Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Therapy Dogs Smile

Though most dogs are therapeutic for their owners, some special dogs do a lot more.

Teams of dogs and handlers, usually owners, visit schools, assisted living facilities, hospice centers,   hospitals, children's hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, shelters, and DSR (disaster stress relief) programs.

I met Linda Vogel in the Cottonwood, AZ Public Library with Daisy, her calm gentle 7 year-old retriever/lab. As you can tell from her picture, Daisy is one of those dogs who smiles.

Linda and Daisy are certified through the Delta Society Pet Partners program, one of several national organizations that can help you register your dog as a therapy dog.

Our local Verde Valley Medical center hosts a licensed team evaluator and instructor from Delta Pet Partners.

Handlers must take a day-long training course and then return with their dog for a 30 minute test which evaluates the animal/handler team in a simulated hospital setting. The evaluator looks at how well the team relates to patients.

Dogs must have at least six months of age and been owned or with the handler for at least six months. The dog must have a good disposition and respond to basic commands, sit, stay, and leave, and love people with absolutely no growling.

After a team is certified they have many opportunities to brighten the day of hospital patients or work with students.

We know reading and dogs go together, Therapy dogs often go into schools and libraries or reading programs where a child reads to the dog. In programs, such as the Paws to Read, or Tail Wggin' Tutors allow students to practice reading to a non-judgmental companion. Te child pats the dog, relaxes and focuses on reading. 

At the Yale Law School Library, students can check out Monty, a Jack Russell-border terrier mix, a certified therapy dog, to pet him, give him a biscuit, and de-stress from the grind.  

As we left the library, a woman entering stopped and smiled back at Daisy and commented that the dog was smiling at her.

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