The story below is about my three Delta Society Therapy Clumbers which appeared in the September 2014 issue of “Dogs Queensland” in Australia.
THE STORY OF THREE SPECIAL CLUMBER SPANIELS - WINDSOR, PEBBLES AND MAGGIE
I am extremely privileged to own three very special Delta Society of Australia Therapy Dogs. They are Clumber Spaniels, a very rare breed of Gundog. There are about 300 in Australia. A long, low to ground white dog, Clumber Spaniels are the heaviest of the Spaniel breeds weighing about 30kgs. They were bred to flush game from thick undergrowth on English estates.
I obtained Windsor from Canada in 2001, Maggie from South Africa in 2004 and their daughter Pebbles born in 2008 was homebred. All three Clumbers are Show Champions (Windsor and Maggie are USA and Canadian Champions too).
I have been a Delta Society volunteer since 2004 subsequent to a family member being a patient in a Hospice (hospital for the dying). There I saw at first hand the magnificent work of therapy dogs. I did not know then that dogs were involved in hospitals and therapy work, even though I come from a paramedical background and had spent 30 years working in the hospital environment as a Clinical Biochemist. At that time in Windsor I had a dog with the most amazing temperament so I thought if Windsor could become a Therapy Dog, this could be one way to “pay back” for the caring, support, compassion and joy the dogs brought to our family in our time of crisis of bereavement. I was thrilled when Windsor passed his Delta assessment and was told that he had that special, affectionate temperament necessary to work with children. So began our nine year association with The Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick. Rounds include all major wards including the Outpatient Department, Fracture Clinic, Intensive Care and the Sleep Clinic. When Windsor retired in 2008, Maggie took over and now Pebbles has taken on her duties since Maggie’s retirement in 2011.
When we encounter patients and parents in hospital, their first reaction is usually one of amazement that a dog is allowed in a hospital. Most reactions are very positive. You get to learn very quickly when to “back off” if people are unsure. Most want to know what breed they are and what are its origins, because a Clumber spaniel is a very rare dog in Australia. This is a good response because these questions (mainly from the parents and staff) put the children at ease when they see adults around them reacting positively to the dogs.
Windsor was a round ball obsessed dog. He was besotted with his tennis ball and revelled in fetching them. Windsor discovered that the children who walk around the Wards (ambulant with a drip infusion in one arm) are a good prospect for a game of fetch due to their mobility. Windsor used to rush over to them, drop his ball from his mouth at their feet, back off a little and drop to the ground while giving the children the “eye” as if to say, “Please play with me”. The child rolls the ball along the ground. They never throw it. Windsor scampers after the ball, brings it back to the child, drops the ball then nudges the ball towards the feet of the child with his nose. This is the funniest thing to see. Then we start all over again. At this stage we usually have an audience and every patient wants to have their turn.
I enjoy watching my Clumbers “work”. It is always amazing to see that dogs have a real sense of empathy with sick people, especially children. I love seeing the expressions of joy on everyone’s faces when they first catch sight of these big white dogs with their unique wrinkled brows and furrowed eyes. If I had a dollar for every “what sort of a dog is he” question then I would make the Delta Society very rich. I think the Delta Dogs make everyone forget their own troubles for a brief time. They make the sick children laugh and smile and remember the dogs they have at home or those they used to have. While the children love to pat the Clumbers, climb on them or play ball, the parents and staff ask questions about the breed and the role of The Delta Society in Pet Partner programs. It is extremely rewarding when you meet someone who eventually becomes a Delta Volunteer because of your introduction to the programme. I receive masses of positive feedback. Many Staff and patients really look forward to “Doggie Day” as the highlight of their week.
All the Clumbers knows when its “show” time. I put on their special collar and Delta bandana before jumping into the car and heading to the hospital. The dogs “lead me” from the car park to our meeting area instinctively and are so happy to see the other team members, both 2 and 4 legged. All the dogs look forward to seeing “Bill”, a volunteer at the reception desk, who is always on hand to feed them a few liver treats before we go on Rounds. This provides positive re-enforcement for the dogs and a good start to the afternoon. All the dogs revel in the attention, pats and true affection given by the joyful patients, parents and staff. The Clumbers love to show off their obedience “tricks”, like shaking their paws, rolling over and “speaking” on command which they have learned to do quietly so as not to scare the children.
I am in awe of the way in which the Clumbers respond to those patients in wheel chairs. The dogs seem to sense the children who want to pat them but find it difficult. They approach the children slowly and nuzzle in their hand and turn their whole body around so that the child can more easily pat them. The dogs are taught not to lick and to stand still when being patted. All the same, I marvel at their compassion. It is an engaging sight to behold.
It is very rewarding to be a volunteer for The Delta Society and to give something back to the community. I am honoured that my dogs can be a part of this generous charitable programme, making our small contribution personally enjoyable and fulfilling our desire to make a contribution to society.
“Windsor”Australian and Canadian CH Whitehawk Nonsuch Windsor
“Maggie"Australian and USA CH Nonsuch Zeffiroso
"Pebbles"Australian CH Painswick Pebble Beach
Noosa Queensland Australia