During Pet Therapy, My Dog Does the Talking

Mary Dell writes: I come from a long line of talkers, gregarious Texans who delight in telling tales and learning the back stories from strangers. My upbringing served me well while I worked in media, marketing NBC shows like the Smurfs or Saturday Night Live as story-telling opportunities. Yet now, as a pet therapy volunteer, I struggle to find words while watching my partner, a chocolate Labrador named Moose, communicate fluidly.

Pet Therapy dog

Five years ago, while casually thumbing through a New York-Presbyterian newsletter, a small-print headline “Volunteers with Dogs Needed” grabbed my attention. I was struck with the idea that this would be the perfect volunteer job, one that could help fill a growing gap in my life. With our eldest child a high school senior and the youngest increasingly independent, an empty nest loomed. Plus, I am a big dog lover – we have owned four Labs during our two-decade marriage. Yet the mostly likely candidate to be my partner, Moose, was still a rowdy and marginally obedient two-year old puppy, and I questioned his suitability. [Read more...]

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12 Most Mutually Beneficial Reasons for Joining the PTA

Mary Dell writes: I survived my term as PTA president. Without a doubt, it was one of the hardest jobs I ever signed up for, including those I got paid to do. My family questioned my sanity, wondering what led me to jump into the deep end of parent volunteerism. I had my own doubts, too, often when I was on the recipient end of an unhappy mom’s rants.

kids art, 12 Most, joining the PTA
In retrospect, I found great value in answering the PTA call for help and recommend it to others, if done for the right reasons. Here are 12 Most Mutually Beneficial Reasons for Joining the PTA.

1. Be a fly on the wall

Going to your children’s school to work as a volunteer gives you a fly on the wall perspective. You get an unscripted view of everyone from the principal to the custodian. It is fascinating to watch the kids who are practiced in ignoring parents on campus; seeing them in their element is priceless.

2. Pitch in, meet the players, make connections

Examine your motivations. Good reasons are to help shoulder the burden of work and to become acquainted with the school, teachers, and other parents, especially those who have kids the same age as yours.

[Read more...]

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World Autism Day 2013: A Conversation with Bob and Suzanne Wright, Co-Founders of Autism Speaks

You will have many, many chances to make contributions of time or money to different worthy causes. In some special cases, you, too, will have to ask the question, If not me, then who?

                     -Bob Wright, 2007 commencement speaker at Holy Cross College

Autism Speaks, Bob and Suzanne WrightLisa writes: Bob and Suzanne Wright have had their lives transformed in ways that most of us cannot imagine.  A decade ago, Bob Wright was vice chairman of General Electric, CEO of NBC/Universal and considered one of the most successful media executives of his time. Yet at the pinnacle of his corporate success his life began to change.

In 2004, Bob and Suzanne Wright were concerned grandparents helping their daughter with their grandson, who had an undiagnosed affliction. By 2005, their family was privately struggling to deal with the specter of autism, something about which they had almost no knowledge.   By 2006, the Wrights had brought together autism organizations from around the country into their newly founded Autism Speaks and had plunged into a national awareness campaign. And by 2007, Suzanne had addressed the United Nations and Bob had testified before Congress on the need for research into this developmental disorder. It was a path taken with almost frightening speed and yet the Wrights say that they are never moving fast enough.

The couple have become world leaders in advocating for Autism.  They have created a rallying cry for research, care, treatment and national and global focus. In changing their lives the Wrights have forever changed the lives of millions of others. [Read more...]

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Better than a New Puppy Under the Christmas Tree

Mary Dell writes: When kids are young, how often do they beg for a dog?  Maybe your child is like our daughter, who replied “a puppy” whenever anyone asked her what she wanted for her birthday or for Christmas.  Though my husband and I are dog lovers, and have owned several Labradors during our marriage, we resisted her pleas for a puppy of her own until she became old enough to manage the dog it would become. In the meantime, we discovered a different, and much more satisfying way to grant her wish.

