Whenever we are approached by a new facility to bring in the Love Dogs, I go with one of my own dogs for an assessment visit.
Depending on the population and environment, I take Kirby or Benny. Kirby is my specialist who will work with very challenged populations, especially people on the autism spectrum. He will hold a position forever and is the most non-threatening dog.
Benny is perfect for more active populations and so enjoys being held and cuddled.What do I look for to determine if this will be a Love Dog partner?
Firstly I meet the staff. We want them to be welcoming and open to working with us to engage their clients. We want them to have some animal knowledge or be open to learning about the animals and their behaviors. We want them to want us there and understand we can be part of an overall care plan, not just dogs in the room. We want them to understand that we are professional volunteers and take our involvement seriously.
We don’t just drag dogs to people. The more we understand about each person’s abilities and limitations the better we can guide the animals and have a successful interaction.
Have they had other therapy teams come in and what was that experience like?
Then we look at the overall facility. Is it clean, does it have an odor, are the clients well cared for and living to their highest potential. Where would we be visiting – clients’ rooms, central locations, indoors or outside?
What kind of floor is there – slippery, carpeted, changing – all this helps decide which dogs will be suitable.
Where is the location? We prefer our teams not travel too far as the dogs get tired and travel time should never exceed visiting time.
What do we need the teams to do? Will we be using the dogs for assisted hand-over-hand petting? Will the dogs be lying on the floor or walking around?
Would large or small dogs be better for the tasks required? Does a client have a specific need such as a soft dog to introduce touch in a pleasant way?
Does a client have a specific fond memory of a certain breed and we want to tap into that sense memory?
Does a client have a fear of dogs and we need to work our way up the size and breed chain to desensitize the client
Do we need dogs that are small enough to be put on a lap or bed?
Do we want larger dogs so they can be reached from wheelchairs?
Will we want several dogs to visit at the same time – will the dogs be moving around or all in a small shared space?
Do we currently partner with similar facilities or will this a new experience for our volunteers?
After the first experience with Kirby or Benny, I determine if this would be a good partner for the Love Dogs. Being so strategic in selecting our partnerships has ensured long, ongoing relationships whereby our teams continue to work for years building success up-on success.