Sunday, February 21, 2010

Maddy's Tail is Hypnotic

Maddy is a 3 year old, female tri-color mix of Australian Shepherd and “something fluffy.” It’s fun to hear all the different guesses about her heritage including Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland, Husky, Border Collie, Great Pyrenees, and Tibetan Mastiff. Wherever her DNA came from, we know her at home as a quiet, loving 70-pound lap dog and her hospital friends know her as one of the fluffiest creatures from the Providence Animal Assisted Activities and Therapy (PAAA/T) program at St. Peter Hospital in Olympia”, says Tracee Chamberlain.

Their story really started several years ago with Tracee’s first dog, Meeka. Meeka, an Aussie Shepherd and Border Collie mix was adopted from Thurston County Animal Services. Tracee found Meeka’s gentle, sweet behavior with people inspiring & wanted to find a way to share her with others. However, Meeka was too anxious and didn’t pass the Pet Partners evaluation. It was later discovered that Meeka had congestive heart failure and Cushing’s disease. Therefore, visiting in a hospital setting would have been too hard for Meeka both physically and emotionally.

So, the family enjoyed four fantastic years with Meeka. “Although, as her disease progressed we knew we needed to have another dog in the family to help ease our loss when Meeka’s time finally came. We then adopted Maddy, also from Thurston County Animal Services, and she was a perfect addition to our “pack”.

Of course, we had taken Meeka and our two children with us to interview Maddy and show us just how calm and laid-back she was. I immediately began obedience training with Maddy finding she was a fast learner. As I discovered her beautiful personality and calm temperament, I again entertained thoughts about becoming a Pet Partner team with my dog”, says Tracee.

Maddy and Tracee passed their Pet Partners evaluation in the spring of ’08. The evaluators commented that Maddy was a “star” and really seemed to be enjoying herself. Maddy and Tracee spent their first six months at St. Pete’s visiting on the In-Patient Medical Rehab unit, but have now found their special place on the Psychiatric unit.

Maddy never licks anyone, but instead gives a “sniff-kiss” that almost always tickles the faces she greets and elicits giggles from young and old alike. With the initial greeting complete, Maddy presents her super-soft fluffy coat for pets and cuddles. We then almost always hear “oohs” and “aahs” over how soft she is and Maddy earns even more praise and adoration. After a few minutes in one place she’ll soon get comfortable by stretching out on the floor. She communicates her approval of continued pets by rolling on her back and presenting her chest and belly.

All the while her fluffy tail is constantly wagging, only changing speeds to indicate when someone new has walked into the room. Danni Sabia, the PAAA/T Program Coordinator, says that Maddy’s tail is “hypnotic”. Maybe that’s how she gets people to pet her…? I know it always earns her extra treats and cuddles at home!

Maddy and I have had some fantastic visits so far, but one of my favorite moments happened on the Psychiatric unit in October. Maddy had spontaneously decided she wanted to curl up her big body on a chair and got comfy enough to close her eyes. A young man approached and I invited him to sit in the chair next to Maddy to pet her. He buried his hands in her thick coat, began smiling and after a couple moments he said, “If a dog likes me then I must be ok.”

Maybe I didn’t exactly know it those years ago with Meeka, but I have a hunch that was what her inspiration was all about. Our bond with animals is one of the things that makes us human and connects us with each other as well. Every day I’m awed and humbled that I am able to share the human-animal bond in a healing way with people. Meeka and Maddy have allowed me to do that and I count myself richly blessed!