Zoe, the Pet Therapy Dog

After training  (Zoe the Corgi’s First Day of Pet Therapy) and an initial evaluation, Zoe and I went to our final Pet Therapy evaluation today. Considering that Zoe is my third dog in the program (Dog as God’s Messenger), I was surprisingly nervous. I worried that I might forget something or that rules might have changed while I wasn’t looking.

Things started off well. We met Lyn, our evaluator, at hospice, and proceeded to visit the staff. We always try to see all the staff we can at hospice. It takes a special person to work there, and they deserve all the warm fuzzies we can give them. Zoe was her charming self, her little stub of a tail wagging furiously as she dashed over to see her next new best friend.

Once all the hospice staff had been suitably loved, we walked down the hall to see patients and family. As we approached our first room, we were surprised  by a little Scottie who came charging out of the room, barking to mark it’s territory. Zoe, startled and challenged, barked back.

I groaned inside as red-alert alarms went off in my brain. Pet Therapy dogs are not supposed to bark in the hospital. I corrected Zoe by giving her the “leave it” and “quiet” commands, but I also waited for Lyn to show us the door.

But Lyn just shrugged. While patients can bring pets into hospice, they are supposed to abide by the same rules as pet therapy dogs, and not bark in the building. This dog had startled Zoe, and barked a challenge. Zoe responded, but quieted almost instantly. No harm, no foul. Whew!

The rest of the visit went fine. We shared the love with patients and visitors. I didn’t make any mistakes. Lyn’s biggest concern was that Zoe pulled at the end of her leash in her eagerness to get to people. Since she weighs 22 pounds, it wasn’t as if she was going to pull loose and go tearing down the hall. With age and experience, and me gently reminding her, we agreed that she’ll settle down and save her energy for wagging her tail stub.

So it’s official: Zoe has earned her purple scarf, and is now a Pet Therapy dog.

Zoe the Corgi’s First Day of Pet Therapy

Zoe turned two yesterday, and so we were able to visit the hospital as a pet therapy team for the first time today.

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Don’t you just love the little corgi tongue sticking out?

I’m often asked what it takes for a dog to be a pet therapy dog. Requirements vary from program to program, but here’s the minimum for the pet therapy program at Lutheran Medical Center:

The dog has to be friendly to every person it meets.

It absolutely cannot growl, snarl or snap. If it does for any reason, it’s out.

It has to be well behaved — no jumping, lunging, or bark. Basic obedience is nice — sit, stay, settle, down — but not mandatory, as long as the owner has control of the dog at all times.

It can’t lick or give “kisses”. I know. I love them, too, but mouths are germy places, and that’s bad for people who are sick already. More surprising, it’s not dog hair that people are allergic to, it is dog saliva. It’s just that the hair has saliva on it. So, no licking.

It must be able to take a treat gently.

It must pass a fecal screening to make sure it is free of parasites.

And finally, the one Zoe and I have been waiting for, the dog must be two years old.

When Zoe first came to us (A little corgi dropped in and wanted to stay.), she was a little skittish around men and other tall people. Hats and umbrellas freaked her out, too. I can’t blame her for being nervous — she’d had a lot of changes in her short life.


Just a little worried…

But I could sense even then that she would be a great pet therapy dog if we could get her used to new things. So we started encouraging her to “say hello” to every person she came across. Treats may have been involved.

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We worked on “no kisses” after Zoe got over being shy.

The end result was visiting the hospital, with all it’s strange sights, sounds and smells, and greeting new people, some of whom who wear floppy gowns — and loving it. I was ready to leave before Zoe was.

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Why are we stopping?

Next up — being evaluated by other pet therapy program people to make sure I’m not biased or missing something. I don’t think she has any serious problems, but we’ll see…

Puppy Play

We got a new puppy in November, and it has been a pleasure to watch her as she grows.

We named her Tegan, which is a Welsh term of endearment that means “number one girl”, “sweetie”, “honeybunch”.

