Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Serving Others as a Therapy Dog -- What's Involved?

About a year ago, I started to contemplate something new to do with my 10-year-old lab mix, Juno. She, my husband, and I enjoy our walks as a pack, as well as traveling when we are not all together in our office at “work.” While I continue building my business, I wanted to have something fun and engaging to do on the side, and if I could take my dog with me, all the better!

 My brother was the first to suggest I look into therapy dog training for Juno, as the hospital he works at utilizes therapy dogs for patients and families on a regular basis, and he felt that our cool-as-a-cucumber lab mix would make a great addition to the volunteer staff there.

 Therapy dogs are not service animals, so they can’t go everywhere their handler does as is the case with a seeing-eye dog or a comfort animal. Therapy dogs do, however, serve an important function by being neutral parties who are simply there to support the emotional needs of others in times of stress. Therapy dogs serve in a number of facilities including but not limited to visits in hospitals, funeral homes, nursing facilities, libraries, schools, colleges and universities, libraries and even airports.

Good Dogs! Juno's classmates patiently wait
 I found a training program run through Therapy Dogs International (TDI), and enrolled Juno and I for the 6 week course this past fall. The training was rather similar to our work on the AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate we earned a few months earlier, but it was a bit more intense.

 Over those six weeks, Juno and I learned as a team how to remain calm if things (canes or other items) were dropped next to us; how to navigate around wheelchairs as well as walkers; and how to remain in a “down stay” for a longer period and allow strangers who may not be used to dogs approach and touch her.

 I’m proud to say that Juno made the training look easy. I have to admit that her age might have been a bit of an advantage, as the other dogs in her class were really puppies no more than three years old to her 10. Still, all of the dogs in her class did remarkably well with the challenges set before them.

 The hardest part for most dogs is the testing phase, during which handlers are not allowed to offer treats to their dog for a job well done. Although Juno is very motivated by food, she is also thankfully very happy for praise or a belly rub, too, so that helped us out in the long run.

 I’m happy to say that Juno passed with flying colors and we are now in the process of getting paperwork completed so we can begin our volunteer time at the hospital. This part takes longer than the training, because of the medical sign-offs and tests that I need to go through (it is a hospital, after all, so I need to be up on my vaccines! Juno’s all ready to go; she’s just waiting for me!

 We will certainly report in again once we begin our visits in earnest. In the meantime, if you and your pup are interested in becoming a certified therapy dog team, you can contact Therapy Dogs International via their website at www.tdi-dog.org.
MJ Courchesne is a freelance publishing consultant, writer, and part-time personal trainer with a passion for gardening, walking, wine, and travel. She lives in a restored 1890s Victorian home situated in the heart of Buffalo, NY with her husband and lab mix, Juno. Her new blog can be found at http://nickelcityboomerang.blogspot.com/.


Monday, January 4, 2016

3 Girls Animal Rescue -- Adopt Some Love

Adopt Some Love – Two Women Make it Their Mission to Save Hundreds of Dogs and Cats in Rural Oklahoma

This is Jessi.  At five weeks old, she was left in a pasture to fend for herself.  3 Girls rescued her and transported her to Colorado where she is bringing joy and comfort to her family that recently experienced tremendous loss.

The first thing you need to know about 3 Girls Animal Rescue in Poteau, OK– they are all volunteers.

The second thing you need to know about 3 Girls Animal Rescue – they are actually two girls, they say the third girl symbolizes the volunteers.

The third thing you need to know about 3 Girls Animal Rescue – they are the only hope for hundreds of animals in LeFlore County, Oklahoma.
Poteau is a small rural town located in the southeastern part of Oklahoma, not far from Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Poteau has a pound – not a shelter.  Animals taken in as strays are held for 5 days.  If animals are not claimed or pulled by 3 Girls Animal Rescue, they are euthanized on the 5th day.  Owner give ups are destroyed in one day, unless they are saved by 3 Girls. That’s the heartbreaking and shocking reality that Mitzi and Angela work with every day.

3 Girls Animal rescue was founded in 2013 (and incorporated a year later) to give animals in Poteau and Wister, Oklahoma a fighting chance – the tiny organization saved 450 dogs and cats in its first year.  In 2014, they saved 419 animals and for 2015, they are on track to rescue over 600 animals.

