Frogs and dogs, oh my

I visited the Oregon Garden on my recent trip north. Located in Silverton, Oregon (near Salem), the gardens are a huge display of all kinds of plants beautifully arranged into types and themes, such as roses, conifers, vegetables, oaks, a sensory garden, a pet-friendly garden, and so much more. I first visited the gardens last winter when most plants wore their winter brown. This time, I saw a lot more flowers and was blessed with warm sunny weather.

The gardens are wonderful, but my favorite part was the water garden. As I approached, I heard something splash. I looked quickly, saw nothing, took another step. Splash. Again, I looked and saw nothing. Another step. Another splash. Was that the back of a frog disappearing into the muddy water?

As I proceeded, the step-splash, step-splash continued. It became a game. Could I step and see the frog before it disappeared? These frogs were too fast for me. But then up ahead on the bank, I spied a big green frog with a red head. Its colors were so bright and it stood so still that I wondered if it was real. I squatted, cranked my camera up to maximum telephoto and took a picture. No response from the frog. I moved closer and closer until it jumped into the water, its long legs stretched out behind it as it dove into the mud.

At the next pond, I saw two more frogs, darker green, bumpy and still as rocks. I let them be. I’d seen my frog. He’s in the picture, but pretty hard to see. It’s that green dot in the center, on the edge of the water.
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Annie and I have decided to delay testing for therapy dog certification. We’re still adjusting to the many requirements, including the new harness. Annie has adjusted so well that she has managed to slip out of the harness three times in the last week. No matter how much I tighten the straps, she does her Houdini act and gets out. But she is pulling much less, and I’m confident we’ll pass the next test with no problem.

Meanwhile, Oregon Coast Therapy Animals listened to a talk from veterinarian Dr. Charles Hurty on Saturday. Boy, did we learn a lot. Here’s one important tip: When your vet suggests vaccinations, find out what type they are and whether the dog really needs them. The experts are finding that some vaccines are useless, some are dangerous and many are unnecessary because the dogs already have immunity from previous shots. So don’t be afraid to ask.

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You talking to me?

It was a chilly morning on a school playground. A half dozen other dog owners watched. I backed up 10 feet and called Annie, fully expecting her to run full-tilt toward me, just as all the other dogs had. But, no. She decided to stay with the evaluator at the other end of the 10-foot line and pretend she couldn’t hear me. Grr.

How many times have we done this trick on our walks? I release down the leash and walk away. Then I call Annie, and here she comes like a downhill freight train. But now, in the playground at Yaquina View School, surrounded by obedient golden retrievers and their owners, she did not come until I pulled the rope and reeled her in. We tried it again. No go.

Oh well. We had already flunked the practice test anyway for our evaluation as an Oregon Coast Therapy Animals Pet Partner team. Therapy dogs are not allowed to wear the pronged metal collars that Annie has used since we went to dog school two years ago. They look cruel with their metal spokes poking into the dog’s neck, but they don’t seem to hurt the dog and they work. Too bad. Therapy dogs cannot wear metal collars of any kind.

We tried a nylon harness. She pulled me across the pavement. We tried a leather collar. She pulled me across the pavement. We gave up and used the pronged collar. Confused and frustrated, she pulled me across the pavement.

Today I’m going to pick up a different kind of harness which I’m told will work. Please, God. I tried walking Annie with a regular collar yesterday, and it was like trying to stop a Buick. When she spotted the neighbor’s cat, I thought I was a goner. I outweigh Annie by a hundred pounds, but she packs at least a hundred pounds of determination in that sleek tan body.

She can sit, stay and down with the best of them, and they say she has the right temperament for a therapy dog, but my dog needs to walk without pulling me around. And she needs to come when I call.

I got in trouble, too. I need to temper that mean-Marine voice our dog trainer taught me to use. I need to say my commands firmly enough to get results but not so firmly that I scare old people and little dogs. Hmm. Stay!

The real test is in two weeks. Will we pass? I don’t know, but it’s a worthy experience that will make us a better team, whether we ever become official or not. The good news is that Annie was friendly with all of the other dogs. Whew. No fights.
*****
I took Annie to Newport’s Bayfront the other night to give her some experience around people and pavement. The crowds and cars made her nervous, but the sea lions down below Port Dock One terrified her. You can’t explain to a dog that those monstrous critters can’t come up out of the water and hurt us. We had to go home.

