Mission Accomplished


As many of you know I volunteer with my Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya, at a school where 2nd graders read to her. Maya is certified as a Therapy Dog, through Therapy Dog International. She can visit schools, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, or wherever they may need a therapy dog. The goal of the reading program is to help children improve their reading skills while increasing their confidence and love for reading. Over the years we have met children who are dog lovers, some who are adequately comfortable with dogs, and others who are downright scared of dogs. Maya establishes varying degrees of bonds with each child. Early in the school year, Maya even picks her “favorites”. She exhibits her favoritism through her varying displays of exuberance and affection to the different children. When there’s a “favorite” all Maya wants to do is sit as close as she can to the child.  Maya and her best friend will curl up together to read while the child pets her, rests on her, rests her book on her, or simply snuggles her. Maya can also sense when a child is not comfortable with dogs. These children choose to sit away from Maya and Maya respects their wishes.

 

Rest assured that it is Maya’s mission to win over the hearts of ALL of her children, even the ones that are uneasy or afraid of her. There comes a time during the school year when Maya decides that it is time to win over that particular child. One day Maya will simply decide that she is no longer sitting three feet away from the child and will insist on sitting closer. Of course I’m always attentive to the child’s concerns. And so it was two weeks ago when Maya suddenly decided that she wanted to sit very close to Kathy (the name has been changed). Up until then, Kathy would join us and with great trepidation would sit as far away from Maya as she could, and Maya would oblige. But on this particular day, Maya insisted on sitting next to her friend as I unsuccessfully tried to steer her 80-pound frame away. I could see Kathy’s face of concern, and I explained to her, “Maya really likes you and she really wants to sit next to you”. I reassured her that Maya would not hurt her and with that Kathy allowed Maya to curl up right next to her. Within minutes, Maya had settled into her nap of contentment with Kathy holding her book in one hand while reading out loud, and probably without even noticing herself, she had reached over to gently pet Maya with her other hand.

Nothing makes us happier than to turn a child into a dog lover. I said to Kathy, “oh my goodness, I think someday you are going to own your own dog, maybe even two dogs!”  Kathy looked up from her book and gave me a big beautiful smile.

Maya had accomplished her mission.

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Maya and Her Favorite Ball

Maya has a favorite ball. It’s an old soccer ball that once belonged to our children. We discovered many years ago that Maya loved playing fetch with this particular ball. The ball is now worn and deflated, but it is still Maya’s favorite. We store it in the garage in a bin on a shelf. Once in a while, Maya re-discovers her favorite ball and stands by it, whimpering until a human gets it for her. Maya is older and slower now but when she sees her favorite ball she is a puppy again. Her enthusiasm is infectious!

Maya’s Favorite Ball

 

Happy Birthday Maya!

Today we are celebrating our dog, Maya’s, 10th birthday. She was named Maya after the Maya Indians of Mexico who were the first to make chocolate with the cacao bean and Maya is a chocolate lab.

When we brought her home in May of 2007 …

The early years…

 

 

 

 

 

 

All grown up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The London years…

 

Her working years…

Her big sister years…

 

 

Happy Birthday to our beautiful girl Maya!

May we enjoy many more wonderful years together!

Everyday with you is a celebration!

 

 

A Day in Maya’s Life

As I have shared with you before our chocolate lab, Maya, is certified as a therapy dog. What this means is that through the auspices of Therapy Dog International, TDI, we can offer our volunteer services to places like schools, hospices, and nursing homes. For the last two years Maya and I have been volunteering at a public school as part of a reading program for second graders. It has been found that having children read out loud to canine companions increases their self-confidence, interest in reading, and overall reading skills.

At the end of the school year the teacher invites us to a goodbye party.

At the end of the school year the teacher invites us to a goodbye party.

Maya and I attend the school once a week. Before leaving the house I tie a red service bandana on Maya that sends her into a frenzy of joy because she is anticipating where we are going. Once we arrive we check in at the office where Maya is greeted by the staff. We then walk down the hallway to our classroom with Maya prancing, tail high, and budding curiosity making her turn her head to peek into classrooms we pass along the way. I love to see teachers’ and children’s faces light up when they see Maya and often they stop to pet her. We quietly enter our classroom, wave hello, and make our way to our special reading spot. Although we try not to disrupt the class, we still hear little voices whispering “Hi Maya”. The children start arriving according to the schedule. Maya greets each child, sometimes a group of children, and settles down to story time. Although Maya is friendly with all of the children I have noticed in the two years that we have been volunteering that Maya has her absolute favorites. When these favorite children show up, Maya can barely contain her excitement. After the greetings the child and Maya snuggle up against each other and begin the reading. Once our task is done we try to leave quietly, but undoubtedly we hear the children’s goodbyes as we leave the classroom.

At the end of the school year the teacher holds a goodbye party for us. The children love this because they all get to be up close to Maya even the ones that did not participate in the reading program. Maya loves it because she gets attention from everyone including the teacher. This year the children wrote Maya thank you letters. One letter stood out in particular because the little girl handed it to me two weeks before the goodbye party and because I never expected this kind of feedback from this little girl. In many ways she appeared disinterested in Maya during our reading exercises. But after reading the letter, I think that Maya meant more to her than she let on. When I read this letter it confirms to me how special Maya is and how she is making a difference with these children.

A Thank You Letter for Maya

A Thank You Letter for Maya

Maya’s Toy Collection and the Philosophical Ramifications

Maya's Foyer Toy Collection

“Maya, put your toys away!”

We keep Maya’s toys neatly stored in a basket in the family room. But Maya always manages to bring her toys over to the foyer rug one at a time, until she has amassed a collection of toys proudly displayed in the foyer welcoming our guests and a few more scattered throughout the first floor. Pure mayhem! The foyer serves as a home base for Maya. We play a game of chasing her throughout the house, in which she always runs to the foyer, anticipates our arrival, protects a toy in her month, and relishes in our futile attempts of taking it away. We have trained Maya to do many things, but somehow we forgot how to teach her to pick up her toys. She is 7 years old now, not what I would consider an old dog, so I suppose I can still teach her a new trick. What would that sound like?  “Maya, bring your toys to the basket!” “Maya, clean your room!” or “Maya, put your toys away!”. And of course, unlike human children who would probably answer back with some excuse or beg to do it later, Maya would just look at me with her beautiful brown eyes and wag her tail happily. And since her happiness is so infectious, I would probably just say, “oh who cares about the booby-trapped foyer rug, Maya you are way too cute, let’s go play.” Reminding me to have a little fun and to cherish our time together, even if it means tripping over toys.