The most accepted terms for this field are Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT involves
working with someone when a specific goal has been identified. If you do this as a
volunteer, you will work with a professional who will assist you in selecting goals for
different individuals. AAA are those activities designed to strengthen someone's quality
of life. Usually performed by volunteers, they are generally "meet and greet"
got hooked on doing Animal Assisted therapy with my first Border
Collie, Wendy. Back then, they didn't allow dogs in hospitals, only
in convalescent hospitals. Wendy was the first in my area to be
allowed into a hospital. (I've attached a photo of her "Santa Paws",
they called her a Australian Shepherd by mistake). I witnessed what
I always knew, that animals can reach people who otherwise seem
unreachable. Many times I saw people who had not spoken a word or
smiled in along time, open up to Wendy in a way they hadn't done
with anyone in a very long time. So, when Wendy passed away at the
age of 15 1/2, I knew I wanted another dog to do therapy with.
Enter Molly. It was just about a week before Christmas in 1999 and I
was looking through the local paper and saw an ad for 6 week old
Border Collie puppies and I just couldn't resist calling, and then
going and 'just looking'. They say that your dogs that have passed
on will choose the next dog for you, and I truly believe that both
Wendy and my Doberman, Maddie, did just that. When my then 10 year
old daughter and I arrived at the cattle ranch to see all the pups,
Molly was the only one that was different looking than all the rest.
She was an adorable little black and speckled ball of fur, all her
siblings were tri color except for one sister that was almost all
white. I had told the breeder on the phone that I was looking for a
special pup, one that would grow up to be a great therapy dog, be
able to do agility, and maybe some herding. She thought Molly would
be perfect because she seemed the most engaged with people and
thrived on attention. As we talked to the breeder, who primarily
bred for working dogs, about the pup it was very interesting and we
knew it was meant to be. The breeder was calling the pup Maddie, she
said she would have named her Wendy, except that was her daughter's
name. Also, the pup (my Molly) was born on October 30, Wendy was
born on October 31. Just too many coincidences.
Molly was raised in the barn and because she loved attention so
much, she was brought into the house regularly. Still, that poor
little pup was just loaded with fleas, so I was able to talk the
breeder into letting me take her that day instead of waiting another
2 weeks. And so Miss Molly came home.
took her everywhere, carrying her of course until she had her
vaccinations. I was taking my daughter to the local grocery store
where they always had Santa. I had Molly in the car and asked the
owners if I could bring her in, just for the picture. They said yes, and then said I didn't need to put her back
in the car, that she could shop with us. As I would soon learn about
Molly, she took everything in stride. Nothing seemed to rattle her.
When we went to puppy class, she preferred to make the round with
the humans, and had little interest in playing with the other pups.
Even then, she had a natural approach, not jumping up, but sidling
up to people for attention.
At about 6 months old, I started taking her to see my mother-in-law
at an assisted care facility. Again, Molly proved to be a natural.
She never jumped on anyone, and always was gentle and loving with
everyone she met. Walkers and wheel chairs never fazed her, nor did
elevators or odd acting people. I had found, or should I say Maddie
and Wendy found, my therapy dog.
We made many trips to the assisted care facility and Molly looked
forward to her visits even more than those she visited. From there
we started visiting hospitals, and eventually rehabs to help with
physical therapy, through the SHARE program. I worked at the Marin
Humane Society in the behavior and training department at the time,
where one of my many 'hats' was co-teaching the SHARE program with
SHARES director. She taught the book learning part, and I taught the
dog training part. I used Molly as an example of how a therapy dog
We added a program called SHARE A BOOK, where we trained dogs to go
into schools and libraries for children with reading challenges to
read to. Reading to a non judgmental dog vastly improved their
reading skills. We trained the dogs to 'look' at the book if the
child pointed at a page or turned a page. Molly also participated in
this program, too.
When my mother had a stroke, she would repeatedly ask for Molly.
Molly was instrumental in helping with her physical therapy and her
spirits. She would smile and pet Molly at times when she wouldn't react
much to the human family.