On the way to the car, some drunken Oregon State Beaver fans, loyal to the black and orange, saw Annie and hollered, “Look, dude, an orange dog!” I guess if you drink enough Rogue Ale, she might look orange. . .
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Got questions about pet health? OCTA’s next meeting is a Q & A with veterinarian Charles Hurty next Saturday, Oct. 23, 10 a.m. to noon in the education room at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital.

Our therapy dog journey begins

Tension filled the meet room as new potential volunteers dipped a tentative paw into the world of Oregon Coast Therapy Animals yesterday. I suspect we were all thinking variations of the same thing: Taking our dogs to work their furry magic in places where people are sick, anxious or troubled sounds fabulous, but can we pass the stiff evaluation test, can we afford the many fees, and do we really have as much time as seems to be involved? Classes, tests, training, continuing education, meetings and visits to various facilities a couple times a week–Can we really do this?

There are lots of rules involved in taking a dog into places where animals don’t usually go. They must certified as healthy, be clean from nose to tail, and behave well at all times. All of this applies to the owners as well. In addition, the owners must undergo criminal background checks, and the pet partner teams must be insured. All OCTA members must join Delta Society, which oversees a national pet partner program.

And yet, the rewards seem tremendous. I have already taken my dog to my husband’s nursing home and seen residents who never talk to people talk to Annie. I have seen people who always seem to be cranky soften as they pet my dog’s soft tan fur. I have felt the peace and light that a dog brings into a room. It seems worth the effort to do whatever it takes to use that power for healing and happiness.

Plus we’d get name tags, a spiffy green shirt for me, parties and new friends, and Annie gets to go for more rides. Oh, happy dog.

I was pleased to see my friends Lyn and Darrell from yoga class at the orientation. Are people who are drawn to yoga also drawn to doing good deeds with their dogs?

I came home to a restless, crazy dog who delights in grabbing paper from my recycle box and making me chase her around the house to get it back. I took her out for a walk in the rain, doubling our training exercises. She did well, giving me a look that seemed to say, “That was fun. What next?” This is not going to be an easy journey, but we’ll take it one step at a time.

Annie works a nursing home miracle


There’s a woman named Pauline at the memory care center where my husband Fred lives. Pauline is a tall, handsome woman with a crown of white hair, but she’s quite far into Alzheimer’s. She does not speak to people. She walks around the building all day long like a ghost, bent forward, eyes glazed. I have seen her walk straight into musicians and other guests who don’t know to get out of the way. When she’s worn out from walking, she collapses on a bed. Often, it is not her bed. We have all found her in our loved ones’ rooms. If you wake her and tell her she’s in the wrong room, she nods and goes back to her ghost-walk.

Yesterday, I took my dog Annie to visit. My lovely lab-terrier had never been so far from home, but she loves to go for a ride, so I didn’t need to ask her twice. I didn’t know how she would behave. She’s young and energetic, but she did well. It’s a long drive, an hour and a half each way, but she mostly kept to her side of the car. Once we got there, she remembered all of our obedience training and proved it was worth the effort.

Fred lit up when he saw her. I haven’t seen that big smile in a long time. He spent the next two hours petting her. Various residents, workers and visitors stopped to touch her soft fur.

As Pauline approached in her mismatched clothes, she was muttering to herself about being chilly. It was 90 degrees outside and plenty warm inside. As she headed toward Fred’s back, she suddenly saw Annie. Her whole faced changed. She came alive. She walked with purpose up to the dog, her bruised hand outstretched. “Oh, you’re a pretty dog. Such a sweetheart,” she said as she pet her. Then she walked on, smiling, alert for a wonderful moment.

I was so inspired I decided to find out more about therapy dogs. Annie and I are not trained, but there are dogs that come to visit nursing homes, hospitals and schools all over the country. Seeing the effect, I want to get involved. There’s a group near here called Oregon Coast Therapy Animals which I plan to join. One can also find lots of information at Therapy Dogs International. Annie may be a bit too hyper to be certified, but I think it’s worthwhile supporting anything that can have such a wonderful effect.