Bella and I have worked all summer toward therapy dog certification. My family thinks I have lost my mind, and I just might before the final objective is met.
We are currently enrolled in two programs to get us there: The Canine Good Citizen certification process and Wildrose Kennels' Adventure Dog certification. Both require training time and consistent performance with a dog that appears to be half Lab, half Border Collie.
Bella and her three sisters were found as abandoned small, helpless puppies in a drainage ditch in a rural Lafayette County Cemetery in late winter, a little over a year ago luckily by a worker from The Friends of Pete Dog Rescue in Oxford. All left for dead.
I researched dogs and resources for months before I found her. I knew I wanted a rescue dog to show what these dogs can do if given a chance, or a second chance in Bella's situation. And when I met Bella at an adoption event sponsored by Hollywood Feed, I was more than excited as her smarts and responsiveness were obvious. My only reservation: she was a little shy. And shyness and therapy dog work are not good bedfellows.
Bella has been all that: very smart, sometimes smart enough to play dumb, responsive, overly active, a good student, a good teacher, and oops, shy.
Her shyness and short attention span is innate and something we struggle to fix, walking in and through every public event showing on the Oxford calendar that will allow woman and beast. I guess we all have things that are innate and need fixing. I sure do, and Bella has taught me more through her weaknesses than I have taught her. Communicating with another species everyday will do that.
Topping the list of Bella's big plans are therapy work in my classroom for children that need extra time reading or working math problems with a dog lying and staring at them as if they were the most special person on the planet or as a reward for kids working extra hard academically. The good news is this is a story that Bella and I get to write together. It's not been done, and we have no how-to manual. But the process has been a worthwhile, beautiful thing that has unfolded.
Last week Bella met and endured some extra tough rubs from mentally challenged adult campers at Camp Lake Stephens. Her shyness peeked through, but she worked around it and actually seemed to enjoy the campers as much as they enjoyed petting and feeding her treats. A few had Bella performing a few of her tricks up her paw. Rewarding. To see a dog left for dead helping others in a small way was a good thing.
Next week Bella has another therapy gig at Heritage Gardens, an assisted living and Alzheimer's facility for the elderly. This means we'll have a little refresher course with me walking on crutches (from foot surgery days - - I knew those dousted things must have a better use) and walking in the yard with a few rolling wheels. The neighbors probably think Bella and I are joining a circus since our yard and street have served as a dog training course with a variety of odd things.
In mid August, she will take her Canine Good Citizen test, the first accreditation among several I hope she will earn. Not shabby for a disposable dog.
If Bella can pull this therapy dog job off, well, it will speak loud and clear for those throw-away dogs sitting in shelters on a ticking clock. And you know, I have never had a dog with degrees, but it sure has been taught me a lot, a good education for some things that I could not have learned otherwise.
Roll Bella, roll!
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