For Marcia, avoiding volunteer burnout is essential in order to continue sharing her Therapy Dog Charlie with others.

In this 43rd episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I spoke with Marcia about her experiences volunteering as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Therapy Dog team in Georgia with her 3-year-old Golden Retriever Charlie, why she has always referred to him as “a Puppy with a Purpose”, and the incredible pet therapy resource that she’s put together on her website while documenting their journey.

When Marcia was getting ready to retire from a career of teaching, someone advised her to retire to something rather than retire from. She knew this meant it was time for her to find her animal partner to volunteer with as a Therapy Dog team. Soon after, she found Charlie and knew that they were going to make an impact together.

Along the way, she learned that it was important to really know her dog in. away that allowed her to identify even small changes in his behavior. When she noticed a difference in how he was interacting with children on visits, she mentioned it to her community of fellow Therapy Dog handlers and they helped her see that Charlie’s current pace may burn him out from the work that he loved to do. Marcia gave Charlie a week off and he bounced right back to his earlier self while on visits. Now Marcia knows that even though it can be hard to say no, it’s important for them to cut back on visits and find a pace that both she and Charlie can enjoy for years to come while avoiding volunteer burnout.

The relationship that Marcia has built with Charlie has led to a deeper understanding of who he is and allows her to not only identify when he needs some time off but also to help predict when a situation may be too much. While Charlie can typically handle even a challenging environment, it is without a doubt that he values how much care Marcia puts into knowing his needs and being his biggest advocate.

If you’re ready to hear about how Marcia and Charlie are making an impact in their area, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • Why the book Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog holds so much meaning for Marcia.
  • How Charlie is a good fit for Therapy Dog work.
  • What Marcia does to help protect Charlie from volunteer burnout.

 

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [01:29] Marcia shares that they have been an AKC Therapy Dog team since September 2020.
  • [02:05] I identified Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog on Marcia’s bookshelf behind her and she shared how the publisher reached out to them when the book was first released and the impact that the book has had on her and the children that they volunteer with at the elementary school.
  • [03:04] Marcia throws us back to Dogster, now a magazine but previously a “Facebook for Dogs”, and how communicating as her dog with others on the platform led her to discovering the role of Therapy Dogs.
  • [03:31] When Marcia was considering retiring from teaching, someone advised her that she needed to retire to something rather than retiring from. For her, that became volunteering as a Therapy Dog team with Charlie.
  • [03:54] Marcia talks about Charlie’s half-brother Jackson and how his temperament would be chaotic in an assisted living center, hospital, or classroom due to his happy, excitable nature.
  • [04:27] Searching for Charlie was a process, but Marcia knew from the moment that she met him that he was a puppy with a purpose and had the perfect temperament for volunteering as a Therapy Dog.
  • [06:14] Marcia reminisces about their very first visit to an assisted living center and how Charlie’s demeanor was instantly gentle and calm with the residents.
  • [07:20] According to Marcia, training and volunteering with your dog is a full time job and for her she believes it would have been difficult to do while still working.
  • [07:32] Marcia’s discovery that she needed to be careful not to overwork Charlie and quick implementation of a week off and reduced volunteering when she saw his behavior begin to show signs of burnout when working with the children. She now knows what signs to look for and how to keep Charlie’s schedule manageable for him.
  • [08:12] We talk about how networking and having a group of other teams to talk to can be helpful and how even in large areas like Los Angeles, it can be difficult to find Therapy Dog specific training and information.
  • [08:56] The difficult access to finding information on how to get started as a Therapy Dog team led Marcia to creating a website with the information that she’s found and the experience that she’s had with Charlie.
  • [09:39] Marcia talks about the first time Charlie saw a wheelchair and how he was able to get used to it.
  • [10:04] I talk about Temple Grandin’s approach to putting yourself on the animal’s eye level and literally seeing things from their perspective to understand what might be impacting your dog.
  • [11:30] We talk about the importance of finding an environment that both you and your animal partner can thrive in while volunteering or working together.
  • [12:33] Marcia reflects on the tender moments that Charlie has initiated while volunteering.
  • [13:48] It surprised Marcia that the assisted living facility wanted to know if Charlie knew any tricks, but she turned that into action and Charlie now has his AKC Advanced Trick Dog title.
  • [14:28] The importance of creating boundaries and learning how to say “no” when your dog needs a break.
  • [14:48] Marcia talks about their current frequency of visits and what feels like a good balance for them. She also reflects on how age plays into the experience as well as the variety of stimuli involved in each visit.
  • [17:11] For Marcia, volunteering as a Therapy Dog team is the most rewarding thing she has ever done.
  • [18:47] Marcia’s advice is to make sure that your dog has the right temperament for pet therapy work.
  • [19:30] Knowing your goals for your dog can help you when you meet with an instructor to tailor your training and figure out what you need to do along the way to get to your goal.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a listen and let me know which part you found the most helpful!

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

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