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Sunday
Jul192009

Therapy Dog - Not Just a Pretty Face

Leslye Sandberg

We all know how great the IW is as a loyal friend, family member, garbage disposal, throw rug or cushioned bolster. Never underestimate their ability to take on a new roll—community activist!

This year, Smidgeon and I have embarked on a new venture as certified pet therapy dog and tag along owner (respectively). I provide transportation and scheduling. Smidge provides love and kisses to a multitude of people who don’t have the opportunity to live with their own pet.

We have visited several homes for the elderly and also the adult handicapped. Our favorite is Clearbrook, where our visit is announced on the board in advance and the clients are waiting for us to appear. A normal visit lasts up to 45 minutes, as we go from room to room and stroll the halls and activity rooms to say hello to anyone who wants to meet us. Reactions vary (especially at the first sight of a wolfhound) from “Now that’s a dog!” to happy shouts of “It’s Smidgeon” accompanied by hugs and kisses. Even the most timid can touch a wolfhound, since the back end is so far from the end with teeth. Several have started at the rear and worked their way forward to receive puppy kisses. (Some of you might remember that Smidgeon did win the GLIWA picnic award for most puppy kisses last year) And there is no problem reaching those in bed or in wheelchairs, as the wolfhound is an ideal height for reach and hug. On a more serious note, the Activities Director is thrilled to participate in this program, citing a client who has clearly experienced a complete change in disruptive behavior since dog visits started at the center. Other clients who experience touch aversion have come forward to hug Smidge as well. A good time is had by all—even those who get their cookies stolen by a fast hound.

The group we belong to is Four Paws Animal Foundation, out of Bartlett, Illinois. The founder and President is Arleen Braun, a dedicated pet owner and therapy dog handler herself. The primary goals of the organization are to help reduce the overpopulation of stray and feral cats through spay/neuter financial assistance and to help reduce the number of canines that are relinquished by their owners to animal shelters due to behavioral problems by providing financial assistance to pet owners for a basic dog training class. In addition, their animal assisted pet therapy program uses volunteers to make social visits to nursing homes and hospitals with canines who have been certified by the Foundation. Individuals who join this program serve as an example to the general public as to the important role our dogs play in our lives. Given half the chance, many secondhand dogs adopted from shelters or breed rescue organizations can become Certified Canine Good Citizens.

Four Paws has associations with a number of nursing homes and hospitals in the Chicago suburbs. Volunteer dogs must be Certified Canine Good Citizens. Arlene is authorized to certify dogs wishing to join the program if they do not already have certification from another agency, such as AKC. An initial visit, accompanied by Arlene, gets you started. After six visits to nursing homes, you and your dog may elect to visit hospitals affiliated with the program. If you have a nursing home or hospital near you that would like to get involved with pet therapy visits, Arlene would be happy to develop a program with them. Scheduling after the first visit is done between you and the location Activities Director to accommodate your ability to make visits. In my case, scheduling is often done just one day before the visit because of work or travel constraints. Typically you might visit weekly, biweekly or even monthly, during the day, evenings or weekends. It's really not difficult to fit in.

For more information on getting involved with this program contact Arleen Braun at 630-497-2078 or visit www.fourpawsfoundation.org on the internet.

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