Mitzi got a call and went out in a snowstorm to rescue this precious boy.   He was around 8-10 years old, deaf from chronic, untreated ear infections, almost blind, heartworm positive, and absolutely the cutest thing she’d had ever seen!  Mitzi figured he'd spend the rest of his years at her house, but this wonderful couple saw his picture and fell in love!  They drove 2 1/2 hours to adopt him.  Say hello to Bernie and his family!
Mitzi and Angela work as a strong team, doing everything in their power to save animals in LeFlore County.  One of their greatest successes came in July 2014 when the team worked to change city code to end the gassing of dogs and cats – animals are now taken to local veterinarians to be euthanized. (sadly, there are still municipalities that gas animals)
It’s Mitzi that visits the pound every other day to pull the animals.  “It’s a heartbreaking but rewarding life,” she confessed, “but I feel blessed to get to rescue.  We are the only hope these babies have.” She also recruits and works with fosters.  She reminds fosters of the vital role they play in saving animals lives, “If we don’t save them, they won’t have another chance.”  That’s not hyperbole, that’s fact, the pounds do not adopt out animals, if they aren’t pulled by 3 Girls Animal Rescue, the dogs and cats don’t survive.
Mitzi and Angela work to ensure that all dogs and cats are fully vetted – up to date on shots, as well as spayed and neutered.  They work with three vet clinics in the area.  It costs 3 Girls a minimum of $120 per dog to get it ready for adoption.  The majority of dogs and cats they save need to be spayed and neutered.  The animals suffer from worms, ear mites and unfortunately – heart worms.  It’s not unusual for vet bills to reach several hundred dollars for a dog with heart worms – but they will do whatever is needed to save that animal and get it adopted.

 It’s not plausible that the hundreds of animals Mitzi pulls from the pound will be adopted in LeFlore County or even across the river in Fort Smith – and that’s where Angela comes in.  Angela is the master networker and logistics maven.  She works with rescue organizations in Colorado, Illinois and Connecticut to take the vetted animals and provide them homes.  She also schedules all the transportation for the animals.  So once or twice a month Mitzi, Angela, and a volunteer will drive a van load of healthy animals to their first stop to a forever home.  With no money for over-night stays, those animal transports are often one day turn arounds, and each season brings weather challenges. 

Mitzi and Angela work part time to help keep the rescue afloat.  Running a rescue is financially and emotionally draining.  Mitzi says the team's spouses are incredibly supportive and will step in when they sense a member of the duo needs a break.  They also could not do it without the support of volunteers and fosters.

Long term the team wants to continue to rescue animals and would like to start a low-cost spay neuter facility in LeFlore County.  “Our number one challenge is over population,” Mitzi says.  She said 3 Girls recently initiated a policy, “we won’t take an owner’s puppies unless they promise to spay the mother.  We had to, we kept getting litter after litter from the same dog.”

Here’s Mitzi with Stevie.  Stevie was in very bad shape when Mitzi pulled him from the pound. He only had use of 3 legs due to a permanent injury to one leg, had serious skin infections and was totally deaf. 
He's now happy in his forever home!

So what’s on 3 Girls wish list for 2016 and how can you help?

1)      Donate.  It costs 3 Girls a minimum of $120 to save a dog and $89 per cat http://form.jotformpro.com/form/42637003824955  and while they have great relationships with their partner rescues in Colorado, Illinois and Connecticut, those organizations don’t reimburse for or share vetting or transportation costs.
2)      Network.  Do you know a rescue group that accepts healthy animals from out of state, maybe one that shares costs and fees? Do you know of organizations that can help bring low-cost spay and neuter to services to Poteau?  Do you have friends and family in Oklahoma or Arkansas that can foster or volunteer?

3)      Educate.  Share the story of 3 Girls Animal Rescue with your friends and network.  Do you have a contact or expertise that can help 3 Girls expand?  Share it!   Currently 3 Girls is funded through private donations, but they’d love to apply for grants – ideas are welcome!

4)      Shop.  PawsGo is honored to support 3 Girls with these market bags.  We created and produced them for 3 Girls, to help support their rescue efforts.  Bags are $20 each and you can find them through PawsGo (www.pawsgo.com) or 3 Girls Animal Rescue https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.923421431044402.1073741879.448255361894347&type=3  
        3 Girls is also  registered on Igive.com.

We rescue because these animals have so much love to give. We rescue because when we look into the eyes of the dogs and cats in those pens at the pound, we see souls. We see fear, where there should be joy, and we HAVE to help them –
                                                       3 Girls Animal Rescue…..


3 Girls Animal Rescue

P.O. Box 1001

Shady Point, Oklahoma  74956


Annaliese was part of a litter of pups the girls saved and drove to Colorado for adoption.  Here she is with Angela celebrating arrival and hope for a forever home.