Therapy Dogs Know Love is Contagious
by Melissa Whybrew
Airedale owners know how exuberant our beloved breed is. That’s precisely the reason we love them so. They are loving, loyal, and eager to please. They can be comics, making us laugh even during the toughest of times.
From puppyhood, our Airedale Bentley was a ham. As we passed other people on our walks, he would prance by as if in the middle of a Crufts ring. If they so much as dared to pass by without an acknowledgment of what a cute puppy he was, he would turn his head with a look of shock and disappointment.
Airedales are also known to be working dogs. Athletic and smart, they have mastered employment in almost every activity including hunting, search and rescue, agility, show rings, and therapy work. And sometimes, Airedale antics are just what the doctor ordered.
On September 5, 2009, Bentley mastered his Animal Assisted Activity training and certification. We teamed up with Paws & Think, an all-volunteer, community-based organization that works in partnership with schools, youth agencies, and health care facilities.
Some of the work that we do includes:
- Assistance to children who are grieving the loss of someone special
- Children who need a non-judgmental listener as they read so they can improve their reading skills (literacy)
- Children in schools who need to know how to prevent dog bites or care for pets responsibly
- Children in hospitals who feel afraid and displaced
- Seniors who enjoy the physical affection and social interaction of pets; adults and children in physical or speech rehabilitation; and
- Soldiers with physical and emotional traumas who have served their country.
Excited and eager to make a difference, Bentley and I got to work right away. We didn’t realize that our first experience would be such a powerful one.
After checking in to our assigned facility, we entered our first room. The patient’s family was visiting that day, and was absolutely thrilled to see us. They told me that dogs had been a very big part of the patient’s (“Miss Doe”) prior life. It was quickly apparent that Miss Doe had suffered a loss of speech and motor skills. We approached Miss Doe’s wheelchair with caution and a hint of beginner’s jitters. Bentley took his place right next to the wheelchair. Miss Doe slowly recognized the new visitor. She placed her hand on Bentley and stroked his head. Finally at ease, I sat down on the floor right in front of Bentley and Miss Doe. Bentley decided to follow suit and laid down next to Miss Doe’s feet. A moment later, with some effort, Miss Doe spoke the word “pet”. With no additional command, Bentley obliged by getting back up into a standing position right beside her.
Bentley and I have visited with Miss Doe three times since. Each time, Bentley prances in, head held high, tail wagging back and forth, and assumes his standing position right next to Miss Doe’s wheelchair. Although she has not spoken since our first visit, Miss Doe does demonstrate improved dexterity while interacting with Bentley.
Bentley spends the rest of his time clowning around with high fives, army crawls and hula hoop jumps for children grieving the loss of a family member. It is absolutely amazing to watch him switch gears between facilities. I suppose that is all part of the Airedale intelligence shining through.
When the working gear comes out, Bentley’s eyes light up. The irony of it all is that through his work, Bentley’s heart is now as full and happy as those hearts he has touched.
Beautiful piece. I, too, had a therapy dog. He had hip dysplasia and thought it would be nifty to take him to see folks who had a physical problem and show them just what Ace could do. We belonged to Therapy Dogs International until his death. He was unable to climb stairs toward the end, but he had his license and if we could enter at a ground floor entrance, we were fine. It is a wonderful experience, especially for the handler and the folks visited. He even visited me, with my husband handling, when I was in a serious accident. How wonderful to see him. Made me hurry up and heal faster.