T H E R A P Y D O G S submitted by Leilah BackhusSacramento Valley Weimaraner Club Therapy dogs bring immeasurable amounts of comfort and joy to people of all ages. Serrano (CH Tri-D’s Red Hot Serrano CD NSD NRD V) and I have been visiting hospitals, convalescent centers, and pre-schools in the East Bay area for a year with the Friendship Foundation. Bringing my Weim into the life of people who are sick, lonely, can no longer keep a pet, or just need something positive to happen in their day has been an amazingly rewarding experience for me, and from Serrano’s behavior, I’d say for her as well.
Your dog does not have to be perfectly well behaved or incredibly outgoing in order to be a therapy dog. In general, a dog that can pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test is well enough behaved to make visits. For example, your dog should be able to greet strangers without fear, walk on a loose leash, come when called on a leash, walk nicely past another person with a dog, sit, and down on command (although multiple requests are fine, unlike in the obedience ring). Most therapy dog organizations have their own specific temperament testing criteria that they will be happy to provide for you.
The Friendship Foundation, the organization that we make our visits with, organizes all of the visits and sends out quarterly calendar. The visits are at a variety of times during the week and weekends in order to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules. In order to stay active in the program, we make at least 3 visits per quarter (equivalent to one visit per month). Visits typically last one hour, and can range from group visits in a common room to individual room visits at hospitals or convalescent centers.
One of Serrano and my favorite visits is at Therapeutic Nursery School in Richmond. The children at this school are usually 4 or 5 years old and have homes in crisis. They are incredibly excited to see the dogs, walk them around the school room, brush them, and watch them do tricks. It is also a very positive way for the visitors and nursery school teachers to help children in crisis express themselves by doing simple things like asking nicely, saying thank you, waiting for a turn, and treating animals with respect and love. Serrano is very patient with the children, and doesn’t seem to mind having one pet her ears while another pets her rear, and yet another brushes her mid-section. Not all dogs are required to tolerate that much attention at once, but she seems to enjoy it. I’ve started to notice her move closer to young children in other situations, apparently waiting for her massage!
There are many other therapy dog organizations nationwide. Some of them allow you to schedule your own visits if you have a particular place or person you’d like to visit. In order to learn more about therapy dog work and find an organization near you, go to www.dog-play.com.