Blog Entries ( therapy dogs )

Dog graduates ready to give a helping paw

May 14th, 2013
Posted by | Posted in Service Dogs, Success Stories

There was not a dry eye in the house when Lissa Vollmar, the keynote speaker at Thursday night’s spring graduation of the Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence, finished her story about how a standard poodle, Haise, had changed the life of not just her son, but the entire family. “We had no idea how much effect a therapy dog would have on our life,” said Mrs. ...

How your dog can help other people

March 16th, 2013
Posted by | Posted in Service Dogs

When you bring a dog home, the hope is the new addition will enrich your life. But more pet owners are volunteering their dogs to share their talents, abilities and love with others. As a therapy dog, your pet can provide treatment for mental health, healing and even happiness. Pet-patient interaction has been proven to ease depression, speed up recovery, help with pain relief and lower anxiety and ...

Therapy dogs help UC Riverside students relieve stress

December 9th, 2012
Posted by | Posted in Service Dogs, Videos

Therapy dogs helped students at the University of California at Riverside relax during their final week of instruction on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Under a big white tent at the Bell Tower on campus, nearly 850 students met five pooches and their trainers for a therapeutic afternoon of petting, playing and fun.

Mental Health Outreach, Student Wellness Partners and Active Minds, a student-run group, hosted the event titled, “Therapy Fluffies: Paws With a Purpose.” Intended to bring comfort and stress relief to students before final exams, Therapy Fluffies has come to UCR every Wednesday of the 10th week of the quarter since fall 2010 — when student turnout was only at 350.

The groups are dedicated to implementing a variety of outreach activities to increase awareness of mental health issues on college campuses and beyond.

“I came here straight after class and totally forgot that I had to write an essay and study for two or three tests,” said Kaitlin Wong, a first-year psychology student whose first final at UCR coincides with her birthday. “They’re (the dogs) just so lively and energetic and not like me at all, and so I get to forget that I’m drained and tired and exhausted. I mean there’s a puppy in front of me and I can’t think about anything else!”

Stacey Grady, mental health educator at UCR and adviser of Active Minds, said, “Students really have equated the Therapy Fluffies to stress relief and finals. They know that they’re here to just be able to come and relax and calm the mood and the nerves before final exams.”

Inland Empire Pet Partners, a Delta society service program focused on improving human health through therapy and service animals, provided the dogs. These human/animal teams visit schools, nursing homes, treatment centers, hospitals and other facilities.

Katherine Gigander, co-founder of Pet Partners, team member, partner evaluator and owner of Boston, a 20-month-old Chocolate Labrador, said, “Whenever somebody comes in to pet the dogs, right away it elicits a smile,” she said, smiling. “And then pretty soon you can see their body postures change — they’re not quite so rigid, and they start to relax, and then they start to ask you questions. They want to know about the dog. And pretty soon their mindset has now changed from, ‘Oh, I have to get this done and crunch before finals,’ to ‘This is really a nice day,’ and they get to play with the dog and touch the dog.”

For one student, the dogs did more than alleviate stress.

“They’re (the dogs) not worrying, so I’m not worrying either,” third-year Latin American studies student Marvin Garcia said. “These dogs made me feel a lot better since I can’t go home right now and pet my own dog. It’s like a home for me.”

The other canines ready for affection included: Chili, a 5-year-old Welsh Corgi; Titan, a 3-year-old English Mastiff; Haylee Sue, a 5-year-old Pug; and Zion, a 21/2-year-old Australian Shepherd.

~ Courtesy of The Press-Enterprise

Therapy dogs brighten mood at Columbus hospital

December 4th, 2012
Posted by | Posted in Service Dogs

Columbus, OH — On a quiet night at Columbus Community Hospital, a few special guests liven up the atmosphere. These weren't typical visitors who came to see friends and family, but four-legged surprises that stopped to offer a friendly tail wag. Helen Roth's face lit up when she spotted Duke, a 150-pound Great Pyrenees. The dog, led by owner Jean Sobota, calmly approached Roth, who was seated in ...

Paws De Deux: Therapy Dogs Perform ‘Nutcracker’

November 28th, 2012
Posted by | Posted in Fun, Videos

The timeless holiday classic “The Nutcracker” doesn’t have any dialogue — and that’s just fine by Gracie the Sugar Plum Fairy, Bailey the Nutcracker Prince, Sam the Mouse King and Lily, the little looker who’s playing the role of Clara.

