Sounds like a great idea, right? A nice furry friend to help us humans out when our lives get tough (which is often!) A little bunny to curl up with you on the couch while you watch a movie and cry after being dumped by your boyfriend. Or maybe a well-behaved friendly dog that visits senior citizens at a nursing home on weekends wagging his tail and giving puppy kisses. Whatever the case may be, surely there are a wealth of positive feelings attached to that mental image that just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The idea might even leave you feeling as though you want to train your own Fido to give back to the community in just the same way. But there’s just one problem…how does he become “certified” as a pet therapist??? Does he have to go to school and get his Psych degree? Seems a bit outlandish, no? Is he going to have one of those couches for humans to lay on while he smokes a pipe and listens to all of our woes? Hmm…not too sure he has the attention span for that, or the patience for that matter! All jokes aside this is a question that I myself have looked into, and I thought that it would be neighborly of me to share some of the fruitful pieces of info that I was able to dig up.
Dogs of any breed, size and shape can become Therapy Dogs as long as they have one important characteristic: An excellent temperament. They must be patient, gentle, calm and well mannered, and like all kinds of people. Since they’ll be petted and handled, they also must enjoy human contact. Dogs must also be healthy and at least one year old. I personally thought that this was very cool! There’s no bias against pitties or any bully breeds, no ageism or preference with regard to color or demand for a “purebred” dog over a “mutt.” (Jeez, if only the whole world could be so open minded!)
I also learned that Certification and training varies by organization, but typically requires behavioral and obedience tests. Therapy Dogs International (TDI), the oldest and largest therapy dog organization in the U.S. (located in Flanders, New Jersey) requires a therapy-dog evaluation for suitability, which includes the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test, among other tests that assess the dog’s behavior around people. These are really the very first steps that you should take if you are interested in getting your dog certified as a therapy pet. After completing these steps you can then look into the individual state requirements and training centers near your residence. I was able to find some good local resources within my home state through an online listing provided by dogplay. One of the newest (and I think cutest) ways in which therapy dogs have come to serve us humans is through a program for children called “Tail Waggin’ Tutors.” This program helps kids that are nervous about reading publicly by giving them a very accepting yet captive audience of a four legged furry friend that listens patiently without judgement. Now tell me, just how precious is that?
I apologize that it has been so long since my last article…. as some of you may know my “day job” consists of managing the marketing, events and daily operations of a private auction company. That being said it has been difficult for me to steal any time for my Furry Freuds. BUT, that does not mean that it’s not something that’s constantly on my mind. Being that I have four furry freuds of my own at home, it is something that I am constantly thinking about, most recently that of fostering and adoption issues. My foster dog, Nala, has been put up for adoption by Moondog Rescue (the non-profit that I work with) and I have mixed feelings about this. Not unlike many other foster moms and temporary homes of death row animals, I have become very attached to my “Nala girl” (her affectionate nickname.) Over the past four months that she has been with us, Nala has truly become one of the family. She is part of the daily routine that we have at home and we have taught Nala how to behave like an “adult” doggie. Like most parents, we learned about Nala’s needs through trial and error….for example we learned that she had to be walked on a leash after our neighbors called us saying that Nala had leapt over the fence in the backyard. To make matters worse, someone had called the police to report a loose dog and when the officers attempted to corral her, she growled at them (obviously out of fear) and they threatened to take her to the pound. Thankfully since my neighbor’s son is a sheriff’s officer and she assured them that Nala lived with us, they let her go. This was just one of the many misadventures of Nala that made me fall in love with her mischievous yet endearing spirit. Not to mention the relief that I felt once I knew she was safe! There have also been “adventures” in potty & crate training (if you can call that an adventure, and I use that term loosely.) As well as lessons in walking on a leash, socialization among other animals as well as dogs….not all of them going as planned! So, all in all when I got a call from my contact at Moondog Rescue reporting that she had an adopter that was “seriously interested in Nala,” my heart dropped a bit. How can I let her go after all we’ve been through? What if she thinks that I’ve abandoned her? What if she misses her foster brothers and sister? These were just a few of the many thoughts that were running through my head as I heard my mouth utter the enthusiastic words: “That’s great!” It didn’t help matters that I had just finished reading the book A Dog’s Purpose, an in-depth novel about the dog’s experience as he goes through life with humans. Throughout this novel it is reinforced that, according to the author, the dog’s purpose is to take care of humans and ensure that they are happy and content. He also goes on to weave some amazingly beautiful and heartfelt stories centering on themes of loyalty, honor, trust and love. Fearful of letting my “Furry Freud” leave my home feeling lost, abandoned or worse, betrayed, I am very wary of the implications that this decision have for the remainder of her life course. And yet, as I continue to contemplate all of these aspects of her departure, the words of my Moondog Rescue associate echo off the walls in my mind, “It doesn’t have to be bittersweet, you can keep her!” I suppose that I still have a great deal more thinking to do in the weeks to come.
Ozzy was initially a gift from my brother for my sister-in-law. She had Boxers growing up and he wanted to surprise her with Ozzy. Less than a year later my dear sister-in-law and Ozzy’s mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 35.
After diagnosed Linda and my brother had little time to take care of a rambunctious Boxer puppy, so he went to live with our dad for awhile, and then eventually found a permanent home with me. I will never forget how Linda’s face would light up for the joy that Ozzy brought to her while he was visiting his momma. We still fondly recall the happier times when Linda would talk to Ozzy her made up southern accent and say “Hi Boy!” as soon as she saw him. Weak and think from chemotherapy treatments, Linda, ever the brave soldier and cancer fighter would stand at the sink doing dishes and Ozzy would come up behind her with his squeak toys and nose them right into her butt, even when she hardly had any butt left at all and she would just laugh and smile. These are the bittersweet memories that we are now left with that still bring a smile to my face. Devastatingly, after over a two year long valiant fight, she eventually lost her battle with this insidious disease and left us for her heavenly home.
The statistics and research regarding pet therapy among cancer patients show that there is a vast benefit associated with having a furry friend in that person’s life during those crucial times. Animals have been proven to improves quality of life through increasing exercise and overall activity levels, as well as decreasing anxiety, depression and despair. It is my hope that through the use of this site I will be able to bring together animal rescues, veterinarians, philanthropists, animal behaviorists and activists in order for all of us to pool our resources in a fight for the greater good. Thereby simultaneously working to eradicate the cancers inherent in society as well as those that plague our bodies.