Turbulent Therapy

Adriel and I have been volunteering with Therapy Dogs International for four years.  As a certified Therapy Dog, Adriel is allowed to visit hospitals, schools, and other locations.  She provides touch therapy to patients of nursing homes and hospice centers and lends an ear to children in local kids clubs.

And we have enjoyed every minute of it!  I love seeing people’s faces light up as Adriel enters the room.  I should point out that Adriel has a very distinctive feature.  Her tongue is longer than her head, so it always sticks out.  Kids adore her for this.

I am constantly looking for new places to visit.  In my quest, I contacted a local hospital.  I was hoping that Adriel would be able to visit the children’s wing.  Imagine my delight when the hospital replied that they were just creating a therapy dog program and that they would be honored if Adriel and I would be their second dog/handler team.

This truly brought joy to my heart.  Until I received a rather large packet in the mail.  The packet contained information about joining the hospital’s auxiliary.  There was an application to complete and I had to have three reference letters.

I was shocked.  Adriel and I passed a two hour test.  She was also awarded her Canine Good Citizen certificate by the American Kennel Club.  Why did I need to fill out an application?  But wait, there’s more!  As it turns out, I also have to pay yearly dues and had to purchase my own uniform to wear when visiting.

This should have sent up red flags in my mind, but, all I could think about was the people that Adriel could make smile and feel better.  I jumped through all of their hoops and was accepted into the group.  However, I soon found out that the visits were not what I had bargained for.

On our first visit, the Activities Director (and newly knighted Therapy Dog Program Coordinator) actually walked us around from room to room in the care center (they do not yet have a program set up for the actual hospital).  Adriel and I were introduced to each patient.  We were there for almost two hours spreading love and smiles.

But, I was told that I would be on my own for every visit thereafter.  Which would have been fine, except that the Director “forgot” to put on their events calendar that Adriel and I were coming.  What does this mean?  It means that most of the patients were asleep or not in their rooms because they were busy with some other activity.

I tried not to be disheartened.  “The program is new”, I told myself.  “Give it time.”  But, time only made it worse.  For our visits, we are supposed to be given a list of all of the patients and their room numbers.  As I ask each patient if they would like to visit with Adriel, I check off the people who accept a visit.  Which would have been great…if the Director would have remembered to put the list in the place where he/she said it would be.

On days when I could not find the list, I was forced to go home without visiting anyone.  I addressed this issue with the Director (and his/her supervisor) several times.  I was finally told that the Director would “try to remember” to put the list out, but that I could bring a piece of paper and a clipboard with me and just write the room numbers down.

Ummm…let’s see, I have my purse slung across my body and I am carrying my dog from room to room.  How would I manage to carry a clipboard?  And why should I have to bring supplies?  I am bringing the most important ingredient:  the dog!

To make matters worse, no one wanted to see Adriel anymore.  I asked if this was normal and the Director explained that since it was a care center, people are constantly moving in and out.  This made sense, but, it seemed like a waste of everyone’s time (especially Adriel’s).  There were visits where I wasn’t be able to check a single person off of the list.  How sad is that?

Then, it happened.  I contracted C Difficile from the care center.  I will spare you the gory details of this horrific infection.  If you want to learn more, please ask Google.  Since I had the infection, I was not allowed to continue visiting until I recovered.

While feeling the worst that I ever have in my life, I received a letter from the auxiliary in the mail.  A new procedure was being put in place in which everyone is now required to receive a flu shot in order to continue visiting.  I have never had a flu shot in my life, and I don’t intend to get one now.  I understand that the hospital is simply trying to protect their patients, however, when Adriel and I visited a hospice patient at a care center in Missouri, I was only required to have a TB test.

I work full time.  How in the world am I supposed to make it to the free clinics that the hospital is offering?  They are either too early in the morning or end too early in the afternoon.  Plus, I missed a full week’s worth of work thanks to the C Diff.  I didn’t have any vacation time to spare in case my body reacted to the flu shot.

Furthermore, I discovered that in order to resume our visits, I would need a letter from my doctor stating that I no longer had C Diff.  Easy enough.  Or so I thought.  My doctor told me that the only way he could write the letter was for me to bring in three stool samples within the same week and have them sent to be tested.  If all three tests were negative, he could write the note and I could continue visiting.

There’s only one problem with this.  Our insurance does not cover the entire cost of the C Diff test.  We typically receive two bills.  While these bills are not vastly expensive by any means, three tests would equal $64.  How did volunteering (a free giving of one’s time) turn into an expense?

I find it very interesting that a few months ago, I received an e-mail from T.D.I. stating that they are very displeased with many facilities that are requiring T.D.I. volunteers to join another group in order to perform their T.D.I. sponsored service.  And I can certainly see why.  Between all of the shots, dues, uniform costs and literature requesting that I donate money to the group, it does not make volunteering that appealing.

T.D.I. has re-issued an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) for T.D.I. members to take to their facilities to complete.  The MOU states the following:

“As you most likely know, all of our rules and regulations and forms evolved over the many years TDI has been involved in the testing, registration and regulation of our therapy dog handler teams. This is an ongoing process. Times and situations change and we as an organization have to be able to adapt. The MOU was created to have some kind of an agreement between the facilities you visit and TDI. This measure was taken since OTHER organizations started to approach and negotiate contracts with facilities where you, our volunteers, have served faithfully for many years and are still serving.

This has happened at some key hospitals. Suddenly, our members are forced to join another organization if they want to continue visiting at a facility they have served for many years. Loyalty and dedication of the existing volunteers apparently means nothing to some hospital administrators. To force volunteers to join another organization is a very aggressive and unethical marketing strategy.

How can we prevent this and protect our volunteers? The best way is to have an agreement signed by the facility(ties) you visit before another organization comes in.”

Adriel worked hard to become a therapy dog.  And I truly believe that she loves every visit.  I think it is a shame that some places are making it so difficult to engage in therapy dog volunteering.

Clearly, I have ended my brief stint with the hospital.  Adriel’s presence was not being appreciated or fully utilized.  But, I will still never forget two of the patients in particular that said, “God bless you for what you’re doing.” 

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