Thursday, December 13, 2012

Its a four !!!

I heard Minal reading a few lines out of a book she had found interesting - " The Human Half of Dog Training" by Rise Van Fleet. " Dogs live with people. Dogs depend on people. Like it or not, for the overwhelming majority of dogs, this is the reality. Some people train their dogs to live comfortably in the human world; others simply expect dogs to figure out on their own." She told me how people sometime go wrong in establishing good communication with their pets, even if their intentions are good. She told me how lucky I was to have such a loving and understanding family. An ideal pet-owner relation is the one where there is good communication - both ways. I may just whine or bark, wag my tail or lower my eye and my human mom or my best friend Minal understands me. I do the same for them. I have met people who wonder, who are surprised at the level of understanding between us. But when you know how to communicate, it does not matter if there is one dog of four dogs in the family.

Minal told me of one such family in Pune, our own extended family of Animal Angels team which boasts of two senior therapy dogs and two in the making. It is one of those families with more dogs than human!! I am talking about the Chaterjee Family from Pune who have three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador. Here is what the head dog  Kiara had to say about her family when i asked her about how they all get along together. She talks about the joys of motherhood and how being a good pet and a good therapy dog are possible along with having fun!

One Golden Retriever is a lot of fun. Two a bonus indeed. Not for the Chatterjee family though. They have three Golden Retrievers (Kiara the mom, Houdini aka Lea the daughter and Thele aka Skipper the son) and one Labrador (retired therapy dog Krunk), all of whom are therapy dogs! Straining at their leashes, (for various reasons), this trio takes Sudhindra Nath Chatterjee for a long walk every morning. “Houdini is looking forward to catching other dogs unawares, Thele is interested in people and I am simply waiting for the walk to end,” sighs their mother Kiara as she flops down next to Krunk the Labrador, a retired therapy dog.
Back from playing ball, Kiara watches them let their hair down and says quite proudly that most of her babies-now over a year old- and scattered across the state are on their way to becoming therapy dogs. “Houdini and Thele are lucky since they have uncle Krunk and me to learn from. Pepe, who has taken over from Goldie is my pup too. Houdini has joined the Animal Angels clan and Thele is set to follow suit,” she wags.
Hoping to inspire others, Kiara, a veteran therapy dog herself tells us what it takes to be super mom, therapy canine and perfect pet.
From right, Kiara, Thele, Pepe Minal and Houdini 

Four of you must run riot at home: The kids by and large leave Krunk alone, choosing me to spar with instead coz they know he is old. At times, we get scolded sweetly by Rakhi, especially when Houdini and Thele dig up the lawn and eat up the plants, but it’s too much fun to resist. We all like our early morning walks and then the time we play ball. The rest of the morning is to sleep and to recoup. Lunch in the afternoon is another highpoint of the day. Krunk insists on eating first and often needs to be hand fed. Thele and Houdini always eat together from one bowl – a childhood habit I guess. I am the proverbial vacuum cleaner, I eat last and clean out all leftovers. 

What does Krunk think of all the mischief around him? The word that springs to my mind when I see Krunk’s interaction with them is “avuncular”. He watches them joust with each other, with a tolerant “kids will be kids” look on his face. They, on the other hand, make time for him, nuzzling up to him, licking his face, etc. So many mornings, I have gotten up to find Thele cuddled up next to Krunk. There is some male bonding happening there! To your question of favourite, I do think he favours Houdini though it is Thele who spends more time with Krunk. 

The Gang!

How are Houdini and Thele as kids and now as working dogs: Despite Houdini’s rambunctious nature, she seems to have taken to her role as a therapy dog very well. The videos show that she has been happy to interact with the autistic child undergoing therapy with her. Overall, she acts far more mature there than she does at home. Thele on the other hand, has not yet jumped into the hurly-burly of therapy dog life and generally spends most of his time looking and acting extremely chilled out at home!
I am like a big lady at home and outside as well. Being generally happy and mature works well for becoming a good therapy dog as Minal tells me. I have been talking to Houdini – when I can get her to lie beside me- and to Thele about this. They have my name and Krunk’s to live upto!

Houdini at work with Minal at the Animal Angels Therapy Center

What is the scene like, When you have visitors : The larger question is how the guests will react to us - four large dogs is a bit overwhelming especially when we have a very in-your-face attitude (literally!) Whenever anyone visits, Houdini is the lead dog, barking her head off. Standing with her front paws on the main door grill, she puts anybody who doesn’t know her off. Thele takes after me and generally doesn’t bark. Krunk, is hard of hearing and when he realizes Houdini is barking, he generally barks his head off without a clue why he is! We are locked up in a bedroom if the guests are scared of dogs, though loveable we are. Sometimes we bark our heads off in protest, but Rakhi comes and tails between our legs, we have to listen. 

Seeing us all together it is difficult to picture us as docile therapy dogs!
What do all of you dislike the most? It would be bath times for Thele and Houdini who turn up their noses and would like to roll in the mud instead. Krunk and I enjoy bath time. All of us dislike being segregated or incarcerated in a room. The humans think we dislike being separated from them, which is true. A day or two is ok but more than that has us worrying. Not a day goes by when we do not discuss something about them when they go on vacation. 

What are you scared of? For Thele and Houdini, anything unknown is scary. To some extent they take after me. I am petrified of crackers and cower under the table with teeth chattering like castanets all the while. But now with Minal working with us, she has taught us to deal with new sights, sounds and touch. And that has made us more calm and apt to handle strange sounds and touch.

What qualities make you all a cut above the rest and great therapy dogs? It has to be our temperament, our loving and gregarious nature, energy levels and our enjoyment of interacting with everybody.

Therapy dog Kiara with her owner Rakhi Chaterjee at a special  program for pediatric Cancer Patients at Ruby Hall Cancer Center, Pune.
Did you want the pups to be therapy dogs as well? Well, yes. I know they can bring joy or sunshine in people’s lives. With me and Scott as parents, its in there genes. 

Do you feel the pressure at work? We do sometimes. But mostly, since we can gauge the changes in reactions and actions of the child or the adult we interact with, we know what is likely to happen next. Besides, genetically we are meant for therapy and so quite look forward to our sessions! To see humans recovering automatically puts a woof on our lips and a spring in our steps.
Whats your advice to pups who are thinking about therapy as a career? Jump right into it. Seeing the humans happy is the most satisfying thing for us dogs. Just encourage them every step of the way.
See you at work!

Blog inputs: Uma Karve and, Sudindra Nath and Rakhi Chaterjee, Minal Kavishwar

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