chauffeuring the canine volunteer

Chauffeuring the Canine Volunteer

A dog and her human bring joy

It was on a beach in Mexico that author Judith Greber first realized just how friendly her dog Sunny was. “She’s just up for people coming up and petting her,” Greber says.

Having taken dog training classes with Sunny at their local Humane Society branch, Greber was interested in finding a way to share Sunny’s good nature with people who might benefit from it. So she signed Sunny up for Marin Humane’s Animal-Assisted Programs course, where Sunny learned to navigate things like walkers and wheelchairs, practiced commands particular to hospital visits, and learned to maneuver through tight spaces like those in narrow hospital corridors. “You could understand why they needed these skills,” Greber said. “Sunny was never happy about the walkers. The wheelchair didn’t bother her. The walker, I really had to push her.”

At the end of the six-week course, there was an exam. “The dogs were great,” Greber told Good Turns recently. “The owners were scared to death. It was really funny.”

Sunny—an eight-year-old goldendoodle—passed with flying colors, of course, and started in on her volunteer work soon after, visiting schools, assisted-living spaces, and other institutions, just to give people a chance to interact with a friendly animal. “We went up to a grief camp last summer, which is heartbreaking. There were about 65 children who had lost someone close to them,” Greber said. “You’re just sort of delivering joy. It’s a soothing sort of joy for people, and that feels very nice.”

“She’s really the volunteer. I’m a chauffeur. I have water and treats and a car. She’s just a very lovely animal.”

Lately, Sunny has been showing up at local high schools and colleges to help students get through their final exams. “Kids just come and pet the dogs,” Greber says. “It’s just kind of base level volunteering, but it’s very gratifying how happy it makes some people. And it brings them out, they start to talk to you about their dog or their life. It’s very nice.”

But what really intrigued Greber was a program called Share a Book, she says. “The theory behind it is that kids with reading issues of some sort can get a lot of confidence by reading to a dog, because the dog doesn’t ever criticize them,” Greber said. “A dog has very few literary standards.”

“We had to take a post-graduate course in Share a Book,” she continued. “They said the big thing is, don’t let the dog fall asleep when the kid is reading to them. We have only done it once, and she didn’t fall asleep, to my great delight. One of the kids reading said, ‘She’s such a good listener!’ It’s just been fun, and I think probably in a year or so—the dog has to have volunteered for a year before they can go into chemo wards in the hospital—I think I’d like to do some of that with her.”

“She’s really the volunteer,” Greber says. “I’m a chauffeur. I have water and treats and a car. She’s just a very lovely animal and seems to make people happy with it.”

“I know that, at least in my county, there are more requests than they can fill for these dogs, so it’s a great, happy kind of volunteering.” The same is probably true in your county, too. So if you have a dog that’s anything like Sunny, think about spreading the joy. So many people will be glad you did.

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