Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sadie, the Therapy Dog


People seem to come to Therapy Dog work through different channels and for different reasons.

When my husband and I married 36 years ago, our wedding gift to each other was a Cocker Spaniel puppy that we named "Gus". It didn't take long until we were a multi-dog household. All I had ever known as a kid was having dogs as pets. Jim and I had wonderful dogs with great personalities.

About 15 years ago, we were given a yellow Labrador puppy. Her owners couldn't handle her so they decided to "give her to Deb and Jim". Her name was Sadie. She was the most difficult dog we have ever owned.

Sadie and Debbie Ski Jorring
Her biggest problem was food aggression. Also, she was so hyperactive that her eyes were always dilated and I actually had to teach her that she could be still for a while. Of course, on the "up" side, she was never tired and could do things for a very long time. I taught her to Ski Jor, which is pulling a cross country skier. She loved it because she could run forever.

I looked for a dog training school and found Attaboy Dog Obedience in the yellow pages. I signed Sadie up and she excelled in obedience. The owner/operator told me about a local small therapy dog program called "Paws Hand Delivered". We tested for it and Sadie completed the test perfectly.

When you do have a therapy dog, it is important that you know your dog. The most important thing during your visits is your dog, his/her comfort, and safety. Therapy Dogs are not robots. Some don't like certain facilities, some don't like children, and some only want to visit when they feel like it. Even though Sadie was a therapy dog, the food aggression didn't disappear. If we were visiting and a patient asked to feed the dogs, we left the room immediately.

Sadie was an exceptional therapy dog. She would carefully step among cords and tubes to let someone pet her and then cautiously back out, never making a misstep. She would approach people slowly and make sure that nothing was disturbed during her visit. She amazed me when we visited the skilled nursing areas where the patients are seriously ill.

By now, I was totally hooked on therapy dog work so we also joined a hospice program. Again, Sadie was quiet and soft when visiting people. And I had my new dog, Sophie, a Brussels Griffon, tested. Now I had two therapy dogs.

I had worked for many years in Human Services. Now I was impressed by how much I could help people by working through my dogs. The patients could talk about dogs they used to have and happier times they remembered. The softness of the dogs eased sore hands and tiny dogs could be held like children. When holding Sophie one evening, a lady said that it had been many years since she had held a dog.

Therapy Dog work takes you out of yourself. It's not about you. It is about the patient and your dog and you are the facilitater. And in coming outside of yourself, you actually gain more than you ever thought you could.

If you have a dog with good manners that interacts nicely with people, you may want to consider having your dog tested to be a Therapy Dog. There will be testing on June 16, 2012, at the Conneaut Lake Bark Park. You can also contact the Bark Park for information on what the test is like and what you need to know beforehand.

Sadie and Sophie are no longer with us. Now Bunny and Abu are my therapy dogs and Opie and Isaac are "in the wings" to become therapy dogs. This is something I want to do for a very long time.
Debbie Myers

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