This morning, Peaches and I went for our last of four Friday morning visits with the humane society’s weekly summer kids camp, Camp PAWS. After four weeks in a row of fabulous visits with several incredible groups of kids–all of whom were quite knowledgeable about pit bulls might I add–we had the good fortune to capture a few lovely video clips of Peaches visiting with the campers, thanks to their wonderful Humane Education Director who was willing to record them.
For folks who don’t normally do this kind of volunteer work with dogs, catching nice moments on film, whether it be a photo or video, is rare. With privacy policies for hospital patients and school students, therapy dog organizations’ various protocols, not to mention our obvious preoccupation with our dogs and whomever they happen to be visiting with, pictures of the visit usually just aren’t on the agenda. And if they are, finding an appropriate third party to hold the camera since you’re busy holding the leash and facilitating the visit, can be yet one more challenge. Only recently did a good friend of mine actually get to witness what goes on at a typical visit when we visited her school program. And her response: “It was so nice to actually be there to see this because I really had no idea what the therapy visits were all about and how involved they can be. It’s not something you can really describe.”
It’s easy to get caught up in a particularly memorable moment or just overwhelmed by an overall successful and enjoyable visit for everyone, including the dog–which is one of the best aspects of this, or any kind of volunteer work–you get to just enjoy the moment. But every once in a while, you find yourself stopping to watch someone give the dog that extra special squeeze, exchange mutual smiles with her, or even comment that she’s changed their views on dogs, pit bulls, or even the value of animal therapy, and the thought crosses your mind: Wow, it would’ve been amazing to get that on camera! And even if you did, there’s still the question of whether or not you might get a photo authorization to share the photo with others. Otherwise lots of creative photo cropping and editing is about all you have going for you.
So, for the thousands of you out there also actively involved with volunteer therapy dog work, most of whom have been doing it a lot longer than we have, what are some of the challenges, experiences, and successes you’ve had with simultaneously capturing a great moment on film here or there while also managing to respect people’s privacy and wrangle the necessary photo releases to share it with others? And more importantly, what are some of those lovely moments that you didn’t get on camera but would have loved to share with others?
Here are a few examples from our last year of work:
- Humane Society Kids Camp Visit: All campers’ parents sign a waiver and photo release before participating in camp, and through our invitation to be a regularly scheduled part of the camp curriculum, our visits are included in that release. After a couple weeks of successful visits, we were provided with copies of the waivers and given opportunities to take pictures, which the kids loved.
- English Language Learners Summer School Partnership Program and R.E.A.D. Visits: A staff member with the program took 100+ photos of students reading rescue bird reports they wrote to Peaches, the rescue dog. Because the entire program staff was so happy with the visits and the quality of the pictures, we’re now translating photo authorization forms into multiple languages for non-native speaking parents and mailing them to homes along with pre-stamped envelopes and copies of the photos of their students visiting with the dog. Fingers crossed.
- Staff members at the elementary school where we go for R.E.A.D. visits during the school year have been proactive about writing cover letters and sending them home to parents with photo authorization forms because they’d like to increase student participation in and parent support of the program.
- As for the hospital, well that’s a tough nut to crack, understandably. We’ve had one opportunity to take a photo with a patient after she signed the hospital’s photo privacy waiver and was thrilled at the idea of some photos with the Peach. But most of the time, folks in the hospital, especially those in the Head Pain unit where we visit, really need their quiet, private moments and that’s usually what makes visits so enjoyable.