Dog jobs I daydream about

Me in my daydream day job... Click for source.

When I’m sitting in my gray cubicle, staring at a computer screen, I can’t help but daydream about what I’d rather be doing instead. Those daydreams usually involve me frolicking in a field with my future dog, or a whole pack of my future dogs. These are some quasi “jobs” that I often daydream about having, even though I’m sure they’re all far less glamorous than they are in my imagination:

  • Reinforcement trainer, a la Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, or Karen Pryor. I daydream about this a lot. I’ve even sporadically browse the CCPDT website to read about their testing requirements, recommended reading, and timeline for becoming a certified trainer. I love watching dogs learn and teaching them–and especially their humans–how to shape appropriate or desirable behavior. I still have so much to learn in this area, but I’m looking forward to the trial-by-fire that will be coming our way this summer.
  • Full-time dog walker/runner, a la Lindsey Stordahl. That is one fit and adventurous woman! I say I want this job now, but in reality, I’m not sure how long I would love it, since it calls for being outside regardless of the weather (I can’t believe she does it in Fargo). Mostly, though, I’m up for it, because hardly anything brings me as much joy as walking dogs.
  • Agility trainer/co-competitor. (What do people who do agility with their dogs call themselves?) I am probably not as competitive as most of these people are, but everyone looks like they are having such a darn good time! I love watching agility trials and it’s a nice daydream to entertain, raising up an agility champion…
  • Shepherd. Or a farmer with lots of dogs, I guess. But having a team of dedicated herders at my disposal is also a nice dream.
  • Volunteer in some dog-based therapy program. Dog-assisted therapy is so moving and meaningful to me. I am especially fond of the programs in elementary schools, whether teaching kids how to behave around dogs or being reading partners. I also love the idea of visiting nursing homes. I wonder if I’ll ever have a dog calm enough to do either of those things…
  • Writing the daily blog from the perspective of Martha Stewart’s French bulldogs. OK, maybe not really, but whatever intern has that job has it made! Just hanging out around her estate, photographing the dogs doing silly things, and then writing about it? Yes, please. I’ll take that job.

Do you entertain any dog job daydreams? Or do you actually HAVE one of these jobs? If so, I envy you… in my imagination…

Review: Volunteering with Your Pet

Volunteering with Your Pet, by Mary R. Burch

Throughout my young life, my experiences with animals have always reinforced the truth that animals can bring life, joy, and mercy to people in profound ways. The compassion of animals is ultimately why I volunteer at the SPCA and why I no longer feel guilty about it. I have long been interested in animal-assisted therapy and so I was excited to see this book at the library.

The book itself is pretty old (published in 1996)–as evidenced by the fact that the author had to explain what e-mail was–but the advice contained in this little book is not dated. Burch gives her readers an overview of the history of animal-assisted therapy and devotes a chapter to the types of animals that can participate. So, whether you have a dog, a cat, a horse, a llama, or a bird, Dr. Burch has some advice for you.

I was impressed by her professionalism in training and inspired by her many touching anecdotes about the changes she had seen in her years as a therapy volunteer with her animals.

The book also impressed upon me the very unique temperament and nature of a dog who would be qualified for therapy. I can think of only a few dogs I’ve met who would be naturally wonderful therapy dogs (Zoe, for certain, and maybe even Bo, once he mellows out a bit with age), but Burch helps you see that many dogs, given that they have a fundamentally stable and friendly personality, can be trained to volunteer in any number of situations. I am hopeful that we will find a dog who could one day volunteer at a nursing home, school, or hospital. What could be better than allowing others to experience the unconditional love that you receive from your dog every day?

If you’re looking for a basic primer on animal-assisted therapy, then this is a great starting place. It would be nice if it was possibly updated with more current information, but on the whole, this book has a lot of sound advice about beginning to work with your pet in animal-assisted therapy.

A story: Dogs as therapy

Brando indoors
Guion and Brando, our first foster.

A few months ago, I was walking with my husband on my way to a volunteering event with the SPCA. Local charities and non-profits were setting up booths around the pedestrian mall to promote causes and garner support. The SPCA had a few tables up, and some adoptable dogs, kittens, and even two adoptable rats. I volunteered to stand there and talk to people about the SPCA and walk some of the adoptable hounds around to greet people.

