"The best therapist are the ones with fur and have four legs."
My 3 year old yellow Labrador Retriever named Ducky is probably one of the calmest, loving and mushiest dogs out there. I know everyone thinks that their dog is *insert cuddly and cute adjective here,* but I really mean it when I say this about my dog: I have never had or met a dog like him. He is obedient, easy-going, and a a social butterfly who always wants to say hi to everyone two legged or four legged friend we pass on our walks. There are so many qualities about him that make him the perfect candidate to become a registered therapy dog, and when the opportunity presented itself to get registered, we took it. Therapy animals are calm, well-behaved animals that provide emotional support and comfort to people. Therapy animals can be dogs, cats, horses, and even some pocket pets! Therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA and are not permitted in public establishments 24/7 like service animals. Therapy animals are permitted to visit facilities such as hospitals, senior-citizen homes, schools, community centers, college-dormitories, etc. during scheduled events only. Therapy dogs need to be able to tolerate a wide variety of experiences, environments and people, and have an excellent connection to their handler. In order to become registered, Ducky and I had to complete an evaluation that tested his listening skills, obedience skills, his willingness to accept touches/pets, and ability to tolerate different settings and environments.
Through a club with PVM that works with the animal therapy organization Pet Partners, Ducky and I have been able to visit elementary schools, community centers, and dorms on campus to provide therapy to kids and adults alike. It is truly amazing and captivating to work with Ducky and to see what he's able to provide. I cannot begin to tell you how many smiles Ducky has put on the face of finals week-stressed students, or instigated cute little giggles from young kids who are still learning how to interact with animals. Naturally, Ducky knows how to handle all these situations. Without a doubt, he is the star of every session. Even on our walks around the neighborhood, families who know our walk window will come outside just to say hello and give some pets. No matter how someone's day might going, Ducky is always able to bring comfort and a smile to the face of anybody he interacts with. To be able to move someone so strongly, and to bring comfort, pleasure and happiness to people - its truly a rewarding sight.
I want to share two short stories that occurred on our visits. The first was at Purdue Vet Med's Open House. The classroom Ducky and I, along with a few other therapy teams, was in was pretty empty and quiet at the time he arrived. This one family comes in and this child that was probably about 8 years old comes on over and sits down right next to Ducky. He begins to pet Ducky and ask me some questions about him. Before you know it, Ducky is rolled over onto his back accepting belly rubs from this child who is absolutely LOVING it. Ten minutes go by, Ducky is essentially sound asleep on his back while the same child is still petting him with the biggest smile on his face. I then gave him a brush so he could give Ducky a little extra TLC, and he then sat there for another ten minutes, brushing and petting him still with that big smile on his face. It wasn't until he was forced to leave by his parents as the Open House was drawing to an end as people began to file out of the veterinary school that he was satisfied and done petting Ducky. But let's be honest, he would have sat there the rest of the afternoon petting Ducky if he could have!
The second actually occurred last week while attending a family BBQ. While this was not an official therapy event, Ducky was still able to provide some therapy to a special someone who absolutely loves animals! Diana is a first cousin of a close family friend of ours who has always loved animals, and when I walked into the backyard with Ducky, she was smiling from ear to ear. As I got Ducky settled in, she was waiting eagerly yet patiently to pet Ducky. Diana was so happy to spend some 1v1 time petting Ducky, hugging him, and even doing some tricks with him! It was a spectacular afternoon that ended with smiles, hugs, and many "Good Boy" praises. There is nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than watching how comforting and special animals can be to people. As A.D. Williams once said "When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I see a soul."