Therapy Animals Interview
- Hi, Kathie, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I am a retired nurse educator. My brother, Terry, gifted me Abby, my King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, when I retired.
- What made you want to get into working with therapy animals?
I have two friends who do Therapy Dog work. They came to the Exeter Woman’s Club and did a presentation and brought their dogs. I had seen the dogs at the Reading Hospital when I had my students there for their clinical experience and thought, I would like to do that when I retire.
- What is your dog’s name?
Her name is Abby.
- How long have you had her?
She will be 7 this year. I received her when she was 5 months old.
- How did you know she would be right for this?
My brother breeds Cavaliers and he and his wife picked Abby out for me. This breed is an extremely easy going dog. They are called the “Consummate Lap Dog.”
- Did you train her or did she go to a school to get trained for this?
She went to 3 levels of Obedience Training at Awesome Dogs. She tested for Canine Good Citizen and passed. She then took a course on tricks and games which we both enjoyed. I then requested she be tested by a T/O(tester/observer). She passed and was registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
- How long does training take?
Many of our local Therapy Dogs have been trained by their owners. I did not have any other dogs and wanted Abby exposed to a group of dogs. Once she was trained, or I was trained….she went to Berks Heim for her supervised visits with a certified tester. She then was eligible for membership in the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
- Where does she do her work?
She currently is a member of Paws for Wellness in the Reading Health System. She works on Mondays and Wednesdays at the hospital on her assigned units. She also has been accepted at Penn State/St. Joseph Medical Center and will begin visits there. She visits schools, nursing homes, home visits, camps, scout troops, senior citizen groups and doctor’s offices by request.
- How long does she work?
She usually at a facility such as a hospital unit for one hour. She will let me know when she is ready to go home.
- Is there one particular instance of her working that surprised you?
She is extremely intuitive. I joke that she was a Politician in another life. She can work a room full of people going from chair to chair. She has sought out a person in a hospital room whom she sensed was upset. One visitor asked, “Why does she keep coming over to me?” My reply was she sensed that you were upset and she wanted to comfort you.
- Would you consider training another therapy dog?
Yes, once Abby is too old and is ready to retire.
- What kind of animals can be therapy animals?
There are other types of service animals. Such as the Seeing Eye Dog, the service dog for an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder, a child with seizures can have a service dog who can sense when a seizure is going to occur and warn the client to seek a safe area. These are considered Service Dogs and have different training and have different privileges. There are monkeys who are trained to work with paralyzed individuals. They can microwave foods, help with feeding, open doors, etc.
- Would you recommend therapy dogs?
Positively. The staff appreciate the visits as much as the patient and their visitors. The title Therapy Dog tells staff and patients that Abby is especially trained and is certified as a Therapy Dog.
- Who would best benefit from a therapy dog?
Anyone who is ill, hospitalized, home bound, hospice clients, chronic illnesses, recovering from an accident could benefit from a therapy dog visit.
- Where can you get a therapy dog?
The dog requires special training including obedience, is calm and friendly. They need to be able to adjust to unusual surroundings with noises, alarms, elevators, electric doors, activity in the hallways. You start with the nature of the dog and add the training and experiences that will make them a very welcome visitor be it in a home, nursing home, hospital, school, library, camp, or with a group of children or adults.
- Do you have any advice for those looking to train therapy dogs?
I am often asked by staff or even visitors in the hospital how can my dog become a therapy dog. I refer then to the web site www.therapydogs.com. There is a list of the areas of testing that a dog must do. I can refer them to a training facility or to a local tester. Many of our local dogs have their site testing at Berks Heim. They and their owners are accompanied by a certified tester as they make their supervised visits at a health care facility.
- Do you have any advice for those planning on getting a therapy dog?
As I mentioned you need a dog who is fairly calm and sweet natured. They can be trained by their owners or take their dog to an obedience classes. Abby and I truly enjoy our work. When I put her red heart tag on her collar she knows we are going to work. Her little tail wags all the time when she visits. We should all be so “happy in our jobs!”