This month has been a HUGE month for me! I graduated from Hero Dogs, Inc.!
At the beginning of the month I had my little furry extended family member, Amigo the Havanese, over for several days! Amigo is an 8-month-old, 9 lb puppy. He has A LOT of energy! My Grandma (his human mom) was having surgery so he stayed with us. We got him on the Hero Dogs workout and training schedule. We took a long walk every day so he could practice nice leash manners, we worked on our commands, and we played, of course. By playing I mean he would instigate by jumping on my face while I was lying down and then I would get up to play and he would hide. To him I must have looked like a giant! Amigo had a tiny little bed and I thought it looked so comfy so I snuggled right up in it! I shared my toys so I thought he wouldn’t mind me borrowing his bed! I had a hard time sleeping at night because Amigo was homesick, so by the time he went back home I just passed out! I heard he had such a good time that he slept for the next several days!
The next week I attended our quarterly therapy dog meeting! Most of the discussion was focused on graduation at the end of the week, but we worked on several skills, including going up to a patient in a wheelchair who has peanut butter and crumbs all over them and getting petted without eating the crumbs. Boy, as a Labrador I can tell you that was pretty difficult! I did pretty well with leaving the peanut butter alone, but man oh man the cracker crumbs looked so delicious it was hard to walk over the crumbs and lay my head in the “patient’s” lap. Many times when we go on therapy dog visits there are many distractions, food being a big one. Sometimes the humans can’t even see the food ground into the waiting room carpets, but I sure can smell it!
At Walter Reed (WRNMMC) this month Teddy, Grant and I got to be a group together during our therapy dog visits! We visited the outpatient building during our visit towards the beginning of the month. We were assigned certain floors and rooms to go visit patients in and we navigated as best we could. My human gets lost easily when she is distracted so we may have gotten a little turned around here and there, but that building is always under construction and it is HUGE! We visited all of our assigned floors and ended meeting back up with the rest of the pack. My little friend Timmy the French bulldog was there and he is very popular with the little humans. My friend Teddy also seemed to be quite at home as well! I love my Red Cross pack and my Hero Dogs pack both so much, and I love to see both packs together helping Veterans and their families!
I graduated from Hero Dogs, Inc. on April 16th, 2016 with my therapy dog degree! My mom made all of this year’s graduates graduation hats! The service dog graduates Annie and York had red hats, and all of us therapy dogs got blue hats to match our vests! Five of us therapy dogs graduated. Teddy, Radar, Scotty, Grant, and I were the first graduating year of the therapy dog program. We are the class of 2016! I am so proud of all the graduates and their humans! Everyone has worked so hard to get here. Christen sewed on my AKC (American Kennel Club) therapy dog patch as well as my PAL (People Animals Love) patch on my vest in preparation for the graduation ceremony! In the giant auditorium they played a slide show of our puppyhood and our therapy dog adventures. A bunch of our other therapy dog friends came, including my breeders. I went crazy when I saw them! My human grandparents came and I even went up on stage! Brendan stayed behind the camera to film Christen and I receiving my diploma. I am so thankful for all the humans and dogs that have helped me in my path towards becoming a certified therapy dog. I have made over 50 therapy dog visits, earning my CGC certificate as well as my AKC Therapy Dog and Therapy Dog Novice certificate. My official title is now Hero Dogs Calvin Leon Graham CGC THD! I got a bunch of new dog tennis balls for my graduation present! Oh Boy! Oh Boy!
I want you to know that even earning all those things is not nearly important as all the people I have visited at AFRH (Armed Forces Retirement Home) or WRNMMC (Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) or any of the other locations I have visited. I am proud to be the dog that I am, and I have the best humans there ever were. I have overcome my health issues and many other hurdles. I have made music and videos, many of which in a way have become therapy for many dog lovers all over the world! I was even on a TV show! I have many plans for the future. I have not stopped making goals to achieve. I have more tricks to learn, more Animal Assisted Therapy skills to learn, more videos to make, more therapy dog visits to go to, and many more adventures planned!
I also wanted to tell you… there are many amazing stories that we therapy dogs have, and our handlers know very well that we cannot talk about them because of patient privacy. And some of those stories are the most rewarding parts of being a therapy dog. The smiles from patients who have not had a lot to smile about until they see us come into their room, or the cries of a child going through a procedure that turn into a soft smile when they see us; the sudden calm demeanor a Veteran shows as they pet our familiar furry faces; the families who are scared and are comforted by a simple trick or a tail wag; and the staff that are consoled by us after a long emotional day at work. We are doing our job and we take that very seriously… well, actually, we don’t because we are dogs! I could go on and on about how much my humans have learned as therapy dog handlers… lessons you can’t learn in a book. My pack and I are grateful to be able to do this job! So if you see me coming down the hallway, just say my name and I will come right over to give you a wet nose and a wagging tail of a hug!
At our visit to Walter Reed at the end of the month we got to be a group again with Teddy, Grant, and myself. We were assigned the inpatient building, on several different floors and rooms there. We had some great visits with some very special Veterans and their families. We even ran into the treat lady! I LOVE her! She has a bag of treats that she gives all the dogs that come by her office! We all know where she is and we peek our heads inside the door just to see if she is there! She saw us and said, “Hey Booboo!” and “Hello Mr. Graham! Of course I remember you, because you have a middle name… Mr. Calvin Leon Graham!” I am so special that she calls me by my full name! When she calls me Mr. Graham, Christen thinks that is so funny!
At Hero Dogs class this month my fellow therapy dog friend Grant attended with me. We got to practice “Lap” where I put my head on the human’s lap, while a dog distraction walked by… for me this distraction was Ruby! Ruby smells so good that it is hard to not whip my head around and sniff her! I did pretty well, though, and I kept my head in Becca’s mom’s lap pretty well! Oh, I forgot! Becca’s mom was at class and helped us dogs practice our skills! We also practiced ignoring distractions like food when we were being called to “come.” I did pretty well ignoring the peanut butter and coming to my human when called, but when I did get to lick the peanut butter off the lid I really needed to chew it a bit too; you know, “Hulk Smash!” in Labrador terms.
On one of my walks this month a caterpillar crawled up Brendan’s leg! The caterpillar thought Brendan was a tree that would transport him to a better spot! Christen thought that maybe the caterpillar liked us and wanted to stay around for a while, so we took the caterpillar on the rest of our walk and now he lives in a tree in our yard! Oh, my humans can be silly sometimes! I just wanted to sniff the little furry guy!
On April 25th I had my third “Gotcha Day!” That means my humans picked me up at Hero Dogs three years ago when I was a little yellow puppy! They took me home to raise a service dog for a Veteran. Little did they know I had other plans! I ended up getting severe allergies that require medications including weekly allergy shots. They decided to adopt me and help me on my journey to become a certified therapy dog! I like to think I have taught them a lot in the last three years. I mean isn’t that what we dogs are supposed to do?
I had my annual physical on my gotcha day, but I don’t mind, and guess what?!? I got a clean bill of health! I love going to the veterinarian’s office because they give me lots of treats! After my check-up we went to the pet store and I got to pick out my gotcha day toy! I picked out the perfect Opossum! I like to carry him around by the tail! His name is: Possum. See you next month!