Molly and I have continued to visit rehabs and rest homes when we
Molly was diagnosed with Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC) on March
11, 2010. She has a walnut sized inoperable tumor in the lower part
of her bladder. Her treatment protocol is daily Peroxicam and Pepcid,
and chemotherapy every 3 - 4 weeks. Dr. Alan Kay did the diagnostic
and will be doing all follow up ultra sounds. Dr. Nancy Kay is the
treating veterinarian. Molly's long term prognosis is poor, her long
term prognosis is guarded and dependent upon her response to
treatment, but average survival is about 1 year. I am hoping and
praying for much more!
On March 22, 2010, Molly had her first Mitoxantrone chemotherapy
treatment. She handled well and was a star patient. Her white blood
cell count dropped a bit, which is pretty normal, so she was on
antibiotics for 2 weeks, after which the count came back up to
Molly has improved tremendously going from 'squatting' repeatedly
when outside, to being back to her 'normal' urination habits.
Molly had her second chemotherapy treatment on April 13, 2010.
Again, handling it well and being a favorite patient. She will start
on 2 weeks of antibiotics in 4 days, and have a follow up blood
count and ultra sound in in 2 weeks. Her symptoms are telling us
there is probably some shrinkage of the tumor, but we won't know for
sure until we see the ultra sound.
UPDATE: July 12, 2012 Joellen Burton: "Molly playing Frisbee on
July 9, 2012. On July 11 we officially passed TWENTY
EIGHT MONTHS since diagnosis! She's still happy
happy! Me? I'm still believing in miracles!"
UPDATE: June 27, 2012 This is what a 12 1/2 year old dog,
nearly 28 months since diagnosis with bladder cancer
(TCC) looks like? It does if you're Molly!!
UPDATE: February 27, 2012 Just thought I'd send you another update on Molly. She
had her 12th birthday on October 30, a day I wasn't sure we would be
sharing. AND she is approaching the 2 year mark since her TCC
diagnosis on March 11, 2010. Truly a miracle and one for the
veterinary text books!! She is now on her fourth chemo drug and has
been feeling great. She is happy, full of energy, and enjoying every
moment of life. She uses her therapy dog skills in veterinary
hospital waiting rooms now, seeming to always pick up on who needs
her, and offering them comfort, whether is be a head to stroke, a
belly to rub, or a child who needs a friend to play with.
The financial toll this horrible disease has taken on our family has
been tremendous and I just noticed that you still have her up on
your website providing a PayPal link to help me raise funds. I wish
I had taken advantage of it sooner. Thank you so very much again for
all you do!
UPDATE: November 3, 2010 I thought I would update you on Molly. She turned 11 on
October 30, is still feeling great and is as happy as always. We are
no longer able to do visits as Molly's immune system is fragile from
the chemo, and I was advised to keep her outings off our property to
a minimum. We both do miss it terribly.
After two Mitaxantrone treatments an ultra sound showed that the
tumor had shrunk - I was ecstatic! After 2 more treatments, and a
change in her clinical symptoms, we did another ultra sound and the
tumor had grown. We have since switched to Carboplatin, which has
been slowing the tumor growth. She is still urinating and is able to
empty her bladder (made sure with ultra sounds), but it takes her a
few squats to do it. The Magic Bullet Fund had helped with some of
the cost of the chemo, but it is getting harder and harder to come
up with the balance, and pay for her bi-monthly blood work, and
every other month ultra sounds. Thank goodness for credit cards,
I'll worry about how to pay them off later.
I understand your policy is to give a one time grant in order to be
able to help as many 'working dogs' as you can, which is so very
wonderful, and I GREATLY appreciated getting the grant I was given.
I was wondering if there is any way I could get any more help? My
husband is retired and we are on a fixed income, which gets
completely consumed by our house payment and health insurance. I
bring in what I can with my business, and that usually will pay most
of the rest of the bills. Again, thank G-d for credit cards. I
understand if you can't help, but at this point I have gotten to
where I feel I need to explore every avenue.
Again, I can't thank you enough for all you do for all of us and our
fur kids with cancer, and for the grant that was given to Molly and
I. It helped us at a time when we really needed it and made it
possible for us to start her chemotherapy treatments.