Last night I took young Sid to meet a local Scout troop. I’d been asked to give a talk about our work as a Pets As Therapy team visiting a retirement home and a ward at the hospital, to help the Scouts understand community service which would go towards one of their badges. I’d never done a public talk before, so I consulted with the charity first to get some guidelines, and after a couple of false starts (heavy snow and ice, for one), the date was set.
The first thing that happened when I got Sid out of the car was that the small Jack Russell Terrier* belonging to one of the Scout leaders saw him and exploded into that peculiarly breathless mixture of growls, whines and yappy barks that often seem to come from diminutive canines. Poor Sid whipped round, eyes popping, and tried to focus on the bouncing and scrabbling little ball of fur which was doing its level best to lunge at him. Then, of course, he wanted to run up and teach it a lesson, but I told him it wouldn’t look so good for a PAT dog to get involved in a pavement brawl, so he contented himself with an extremely stiff posture and a sotto voce growl. He did OK, actually, because he allowed himself to be dressed in his yellow vest and led into the building with hardly a backward glance.
Once we were inside, we discovered two things.
One: the hall was full of small but fast-moving and extremely loud bodies. The noise was incredible. I’d forgotten what a bunch of kids that age could sound like in an echoing hall!
Did Sid mind? Was he nervous? Well, it was hard to tell because ..
Two: the floor was of the hard and shiny description. Poor Sid started to walk into the room, tensed up and began trying to balance on his toenails, which is never a good idea, as I keep telling him. I had to physically lift him under the ribcage, and swivel him on his single hind leg to get us out of there again.
We went back to the car where I had three very important little objects – a set of Pawz dog boots. These little rubber balloony things are a life-saver for Sid because they provide a huge amount of traction on the slippiest floor. They’re actually made for keeping paw dressings dry, but the Pawz people now promote them for elderly and infirm dogs who can’t do shiny floors, and they really do work. They’re colour coded, and Sid’s size is purple. I stretched them onto his feet and this time he walked into the room with absolutely no problem at all.
The Scout leader was terribly organized and had a small side room ready for us with two rows of chairs set out amphitheatre style with standing room at the back, and a single chair (for me) facing them. The young men and women (I only noticed one girl, there may have been more) filed in, and sat down, and I was introduced and suddenly all eyes were on me. And of course, Sid.
I had a bunch of printouts made which I handed out first, entitled ‘How NOT to greet a dog**’. So many children (and adults) are bitten because they don’t understand simple dog behaviour rules that I thought it was a good place to begin – and the PAT people like us to include something about this too.
And then I picked up my notes and began. It wasn’t a long talk. I’d timed it roughly at 15-20 minutes, because I didn’t want to bore them. I asked questions at appropriate points and got willing answers, bless them, and you know what? Every time I looked up, and around at my audience, every single pair of eyes was fixed on me. Every. Single. One. I’ve worked in schools and never seen that kind of attention. It was heartwarming, so it was.
Naturally, I used Sid to illustrate points from time to time, and told little tales about our work. It went something like this:
Me: ‘… and one day, when we were at the hospital, Sid … ‘
Sid (whipping round to look at me): ‘What?’
Me: ‘ .. of course, Sid, here … ‘
Sid (whipping round to look at me): ‘What??’
Me: ‘ … now, because he’s only got three legs, Sid … ‘
Sid: (whipping round to look at me): ‘What???’
Once I noticed, it got really quite funny, and I had to stifle a giggle or two. Poor Sid. He kept hearing his name called and responded beautifully, only to find it was false alarm after false alarm. He did get acknowledgement though, in the form of a quick fondle.
So where was the JRT through all of this? To give him credit, he settled down and behaved impeccably throughout the talk. He was lying down at the back, gazing at Sid through the assorted legs of chairs and people.
At the end, after the obligatory Q & A session, the Scouts were allowed to come and pet Sid and feed him treats. Since I’d stressed in the talk that PAT dogs must be fine with being touched all over, including ears, feet and tail, some felt it necessary to test this out, but Sid didn’t mind. His head end was encircled with kissable noses and hands offering dried chicken, so what did he care if other hands were checking out the length of his tail?
We did allow Sid and Billy the JRT to meet properly once everything had calmed down. They both got treats and Sid was fine once Billy had stopped his noise and scrabbling. The only tricky point was when Sid was laying down and Billy came scurrying over right in his face … I felt a vibration travel up the lead and put a little distance between them, but on the whole, they were both pretty well behaved. Sid does know when he’s on duty and I think that helped.
So, I’m now a novice speaker and ready to take on other speaking assignments if necessary, and Sid – I’m proud of you!
* Did I mention that Sid has a thing about JRTs? You see, poor Sid is a ‘bounce’ – a dog who was found a good home, but got sent back. It wasn’t his fault. There was a JRT living next door who delighted in teasing Sid through the fence, and one day it escaped and came and attacked Sid on his own property. Sid responded with a nip, and despite the fact that no blood was drawn, the owner of the JRT was so angry that Sid’s owner feared for him and decided that the best thing was for Sid to leave. Since then, he has been extremely suspicious of JRTs – and who can blame him?
** This link will take you to the blog of the author of this great little leaflet. You may download and print it for your own use, free of charge, but she does ask for a small donation. I think I gave $5 USD.