While we were walking over there, my husband told me that one of our mutual friends had told him that he thought it was silly that I volunteered my time at the SPCA. This person believed that pets were a waste of time and money and that I was similarly wasting my time by volunteering at the animal shelter. Shouldn’t I be doing something more important, like working at a soup kitchen or tutoring neglected kids how to read?

I began to feel guilty as I walked down there. Was it frivolous of me to care so much about animals? To spend weekends at the SPCA, walking dogs? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to my community if I spent my little free time caring for humans instead? These thoughts began to plague me throughout my afternoon on the mall. My pastor and his wife saw me down there, holding a kitten in my arms, with my SPCA volunteer shirt on. They came to talk to me and seemed delighted that I was an SPCA volunteer, but I felt almost embarrassed to be seen there. Are they judging me for not volunteering elsewhere? I thought. For not giving my time to the homeless ministry?

But these feelings of guilt began to dissipate as the afternoon wore on. The pedestrian mall is often filled with homeless people and others who are sick, disabled, and mentally ill, who beg on street corners and hold up cardboard signs. They are often ignored and everyone else does their best not to make eye contact with them. As I stood there at our booth, though, I began to notice an interesting phenomenon.

These homeless or mentally ill people would go from booth to booth, but the organizers behind the tables would never look at them or speak to them. It was evident that these people were in no state to contribute financially to these organizations; it was questionable if they could even carry on an intelligible conversation. They were plainly ignored. Volunteers looked straight through them, as if they weren’t even there.

I watched this happen again and again. But then I realized that all of the homeless and mentally ill were at our booth. Why? Because the dogs greeted them and kissed their hands like they were anybody else, like they were “normal.” The dogs didn’t discriminate against their housing status or their mental health. For once, they were shown mercy and acceptance. And it was coming from the dogs.

I particularly recall a mentally ill woman who stayed at our table for almost an hour. The dogs patiently submitted to her hugging their necks, to her persistent petting. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying, but she had a huge grin on her face the entire time. She looked up at me and said, over and over, “See, he likes me. See, he likes me. See, he likes me.”

As I reflected on this day on my way home, I was nearly brought to tears. These animals did something for the most marginalized in society that no people could do for them. These homeless dogs were extending unconditional love to these homeless people. That is a gift well worth sharing, an extension of compassion that no human could faithfully replicate.

And that’s why I volunteer at the SPCA and why I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.

Pup links!

Sometimes life is very serious when you have a poodle in a yellow sweater. Source: Honey Kennedy

Canine-centric links from around the WWW this week:

Considering Pet Ownership? Here’s How Much to Budget. Mint.com is making infographics just for me these days! This was really helpful to see across the board and it’ll be useful as we plan our finances for the future dog. Do you think these numbers are accurate? Do you spend more or less than the average American on your dog? (Mint)

Blind Dog Has Her Own Seeing-Eye Dog. This is the cutest thing I’ve EVER seen. My eyes might be misting up. If we ever needed proof that dogs are the greatest animals alive… (The Hydrant)

Molly’s Sketchbook: A Dog Leash. Another fun DIY tutorial on how to make a classy leash for your pooch. (Purl Bee)

The Top 5 Most Important Dog Training Mistakes to Avoid. They sound simple, but it so easy to miss one of these commandments. (Dog Training Blog)

A Dog Walks Into the Room: Therapy Reading Dogs and the Canine-Human Connection. The more I learn about these reading programs, the more I really want to get involved! Sigh. If only I didn’t have this full-time job… (Paw Nation)

Neighborhood Watch Movie. Our brilliant wedding photographer made this adorable short film of her beautiful black lab, Orvis, standing guard over the neighborhood. I love watching his nose twitch. (Meredith Perdue)

First day as a shelter volunteer

On my first day as a volunteer dog walker for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, I learned that:

  • The people who work here are doing their utmost to care for these many homeless animals.
  • Sometimes, the dog you’re walking doesn’t want to run around. Sometimes they just want to sit beside you and be stroked.
  • Hounds can retrieve quite well. I bonded most with Oliver, a small and young hound mix, who was adorable and played fetch with me and then chased me around the pen, play-bowing the whole time. Stole my heart.
  • The pit bull I walked had the sweetest and quietest demeanor of all the dogs I interacted with.
  • Dogs become highly reactive when in the presence of dozens of other agitated, barking dogs.
  • I can’t wait to go back next weekend!