Lily is a pug, Sam is a golden retriever, Bailey is a Shih Tzu and Gracie is a Sheltie. Their fellow thespians include a border collie, a cocker spaniel, a Maltese and a Chihuahua, and when they join tail-wagging forces for their canine production of “The Nutcracker,” the crowds go wild.

“It’s a riot!” said Penny Brcic, 58, whose dog Gracie landed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy this year. “The audience goes crazy. … A lot of the humor behind it is that these aren’t circus dogs. They’re just our pets.”

Some might call them pets with a higher purpose. The 29 dogs starring in the Chicago-area, canine-centric version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet are highly trained and obedient because they all work as therapy dogs. When they aren’t donning colorful costumes and rehearsing elaborate “Nutcracker” scenes, they visit wounded veterans, dementia patients, terminally ill children and kids with learning disabilities and provide them with affectionate support. The dogs have a special knack for drawing out the sullen, the angry or the disoriented, getting them to speak, walk or smile for the first time in weeks.

“Therapy dogs can reach people and comfort people in a way that humans sometimes can’t,” said Becky Jankowski, 55, program coordinator for the PAWSitive Therapy Troupe and the mastermind behind the canine “Nutcracker” production. “Psychiatrists, nurses, teachers — they can talk, talk, talk and not get through to the child or the patient. But dogs can open communication channels that never existed.”

The power of that human-animal connection is what led to the creation of the first canine “Nutcracker” back in 2000. Jankowski thought it could be a fun way to bring some holiday cheer to sick kids living with their families at a Ronald McDonald House.

“Our very first ‘Nutcracker’ was in a nurses’ station seating area and it was way too crowded — the nursing staff was appalled!” Jankowski recalled.

In 2001, Jankowski and other volunteer therapy-dog owners performed the production at three locations: the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, a senior center and a retirement center for nuns. The production kept growing each year and skyrocketing in popularity in the Chicago area.

By 2004, the PAWSitive Therapy Troupe had its own training center for dogs and the show became a fundraiser for the group, with tickets sold for $5 each.

“We sold 800 tickets in about a couple hours. We had lines down the street!” Jankowski said.

Then came a necessary hiatus. Stars of the production were getting older, and a few beloved canines died. Jankowski and other volunteers had grown dog tired as well; it takes them about 1,000 hours to prepare for the big show.

Six years later, they felt ready for a comeback. They staged “The Nutcracker” in 2010 at two middle school gymnasiums that held hundreds of people. All showings sold out quickly and were smash hits — but all was not blissful in the Land of Sweets. A loud hiss of static plagued the sound system at one gym, spooking a golden retriever. The humans behind the production battled exhaustion as well — so they took another year off in 2011.

This year, though, the team is back and ready for a howling good time. They’ll put on three separate shows on Nov. 17 and 18 at a middle school gym in Downers Grove, Ill.

“It’s still a lot of work, but this year it’s not quite as bad,” Jankowski said. “We know what we’re doing, we have all of our costumes, we have our sets. It’s mostly a matter of remembering where we all need to be.”

While the dogs are definitely the stars of the show, they usually appear on stage with their human handlers, who range in age from their late 20s to their late 70s. A narrator — Penny Brcic — deftly interjects a tiny bit of commentary when needed to clarify the story line. The canine “Nutcracker” also features a number of wildly popular off-leash solo performances; the moment when the dog playing the sinister Mouse King dramatically lies down and plays dead tends to make audiences go bonkers.

The dogs are trained with positive reinforcement in the form of click sounds followed by treats.

“Lots and lots of treats, and lots and lots of praise!” Jankowski said. “After the show we open it up and the whole crowd can pet the dogs. And there are photo ops: Dogs have their costumes on, and kids can have their pictures taken with them.”

Some “Nutcracker” dogs consistently amaze not just the strangers in the audience but their owners. Gracie, the Sheltie playing the Sugar Plum Fairy this year, can no longer hear at the age of 12.

“Even so, she does all this through hand signals and the communication we have,” Brcic said. “It’s really not that hard for her. She’s smart and good lookin’!”

~ Courtesy of Today