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Ryther’s Canine Volunteers: A Child’s Best Friend!

I always wanted to have a therapy dog and work with children, so I trained Stanley, an Australian Labradoodle. He’s too rambunctious for senior centers and there’s a wait for places like Ronald McDonald House. Luckily, a handler suggested Ryther and it has been a perfect fit for Stanley and the two kiddos I’ve seen for the last year. Stanley looks forward to his visits and knows the word “kiddo,” because I always ask as we drive to Ryther, “Ready to see your kiddo?”

Today I’ll tell you about one of the kiddos, “Steven.” His treatment goal was to understand and deal with his own anger. Yet, I never saw any anger problems while he was with Stanley. When we first started, I gave him simple tricks to teach Stanley. Eventually, he had Stanley riding a skateboard and loving it! Stanley loves to run and fetch so I would pitch to Steven, Steven would bat the ball and Stanley was catcher, running and retrieving the ball and dropping it by my feet. I got to be a pretty good pitcher!

Steven wanted to interact with me as well. It started when he asked me if I worked. I said I volunteer for a political campaign. He was very interested and wanted to hear about how elections work. He’s a very bright kid. Over time I saw that he was interested in things outside of himself. We also talked a lot about the Seahawks and Mariners. He is such an athletic kid and this summer he got to go to play sports at camp. It was touching how he shared his successes in sports like when he was MVP. I could tell he was so proud.

I love doing this. There is no question that I have seen lots of maturation and growth from both of the kids over the past year. They have shown empathy and nurturing with Stanley and they aren’t afraid of being emotionally connected to this dog. One time, Steven threw the ball and it accidentally hit Stanley. Steven ran over and kept asking “Are you okay? Are you okay?” He was pretty worried.

A few weeks ago, Mallory, Steven’s case manager, told me he would be leaving soon for a foster home. Steven told me afterwards and was excited that his new foster family has a dog. I kept my composure when he said, I’m really gonna miss Stanley.” The day before he left Ryther I gave him a soft baseball bat and nerf ball and a photo of Stanley as well as a “note” from Stanley. It’s bittersweet saying goodbye, but that’s the point and Stanley and I are so happy to be part of helping these kiddos heal and move on.

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