Saturday, 9 May 2015

ODIN THE THERAPY DOG – Helping people one paw at a time

I first met Odin in August 2013 when I photographed him for his Mum Kara. I knew then that he was super special.

Here Kara tells Odins story, how he came to be with her, and the beginning of his journey as a Therapy Dog.

My daughter was diagnosed with Bi-Polar & Psychosis when she was 15yrs old, but had been self harming for a while before then. After she was diagnosed, she couldn’t accept that she had a mental illness and tried to end her life - which resulted in her being sectioned in a children’s psychiatric unit on the mainland.

She was there for 6 weeks while she was assessed and prescribed medication. When she came home she was very depressed and wouldn't leave the house by herself because she couldn't trust the voices that she heard. This went on for nearly a year.

Myself and my husband were very concerned that she wasn't going out and socialising with her friends, especially as she couldn't go back to school because she wasn't well enough. We also both worked full time, so we decided to get a dog to help build her confidence up again.

There is so much to think about and decide when getting a dog. What breed? What sex? etc. My husband wanted a German Shepherd as he had shepherds growing up. I wasn't too sure as my only experience with shepherds were Police and security dogs; working dogs not pets. Then there was the male/female debate. I grew up with female dogs, and my husband had male dogs. In the end I decided on a German Shepherd, but I stipulated that he/she had to be either black or white.

We went on the internet and looked at breeders. We saw one in Oxford who had a 12 week old white girl. The only problem was when choosing names we could only think of boys names and we had agreed on one name in particular - no girls names came to us; but we phoned the breeder to ask about her girl anyway.

Unfortunately, she had been sold. But as fate would have it, they were waiting for another litter to be born from the same father (white German Shepherd) but different mother (dark red sable). We asked when we could see them, and the breeder agreed that we could at just one week old.

We travelled to Oxford a week after they were born and were introduced first to the Mother and Father. They were both lovely dogs, very friendly and they both stayed close to us while we saw their babies. The mother had 9 pups, 8 were dark red sable and one was white…a little boy! This was fate, it was meant to be - and so the little white pup we saw with his eyes closed became Odin. The breeder called him by his name whilst he was with her so he was used to it by the time we picked him up on Good Friday 2012.

Odin did what he was supposed to do, he got my daughter out and about and she began socialising with her friends again. He is loved by all of us, and he loves us too.

One day I was watching Crufts on TV and saw a stand for Pets As Therapy. I looked them up on the internet to see what they were all about, and realised that people with pets registered their dogs or cats with this charity and visited people in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, prisons to make people feel better. This would of course mean the people would have regular visitors if they didn't already, and have someone to talk to.

Every time I walked Odin I had people stopping me to stroke him, and everyone would tell me that he was special and he had kind eyes - so I thought why not? He had already helped my daughter, and would help other people just by being him!

I contacted Pets As Therapy online and they emailed me an application pack with details of my local co-ordinator. I then arranged a meeting with her at my local park for Odin to be assessed.
The assessment consists of behaviour and walking on a lead. Odin was put through a series of tests:

Grooming, how he would react to having his collar grabbed? (because older people might grab it and Odin had to be fine with that), loud and sudden noises, and controlled walking.  The test also consisted of feeding of treats to Odin (he is not allowed to put his teeth on skin when accepting treats, and he is not allowed to lick or paw excessively.)

Needless to say Odin passed all tests with flying colours! The fact that we had been taking him to obedience training helped a lot, and Odin seemed to know what was being asked of him, so the tests were very easy. I sent the completed application form to the head office along with the local co-ordinators part and he was accepted as a Therapy Dog a few weeks later.

Now, getting a placement somewhere was very difficult. There are about 20 PAT dogs on the Isle of Wight where we live, and the Island isn't a big place! Two dogs already visit the hospital and others visit nursing homes – but, I wanted to work within mental health.

