE: The people that work here are so nice! I have lots of special friends here. Some of them stop and visit with me in the hallway, and some of them come by and see me in the office. Sometimes we play with a toy, or I let them rub my belly. I even have one friend here who comes in at the end of the day and we do yoga together – she does something she calls "downward dog" and I just wind around her legs and show her my favorite toy. It makes us both happy.
JEB: I have friends like that here at work, too! Though no one does "downward dog" with me. What kinds of things do you like to do in your off hours (besides come to my house for play dates)?
WAFFLE: I love play dates! My favorite thing in the whole world is when I have a toy and another dog chases me for it. Elizabeth tells me I'm really fast. I also like to go for walks. I don't mind getting my nails clipped, but I REALLY love getting my teeth brushed! It seems like a funny way to give me a turkey-flavored treat, but humans are strange so I just go with it.
JEB: TURKEY? Yum, I'm gonna ask Marianne to change toothpaste flavors for me. Tell me about your "siblings" Palima and Tuffy.
WAFFLE: Palima is a Lab-Golden cross like me. She was raised to be a service dog but when she went to college she told them, "I'm just not the kind of dog who works." She hates the cape and laughs at me when I go to work, but we get along great. I've heard Elizabeth say that Palima plays a lot more since I got there. Tuffy is a big orange-and-white creature, but I don't think he's a dog. He says he's the King of All He Surveys, but I've heard the humans calling him "that darn cat." Sometimes he smacks my nose with his fast paws – Bam! Bam! That makes me excited, I run around in circles and then show him my nose again. This is always fun. Until it isn't fun. Then he gets puffy and hissy and we stop. Until the next time.
JEB: HAHAHAHAHA, that's hilarious! HAHAHA hahaha. (wipes eyes.) Hey, didn't you and Elizabeth win some kind of special award this year?
WAFFLE: Yes, we were honored to be given the Friend of Nursing Award! They have both our names on the plaque, but Elizabeth says she thinks she’s just on there for show. I really love the nurses here; they are so sweet to me and they take such good care of our veterans. I'm glad they like having me here too!
JEB: Readers, be sure to check out the slideshow above for photos of Waffle, including her "Salute to Nurses!" What else should I know about you?
WAFFLE: Everybody says I have really soft fur. In fact, one of the first things Elizabeth said about me when we were matched was that I'm "soft like a bunny." And I love to eat bananas! I also really like carrots. And I know how to fist-bump; if you come see me at the hospital just ask me and I'll show you.
JEB: Ohhh, I'd love to come visit you at work sometime. Ask Elizabeth about it, OK?
Waffle: Of course! We could do lunch.
Chow for now!
Are you looking for the perfect gift? Holidays are coming, you know! Do me a favor and buy a copy of "Let the Dogs Speak! Puppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence" by Marianne McKiernan, available to order in print and e-book format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your favorite bookseller. Bonus: Marianne's portion of the royalties goes to Canine Companions, so you'll be helping people get fantastic working dogs (maybe me!)