The most accepted terms for this field are Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT involves working with someone when a specific goal has been identified. If you do this as a volunteer, you will work with a professional who will assist you in selecting goals for different individuals. AAA are those activities designed to strengthen someone's quality of life. Usually performed by volunteers, they are generally "meet and greet" activities.



Meet Golden Luke
Luke is following in the pawprints of Lucy Rudd, Click here to learn more about Lucy and her family. And, read below to hear Luke's dad tell the story of Luke's first official therapy dog visit.

A couple of weeks ago, Luke finally received his registration from Therapy Dogs Inc. Things have been hectic here so we haven't had a chance to pay a visit to Exeter Healthcare....until yesterday [April 28, 2008].

It was a rainy, dreary day. Just perfect for a visit to our favorite rehab center. A thorough brushing to remove any excess fur, and a change of clothes for me and we were off. Luke was excited to go for a ride and when he saw where we were going, he became more animated. We have been here many times before so Luke could work with the staff getting him used to all the things he will encounter during his real visits. Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, and, oh yes, the inevitable lunch cart were taken by him until they were no big deal. Now, we would put all this work to the test.

Luke and I walked into the facility and were greeted enthusiastically by the staff. Most of the people were old friends and knew Lucy and Ben. They were so happy to see me back with Luke and gave us the royal welcome. We started with the short term rooms where I could get Luke used to visiting people who could interact with him. To my delight, he warmed to the task and delighted everyone he met. He proved to be a "leaner", resting his body, gently against the patients so they had no choice but to pat him. I watched him very carefully, looking for traits that I would need to work out and others that I would need to encourage. Amazingly, there was not one negative trait that needed correcting. I did see, however, a few I need to encourage. Eye contact, and head resting are my priorities for now.

I felt comfortable enough to take him to the "Vent" wing where people who are paralyzed live. This is a long term care facility and some of these patients have been here for 10 years. I just cannot imagine having to live a life, in a bed, without the ability to move one muscle from your head down. The depression must be enormous. Imagine, then, (assuming you like dogs) the joy of a visit with a beautiful, friendly, golden retriever and an understanding human.

My first patient was "Doug". Doug has been here for as long as I've been visiting. He's about my age, thin, bald, but with expressive eyes complete with crows feet. How does a guy who has been paralyzed for at least 10 years have crows feet? Doug smiles! He cannot talk but will mouth his words and compliment them with his eyes. Believe it or not, communicating with him is easier than you think. It's amazing how clear he is when his mouthing a greeting and his eyes are crinkled in a smile. He has seen Luke before but we have not made any physical contact.

I walked into his room and said "Hi Doug! We're official now!"

His eyes crinkled and he mouthed "Congratulations!"

"How's he doing?" I read from his lips.

"So far, so good!" I replied.

I explained that because he was so new to this, I wanted to let him look around the room and get used to the equipment that kept Doug alive. I showed Luke the ventilator that was making a rhythmic, wheezing sound followed by a click and the exhaust of air. Next we saw the catheters and electrical cables that carried the waste from Doug and kept him monitored by the nurses station. Luke took all this with aplomb. Finally, I brought him to Doug's side and told Doug what I wanted to do.

When Lucy was alive, I would lift her out of her stroller and place her in the bed with Doug. She would make her way to his head where she would give him kisses. Because of Doug's paralysis, he has no feeling anywhere on his body with the exception of his head. Lucy seemed to know this and Doug absolutely loved it!

I told Doug that I was going to place Luke's big paws on the side of his bed, next to his head so Luke will understand that this is where he needs to go to make meaningful contact with Doug. He crinkled his eyes and mouthed "OK!"

I told Luke "UP!" and "Easy!" and lifted his paws and placed them on the side of the bed. I covered his paws with my hands in case he reached out. Doug can't move out of the way and Luke's claws, although short, could do some damage.

Doug looked at Luke, moving just his eyes, and mouthed "Hi Luke!"

Luke then amazed me by slowly leaning forward until his nose was almost touching Doug. Carefully, gently, he began to lick Doug's face.

Doug opened his mouth wide in a laugh. His body shook as he laughed. He pursed his lips and made squeaking sounds (Like you were calling a cat) and all the while Luke kept licking. All this took only seconds but for me, time had slowed down to a crawl. Luke finally stopped and pulled away. Doug stopped laughing but the smile remained.

"Good boy!" he mouthed. Then to me, "Thank you!"

"You're welcome, Doug" I said. "I am so happy that Luke seems to know what he's doing. I think Lucy's there beside him, guiding him and encouraging him."

Doug replied "I think so too."

Not wanting to stress Luke out, I told Doug that I would be back next week. He thanked me and as we made our way out of his room, Luke looked back at Doug. I could see that he liked the visit and was sad to go.

We had been at the rehab for almost an hour and I decided to call it a day. Luke was beginning to pant. It might have been the heat but he may have reached his limit for the day. We said goodbye to everyone and walked out into the rain.

"Not bad" I thought to myself. "Not bad at all!"

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