When you choose to partner with facilities and specific clients, sometimes a change in management or ownership means the therapy dogs are no longer welcome.
This is the most frustrating part of being a volunteer program.
In the past six months three of our facilities underwent dynamic changes in management and personnel contacts. One facility decided they no longer needed “therapy dogs” because their new staff members would just “bring in our own dogs.” These were untrained dogs that were permitted to roam the facility off leash with no handler facilitating their presence, untrained dogs barking and jumping, untrained dogs perhaps being stepped on or tripped over. I only know this because I showed up with my dog for our regular visiting time and was greeted at the door by a barking dog, running in circles and lunging at my small dog as we opened the door to the activity room. No one had advised us of this change and it was not deemed safe to have our dogs there with unleashed dogs running around.
I was very proud of my dog for not reacting at all and just looking confused at the whole scene!
Another facility had three different volunteer coordinators in six months and no transition amongst the personnel. No one knew who we were and when I was able to chat with the new contact, it was soon decided they would not need therapy teams any longer. We later found out they have “resident” puppies living at the facility.
And perhaps the most frustrating situation is when you develop a close relationship with a particular therapist and that person leaves the facility or changes their schedule and the new therapist does not wish to work with a dog. Often it takes time to teach the new therapist how we work with the dogs but sometimes they just don’t want to incorporate therapy animals into their therapies. There really is little we can do in this instance other than be patient and hope the clients we worked with get the opportunity to see their dogs again.
But sometimes it all works out positively. Another of our partner facilities underwent significant change in ownership, management and our primary contact was leaving. But this facility worked with us to devise a transition plan so the new staff could get familiar with their charges and learn to work with the dogs. We downsized from five dogs to just one or two and lessened our time there from weekly to monthly. But we know that our participation with the clients is appreciated and understood and over time, have confidence we will build back up to a full schedule.
So we focus on the successes and facilities that want to work with us and understand that while we are volunteers we are integral to their staffing and their welfare. Some relationships have been in place for two, three, four years and this is what keeps our volunteers motivated.
We move on but sometimes I just sit and think of the people we no longer see and hope they remember us fondly.