Guiding Eyes puppies in training, training puppies to be guide dogs, blond labrador retriever puppies running

When she turned seven, our family became “puppy socializers” for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB), an internationally accredited guide dog school in Yorktown, New York. Since that June day when we drove home with Jennifer and Jonquil, our first pair of Labrador guide-dogs-in-training, our daughter began to learn about taking responsibility for young dogs.

Labrador pups, puppies, black lab, playing with puppies

As puppy socializers, we care for two, six-to-nine week old Labradors and treat them as if they are our own, but for just a few days.  Once our shift ends, we return them for testing to see if they have the personality traits that could make them good (saintly, in my mind) guide dogs. Evaluating after home socializing has vastly improved GEB’s ability to predict which dogs have the right stuff to enter the next phase of training.

While I truly love hosting the Labrador puppies, they create chaos within their pen, which happens to be in the middle of the kitchen. But for our daughter, cuddling has always trumped the mess. Climbing into their fenced space, she hugs each new puppy, plays with both and often holds one until he falls asleep on her lap.  She feeds and walks the pair and, ever so gently, places one into the outstretched arms of an eager friend.

litter of puppies, blond labrador puppies asleep, new puppies

But she has also had puppies chew on her fingers, and nibble on pajama pants legs.  She’s heard them cry and yowl, loudly, for 45 minutes while we drive them home from the GEB breeding center  She has watched them play with their water dish, drenching papers she has just laid down.  She has walked them and brought them back indoors only to see them pee and poop, again, on those freshly laid newspapers. In sum, she has learned much about dog ownership. She has also come to understand another lesson. While playing with each new Labrador puppy – 30 by my count – she grew up learning about volunteerism.

Now that she is 17 and increasingly making her own decisions about how to spend her time (and money), she appreciates the importance of the roll-up-your-sleeves way to help others.

She absorbed this message while holding the leashes for Jennifer and Jonquil, Harriet and Hawaii, Una and Uncle, Mandrake and Moose and so many other adorable pups. As I think back on Christmas gifts past, I believe that one of the most enduring presents our daughter received was not delivered on any particular December 25th. Instead, she discovered (and we nurtured) a volunteer opportunity that allowed her little girl love of puppies to blossom into a more mature dedication to others less fortunate.

guide dog puppy, guide dog training, puppy socializer, blond labrador retriever puppy

(Photo of puppies in their training harness courtesy of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind.)


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The Clinton Global Initiative and Foundation Mobilize a Day of Action for New York

Lisa writes: We are a deeply caring nation. But when a story of trauma slips from the front pages, it can be all too easy to forget that those living in the wake of the tragedy are still suffering. On Sunday some friends asked me to join them as they went to the Rockaways for a Day of Action for New York organized by the Clinton Global Initiative, Clinton Foundation and Team Rubicon (whose mission is to work with veterans to respond to disaster situations.)

Team Rubicon led the way. They have been in the Rockaways for weeks and are committed to staying until the job is done.

Day of Action for New York, Rockaways, Clinton FoundationLet me just start by saying that the Clinton organizations have shown their caring in so many ways and in a few short days gathered over 1,000 volunteers to work with homeowners cleaning up the mess the Hurricane left behind three weeks ago. [Read more...]

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“When Did You Know Your Dog Needed Pet Therapy?”

Mary Dell writes: At lunch with a new friend,  I chatted about attending pet therapy.   Very delicately she asked “When did you know your dog needed therapy?” I  must have skipped a few crucial details in discussing how I work with my dog to give, not receive, treatment.

Pet therapy, Paws for Patients, volunteer job, labrador, chocolate labrador

Slipping the lanyard with the pair of IDs over my head, I walk to the car and open the door for my partner.  He jumps in the back, waiting for me to lower the window and, soon enough, I see him in the rear view mirror – head out, ears flapping back, and tail rhythmically wagging. I swear he is smiling. [Read more...]

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