For three years, in his role as a therapy dog, Emmett visited with a group of kids who were residents at a mental health hospital near town. Once a week, we’d spend an hour with 15 kids aged 8 to 11. They snuggled him, hugged him, kissed him, requested trick after trick after trick. He doled out high fives until he was too tired to lift his arm! They trained him to jump through a hula hoop (confession: I taught it to him at home first because I thought it might devastate the kids if he didn’t “get it” during their session…).
On many occasions, Emmett stood in the middle of the room while 5 or 6 girls took turns doing Emmett cheers – they were learning chants with claps, and they changed every other word to “Emmett.” He would wag and wag, knowing that all their attention was on him.
They played this game where they would take his favorite toy, toss it in the air, and he would leap up to catch it. They loved that game. But it was that game that gave me the first indication that Emmett was nearing retirement.
He stopped leaping.
He would stand and wait. The kid would toss the toy. He’d wait for it to arc downward, then snatch it. He still played the game. He was still excited to go see the kids, collect their hugs and kisses, get massive amounts of belly rubs… but then he would go home and zonk out, pretty much until the next day. If they had him doing much leaping or running, he’d be stiff in the morning.
All part of the aging process, of course. But the last thing I would ever want would be to push him into doing something that he really didn’t want to do… and I knew I had to be super conscious of that because Emmett is steady and sturdy and, above all else, dedicated. He would keep working and leaping for as long as I asked him to, even if his joints hurt.
So, his therapy dog registration expired shortly after we moved to Louisiana, and instead of retesting, I let it go.
Emmett is officially retired from pet therapy.
Sure, it’s sad. It’s sad because he loved the work, and I loved doing it with him. Mostly, it’s sad for me because it’s a stark reminder that he’s getting to be an old boy.
But every minute was worth it. There were some rough moments – kids getting into fist fights over who got to spend more time patting him, small children having massive meltdowns over minor and sometimes nonexistent slights, a couple instances in which I had to remove a child’s hands from grabbing him or pulling him or pushing him too roughly – but even in those moments, Emmett maintained his cool, like he knew what his job was and nothing was going to stop him from doing it.
I had hoped Cooper would pick up where Emmett left off, but Cooper isn’t as solid as Emmett. Someday, if I end up with another steady boy like him, I’d definitely train for this again. It’s incredibly rewarding – for him and for me!
Have you trained your dog to work in some capacity? Any tips for Emmett for enjoying his retirement?