At the time I was contemplating adopting Rock, I was also considering enrolling in the Pet Assisted Therapy (PAT) program at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), a three course program started by Pearl Salotto. It was a time of a lot of changes; my father had recently passed away and I was still trying to adjust to life without him.  The first course, Intro to PAT: Family Therapy Pets-The Ethical Foundation for PAT, examined the history, theory and ethics of PAT. It was for humans only, so I went ahead and signed up for the course, not knowing if I’d be able to take the rest of the program right away. It started the beginning of May (2015), and when I met our instructor (Cynthia) and her Guinn (English springer spaniel), I knew it this was the right time. We got to meet a lot of pet therapy teams and learned about a lot of different programs for children and adults. We worked on creating our own pet therapy program proposal, considered advocacy activities, and wrote a children’s book introducing children to pet therapy (and choices for interacting with a therapy dog). During this course, we also had to have our pets undergo temperament testing at Elmhurst Extended Care to see if they were candidates for the program. By then, I had adopted Rock. He wasn’t really ready but we went for his temperament testing, and I was a mess. We started outside, where he heard loud sounds (he wasn’t fazed) and attempted some basic obedience (sit, down–which we had not worked on yet and he didn’t do). Then, we went inside and Rock rode the elevator, walked down a flight of stairs, walked by all sorts of medical equipment, and met several Elders, including one retired veterinarian. He did well with this part and passed his temperament test. The equipment, elevator and the different sounds did not bother him at all. And, I passed the first course, which ended in July.

The second course, Building the Bond-Hands On, Paws On Learning, began in September 2015. I didn’t think we were ready and I ALMOST chickened out. Cynthia, our instructor for the first course, and I emailed and talked by phone and we decided that Rock and I would take the second course, but we wouldn’t worry about testing at the end if we needed more time. That was the pressure reliever I needed.  She had confidence; I did not (yet). I was still a mess, but we dove in. For this course, we met weekly at Elmhurst Extended Care or completed walk-through visits at other facilities (e.g. St. Antoine’s, West Shore Health Center). Each week, out instructor (Lin) first provided a topic-focused lecture and we then practiced meeting and interacting with Elders in outdoor settings (when the weather cooperated) under the supervision of Cynthia, Lin, and Linda.  Then, with an instructor and Heather (from Elmhurst), we practiced via walk-throughs indoors to meet with individuals or smaller groups in different units in the facility. At the first class (which met outside initially), I was a mess and Rock was VERY vocal. We stayed on the perimeter of the meeting and I removed him a couple times when he started to “honk ” (bay).  He quickly understood that if/when he bayed, he would have to leave the area for a couple minutes so he could settle. After just three quick removals over the course of two weeks, he got it! It was also clear to me (and to Heather) that he understood intrinsically that he needed to be settled when up on the floors at Elmhurst. We continued to practice, and at 1:10 pm on November 7, we had our competency test to see if we were ready to move on to our first internship (course three). We passed! I was so proud of him! We earned our Course #2 completion certificate and were ready to move on to our first internship! We were still working on traditional obedience skills—sit, down, etc. He could now do them in familiar environments; he was not yet “proofed” for new environments!

Course III Internship: Experiencing the Joy is divided into two internships. The first is completed at one of five CCRI-approved facilities, and I elected to continue at Elmhurst Extended Care. The philosophical basis of the program (Eden Philosophy) really helped me easily make the choice. Heather Siravo was our on-site supervisor and Cynthia was our course instructor. Our internship there lasted from November 19 to January 15. We met weekly with three specific Elders. One Elder brushed Rock, which helped her work on range of motion. She was clearly happy and smiled the whole time she groomed Rock; she didn’t talk but she communicated her choices (whether or not she wanted to brush Rock, which grooming tool to use, if she wanted to try different grooming tools, etc.) and her happiness interacting with him. Even when she was in physical therapy, she brushed Rock while riding the therapy bike! Two Elders helped with training Rock—they held his treat and gave it to him when he sat or demonstrated other skills.  They also spent time petting him and having conversations about him. One Elder wanted Rock to kiss him, so the slobber Rock left behind when taking his treat counted as a big kiss from this Elder’s perspective. He exclaimed the Rock had kissed him each time he gave Rock the treat. Rock and I also met people spontaneously as we traveled to the Elders’ rooms and spent time in the Lobby at Elmhurst for “meet and greets.”

Our second internship was a new program that was developed as part of the services at the Student Health Center at Providence College called “Take a Paws.” We were there on Thursdays, beginning February 4. We technically finished our second internship in April but continued our work through the end of the semester.  Each week, Rock and I met students (and faculty and staff members) on a “drop in” basis at the Wellness Center on campus. When the weather was good, we also spent time outside in the courtyard/entryway right next to the Wellness Center room. Some visitors stayed a few minutes; others stayed a half hour or more. Some wanted to just watch Rock; others wanted to pet him, take pictures of and with him, FaceTime with friends, play with him, and help him practice his obedience skills.