Therapy Dogs Causing Smiles

by DFS-Pet-Blog on November 18, 2011

Team Stephanie and Balto!

Team Stephanie and Balto!

**Guest post from Ellen B.**

Dogs have a priceless natural ability to brighten someone’s day. Therefore, therapy dogs who visit people in hospitals and nursing homes, schools and many other places make a huge positive impact on lives.

To learn more about the therapy dogs who enrich peoples’ lives, I connected with a friend who started with her first therapy dog in 2006. Stephanie was kind enough to answer my questions. Hope you enjoy her story as much as I did!

Why did you decide to get involved with having a therapy dog?
I have friends with therapy dogs, and I heard the Leonberger breed makes good therapy dogs. Chico was my first Leonberger and we got into therapy in 2006 because it sounded like a great way to give back to our community. My current dog, Balto, started as a therapy dog in 2010. Balto and I visit the hospital once per month.

How did you get started?
The program at our local hospital here in Vail was just getting started. I connected with the Vail, CO branch of Delta Society that was working with the hospital, and I became part of a Pet Partners team (Team = Dog & Human).

What type of training & certification was required?
The Vail Pet Partners uses the registration process of the Delta Society. It’s a mixture of classes for both the human and the dog.

  • Humans learn how to be a good advocate for their dog in the therapy setting and how to deal with patients.
  • The dog program is a very in depth test of the dog’s soundness and personality to be sure it’s ok to go into the hospital. There are lots of obedience evaluations which are all on the Delta Society’s website.

What’s the best thing about being part of the Pet Partners Program?
It brings smiles to everyone’s faces as soon as they see Balto.

Balto in work mode.

Balto in work mode.

What’s a typical visit?
We start at the nurses’ station because they work hard, long hours and enjoy the dog time as much as anyone does! Then we move on to patients who told their nurse that they would like a dog visit. Visits range from 5 – 40 minutes per patient, depending on how they feel. Usually we’re at the hospital about 2 ½ hours.

How do you think Balto feels about being a therapy dog?
The minute I put the vest on Balto, there is a complete change almost instantly. He goes from wild crazy Balto to being in the working mode. It’s exhausting work for him. When he’s done visiting, he’ll go home and sleep all afternoon. I think the dog somehow takes the energy inside himself.

Reading to Chico.

Reading to Chico.

Have you visited any other types of places?
Chico and I visited schools for reading programs. The kids read to the dog. There’s no pressure to get things perfect when reading to a dog, so the students didn’t feel anxiety. I hope to visit schools with Balto when he gets older, maybe next year.

To get a better idea of the process of becoming a team and what it’s like to do a visit, watch this video about the Pet Partners Program.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie and Balto November 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

Thank You Ellen!!! We feel famous for a day!!!

Kara March 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I would love to have my beagle become a therapy dog, have you ever heard of a blind dog being able to get through the training? We #CELEBRATE his blindness and would love to share his gentle nature with other people. He is apprehensive when meeting other dogs due to the blindness, but never aggressive.

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