Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And Oscar goes to.....School!

Today is Monday, a warm sunny day. I woke up as usual, roamed around in the garden, chased Mr. Tommy from next door, teased Dom, wrestled with him, went for a walk, and ate my food. I was just chilling on the porch when I saw human mom, Shalaka, packing my work bag. TODAY IS MY FIRST DAY OF WORK after a long vacation. I seem to have forgotten about it up until now. I am going to sit in the car first and then I’ll tell you all about it

I am Oscar and I am a therapy dog working with Animal Angels Foundation. My specialty is assisting my co-therapist when we work in schools with young kids. This year I was assigned to a primary school where different children with different needs come and I get to work with a few special ones who are very unique. They all love me very much. Not that I am bragging, but I am very famous with the kids. Initially they were a little reluctant but who wouldn’t?! It’s not very common thing to have a dog inside the classroom. After a few sessions, the kids and I got to know each other and now they are very comfortable around me. I can’t wait to meet them. I am so excited I can’t stop wagging my tail.
Here we are! It’s a nice place. They even have a play ground. Look at the grass, so green and soft. If I were not a professional I would just run and roll in the grass! Let’s go meet the teachers first. Hellooo ladies, how are you?! Oh, new teacher!  Why is she scared? Never seen a therapy dog before? It’s okay. I am very gentle. I’ll sit here nicely and let her pet me. She seems to like me. It’s a good start. I can’t wait to meet the children. Here they are! Helloo kids..? Do you remember me? Oh yes..I remember you! What do you want to do today? You want to brush me? Great!! I could really use some nice grooming. Ohh..someone is pulling my tail. What’s happening? Who is this little guy? I have never seen him before. Let me say ‘Hi’. He looks scared. He started shouting. I look at my partner. She seems calm and composed. She is smiling. This may not be a bad thing then. I better give this kid some time to know me better.

 I completely forgot to mention my partner. Meet Aditi, she is counsellor and an animal assisted therapist and we have been working  together with Animal Angels Foundation for over two years now. I know exactly what is going on in her mind and I bet she knows what goes on in my mind too. She knows exactly what I need. It may be bowl of water, a treat, a pat on my back, a short walk, my favourite toy or a reassuring smile. She just knows. My partner guides me when we work with children who cry, shout or are sometimes rough. I help her by motivating a child, if a he seems distracted. That’s why we are so good together.  We are co-therapists. Some kids here need more attention as they understand the world a bit differently than the others. They may not always be able to express themselves normally. But that’s where I come in. They find it easier to connect with me. When they work with me they are more focused, they are willing to do new tasks. The most important thing is they enjoy doing even the most difficult task when I am with them.
I remember a girl who could not talk like other children. In fact she never uttered a word despite all the efforts from her teacher and speech therapist. Then we started working with her. She was very shy, very low on self confidence. She didn’t show much of an interest in me. But my partner and I never gave up on her. After a few sessions she started petting me voluntarily. She started showing interest in playing with me and grooming me. One day she insisted on taking me for a walk. I was all ready to get up and start walking. But my partner asked her to call me first. That was my cue. I was not supposed to walk unless she calls me. We tried it a lot of times. Initially she would call with hand signal. Then she started making noises with hand signal. And one day she actually said “come”. A girl who never said a word was actually calling me to go for a walk with her. 

She knows when I am stressed out and need some time for myself. Why do you look so surprised? Being a therapy dog is not as easy as it looks. It can be stressful sometimes. It’s not all tail wagging and fetching ball. It takes a lot of understanding on my part. Let me tell you, I had to undergo a year of training before I started working on field.
But it’s easier when you have a partner who knows you. Work is never serious with her. We make it fun for each other. She also gets stressed sometimes. But I know exactly what to do when she is down. I have a trick. I go near her and nudge her with my nose, rub my head against her forearm and that makes her smile.
Look! Someone’s got the ball. Throw the ball, throw the ball. I’ll fetch it for you! Woof! Why isn’t she throwing the ball? I think she likes it. Yea! I know right! It smells amazing and feels amazing too. Take your time. I’ll wait till you are done appreciating my precious toy. Whoaa..she throws like a pro! Here, take it and throw one more time.
I’ll get back to work now guys. I don’t want to be distracted while working. I’ll be back after the session.

Today was so much fun! I love this job! I can’t wait to go home and tell everything to Dom! By the way Dom is my younger brother.  He is a Rottweiler and he is huge. He is very gentle though. I think he has what it takes to be therapy dog. I bet mom will agree!
I smell my car. Is it time to go already? I wish I could stay but my mom is here. Gotta go! Woof woof!

P. S: We lost Oscar, our therapy partner a few months back. His parent Shalaka Mundada and our entire team was proud to work with him. He was special in every way and brought smiles where ever he went. His legacy in continued by his daughter, Therapy Dog Pearl, who also works with Animal Angels.
Write up by Aditi Bodas

To know more about my work and my team, log on to www.animalangels.org.in

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