She is a Mutt. Based on what she looks like and how she acts, her ancestry probably includes Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dobermann or Rottweiler, cattle dog, and pit bull but we really don’t know.

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Tegan at four months old. She loves to cuddle and play. And her tail never stops wagging.

We got Tegan when she was two months old. One of the biggest things that attracted us to her was that the first time we met her, she climbed right into our laps. I want to use her as a Pet Therapy dog, so this was a big plus.

When we brought her home, our corgi, Darwin, didn’t know what to do with her. It took him about a month to figure out that puppies can be fun.


Tegan and Darwin playing together. It looks like they are fighting, but they were both free to leave at any time. Darwin was growling, but it was a high-pitched “puppy” growl.


Tegan is mouthing Darwin’s muzzle. He is comfortable enough with it to be on his back.

Since Darwin accepted Tegan, they’ve been good buddies.

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Darwin lets Tegan join him on his favorite perch.


Tegan is being very submissive here, no threat at all.

The red “octopus” is a favorite toy of both dogs.


Her reward is to get to play with the favorite toy.

There are limits though. When Darwin has had enough, he retreats to his “man-cave”, which happens to be the bathroom. Tegan is not allowed in.


Tegan waits for Darwin to come out and play.

Once Darwin has had a chance to be by himself for a while, he’ll be back out, ready to play.




Dog as God’s Messenger

When we got our golden retriever-chow mix from the Denver Dumb Friends League, we thought she looked like a fox. In honor of this, we named her Kurama Kitsune, “mountain fox” in Japanese. My daughter came up with the name after watching a Japanese anime cartoon that had a half fox-half human character named Kurama in it.
With her thick red coat, pricked ears and bushy tail, the name fits the dog well. Even her amber eyes look a bit foxy.
By the time she was out of doggy adolescence, it was clear that Kurama Kitsune was a very social dog. Every person she met was, in turn, her new best friend. To fulfill this outgoing personality, she and I joined the Lutheran Hospital Pet Therapy Program, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Now, each month we go to visit patients in the hospital, chatting with them, and giving them warm fuzzies.
A few months ago, when I was visiting the hospital with Kurama Kitsune, I came into the room of an elderly Japanese lady. I introduced myself and Kurama Kitsune, but it was obvious that the lady didn’t speak English. It was only when she saw Kurama Kitsune that her eyes opened wide. She sat up in bed, put her hands together and bowed from the waist down. To Kurama Kitsune. I had no idea what to say, and words didn’t really seem necessary. Whatever was going on, I was only there as Kurama’s handler.
We left the room after a few minutes. The entire time we had been there, the lady never stopped bowing to Kurama. I was totally baffled.
Last weekend, my daughter and I went down to the Cherry Blossom Festival at Sakura Square in downtown Denver. While we were there, we saw pictures of kitsune – foxes. Further investigation revealed that in Japanese folklore, foxes are magical if mischievous creatures. Seeing one is usually considered good luck. Some people in Japan today believe them to be spirits, just as some people in Iceland believe in elves and some in Scotland believe in brownies and banshees.
Armed with this new understanding of what kitsune are in Japanese culture, I remembered the incident with the Japanese lady. I tried to put myself in her place: “I’m sick and in a strange and frightening foreign hospital. My family tried to explain what is wrong with me and what is going to happen to me. But they may not have understood exactly what was going on, either. Anyway, they aren’t here right now. I’m alone, and I’m afraid.
Then in walks a gaijin, a white woman, saying a few words I understand: ‘mountain fox-spirit’. And there it is – a kitsune. A fox-spirit that brings good luck.”
It must have made quite an impression on her – a friendly spirit had come to visit her in the hospital. And so she had bowed to it.
As I figured all this out, it made quite an impression on me. It is a humbling realization that Kurama Kitsune and to a lesser extent, I, had been an agent of someone’s divinity. I have never before, nor do I ever expect to again, have that honor.