Every other Friday, Emmett and I participate in the pet therapy program at a mental health facility near our town. We primarily work with the children who live at the facility and fall between the ages of 6 and 13 or so. Occasionally we’ll spend time with the younger or older groups, but there’s a core bunch we see every time.
And, man, do these kids love Emmett.
Every other Friday, when we walk through the door of their gymnasium, the kids rush Emmett. “I missed you, Emmett!” they cry. “Did you miss me?”
The thing about Emmett is that he can not get enough attention. He is basically a bottomless pit of need, which means that these kids who want to just pour all their affection all over him are the perfect kids for Emmett to work with. While 15 to 20 kids throw their arms around his neck, plant big fat kisses on the top of his head, beg for high fives, rub his belly, and sprint circles around him, darling Emmett just basks in it all. I swear he thinks that I ferry him from place to place to allow his loyal subjects to devote themselves to him.
While we face the occasional challenge, with this particular group of kids, the biggest struggle is doling out our energy equally. Some of the kids push themselves against us, making us notice them, and begging to be the first one to give Emmett a treat or whatever. Others sit quietly, patiently waiting their turn. While others sort of hide, desperately wanting a turn with Emmett, but not sure how to proceed.
So after I discovered that Emmett is a hoop-jumping fiend, I decided to incorporate some agility into our visits. The first week, I took along a hula hoop and short tunnel. I explained to the kids the idea of agility and asked if they’d be willing to help me train Emmett to tunnel. They enthusiastically agreed and immediately began discussing the best way to teach him. “Just tell him to run through it.” “He won’t know what that means. We need to crawl through with him.” “That’s dumb. Stand at the end and call him.” In the end, we decided to toss a treat through the tunnel while the kids stood around and yelled, “tunnel!”
Luckily, Emmett already knew the tunnel command. 😉
Last Friday, I took two hula hoops. I figured the kids could work together to set up a mini obstacle course, deciding where to position the jumps, how to hold them up, who should lure him, etc. I thought this would build on the teamwork exercises from the previous session. We could work together to figure out how best to get Emmett to follow the course and jump through the hoops.
But those kids had a whole other idea!
They wanted to run around.
Run with Emmett, race Emmett, fling the hula hoops around, chase each other in circles. So that’s what we did because, really, the whole goal of our pet therapy program is to make these kids happy. They wanted to run, so Emmett ran, wagging his tail the entire time.