I asked my local co-ordinator to contact the hospital to see if I could start visiting a mental health facility called Seven Acres. To begin with she wasn’t very hopeful as there were already 2 dogs at the hospital, but I reminded her that even though Seven Acres is part of the hospital, the actual unit is separate, and Odin would make a big difference to people with mental illness. It is proven that stroking a dog reduces blood pressure, anxiety and brings about mental well-being by releasing the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain, and, happily, the same happens to the dog being stroked and hugged.

Wheels were set in motion in the July of 2014. I didn’t hear anything for months, then suddenly a few weeks before Christmas I was invited to go to Seven Acres for a trial visit. This was to happen during their coffee morning with the patients and staff, to see how everyone would feel about having a dog come to visit, especially one as big as Odin. It was a huge success! I explained why I particularly wanted to visit the unit and discussed the benefits a visiting dog would bring.

Some of the patients came to stroke him - one patient hugged him and told me how much she missed her dog. Other patients were a little nervous, so didn’t stroke him bit they did stay to look at him. The hospital arranged my CRB check and my breakaway training and we started visiting Seven Acres officially in March of this year.

We visited the open ward first,  and have got to know the patients and the staff, everyone loves Odin. One patient doesn't communicate with people, but she will talk to Odin, and even the visitors get the benefit of him being there.

We have had a walk through the dementia ward, but that is very much on a week by week basis and we go for a short time when they request us. We are also visiting the secure unit now, and Odin is making a difference to the people there.

Hopefully, now the evenings are getting lighter, we can  take Odin for a walk around the hospital with some of the patients and staff, which will be nice for all concerned.

Odin has even had his photo taken by the staff on the secure ward to put up on their staff photo board of Who’s Who! He is definitely a permanent member of staff now – who knows, maybe he will get an employee of the month certificate!

Odin still helps my daughter, now she is older. Her diagnosis keeps changing - she has been diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses and needs a lot of help and support. She has her own flat, but stays with me on a weekend - Odin lies with her on his bed (his bed is a 4 seater leather sofa) when she is a bit low, and he always make her feel better.

I’m so proud of Odin for what he is doing, and he loves it too - after all, he’s getting love and attention from a lot of different people –  he’s in his element!

Kara Ahronson, Odin's Mum.

Visit the Pets as Therapy website for more information.

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  1. Beautiful Odin. Just looking at him makes the world right! xx

  2. I suffer from four mental illnesses - Bipolar, Psychiatric epilepsy, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobia. The condo building I live in (I am in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.) does not allow dogs. I have nearby family that has a dog. When I visit, their dog is by my side throughout - as if he can sense me. I always feel okay when I visit. Otherwise, I am extremely withdrawn because of the Agoraphobia (fear of being outside) and Panic Disorder. I also go in and out of depression. I live with my mom, which is a lucky blessing. I am unemployed. I blog about dog breed histories and imagine which breed would be ideal for me if I were to own a dog. Labrador Retrievers are the most common service dogs in the U.S. Odin is a great find and his breed is naturally highly intelligent.

    1. Dogs are amazing sensitives - and do pick up on vulnerabilities. Hopefully one day you'll be able to have your own dog - you'll know exactly which one to get with all the research you do :)

  3. What a wonderful story. <3

  4. Then there was the male/female debate. I grew up with female dogs, and my husband had male dogs. In the end I decided on a German Shepherd, but I stipulated that he/she had to be either black or white. I saw them on the Internet and realized that pets registered with dogs and dogs and dogs, hospitals, nursing homes, and people were imprisoned in prison. It must be said that they will be regular visitors if they are not already and there is someone to talk to them.Affter was exam and pass the result. We are taking him in loyalty training that much helped, and Oden wanted to know what he was saying, so the tests were very easy. I sent the head office along with the local coordinator part of the completed application form and he was taken as a therapy dog after several weeks. I need a dog like you, so I'm very excited after reading your post and I'm training you like.Thank you.....


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