Emmett passed his therapy dog test last May, so we just passed our one-year anniversary of working as a pet partner team! Since then, Emmett and I have visited a range of facilities and participated in a number of events, from the county fair to elementary schools to a mental health hospital to the public library. Through it all, I have been amazed at Emmett’s ability to connect with people, to hone in on exactly who needs him the most, and to remain calm and patient while kids grab him, hug him, kiss him, pet him, and demand endless high-fives.
Before this school year ended, we spent a morning in a literacy lab at a nearby elementary school, working with groups of first graders and their literacy teachers. The kids took turns reading to Emmett while he gazed adoringly at them, solicited belly rubs, and laid his head in each reader’s lap.
Toward the end of the session, one little boy scooted into the room, head down, face flushed. The literacy teacher asked him if he was alright. He whispered in her ear. “Oh,” she said to me. “Connor is afraid of dogs.” The small group of readers formed a circle with Connor sitting just outside while I moved Emmett all the way to me. He laid in front of my crossed legs, facing away from the terrified boy.
When it was his turn to read, Connor’s voice shook. He kept one eye on the page of his book and one eye on Emmett. The teacher commended him for his bravery, for staring near the circle, near his fear. Once all the kids read, they gathered around Emmett scratching and rubbing him. Connor crept closer, partially hiding behind his teacher.
“Do you want to pet him?” she asked. He shook his head no.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I’ll keep his head facing away from you, and if you want, you can touch his tail or his bottom.”
Connor giggled at the word “bottom.” The other kids, understanding what was going on, kept Emmett distracted and facing forward. Connor crept forward, reached out his hand, and touched Emmett’s tail. Emmett, of course, started wagging immediately, which made Connor feel braver. “Does he like me?” he asked.
“He sure does,” I said, and watched as Connor patted Emmett’s bottom. Then he had enough. “I’m done,” he said as he moved behind the teacher. The teacher praised Connor for his bravery, and Connor smiled.
A couple weeks later, we received thank you notes from all the kids. They were pretty cute, some a little hard to read, but here are a few of the highlights (click on each one to enlarge):
I would encourage anyone who has a dog who loves people to look into a therapy dog program. It’s so much fun and so rewarding to see Emmett work with these kids to help them gain confidence or even just to make them smile!
Therapy dogs or dogs who go visiting: Any fun memories or stories to share?