Category Archives: therapy animals

Can Your Pet Become a Therapy Animal for Seniors?

By Tamara L. Waters

There are two things that can almost always bring a smile to any face: Children and animals. As my elderly grandmother’s health and mind deteriorated in the years prior to her death, a child or an animal could still make her smile. This fact is not lost upon senior centers that use therapy animals to bring joy to their patients.

According to The Delta Society – a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting therapy through pet ownership and interaction – the health benefits pets have on seniors are undeniable. The Delta Society website cites studies asserting that seniors with pets have fewer doctor visits and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Those of us who’ve had the privilege of being pet owners know firsthand that a pet offers unconditional love and companionship. My own pets seem to know when I need some furry affection, and their presence is calming.

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Nursing Homes are going to the Dogs!

By Suzanne Alicie

People who love pets can’t imagine having to live without the comfort of a furry back to stroke or a purring foot warmer. However, as responsible pet owners age they may have to face the fact that they can no longer live alone and must move to a nursing home. Because there are so many people with different ailments and afflictions in a nursing home, more than likely the person won’t be able to take their beloved pets. New residents in a nursing home may experience depression due to the changes in their life and the loss of their pets.

Just imagine raising a puppy and providing it with wonderful care, attention and all the best in natural pet food like CANIDAE for years and then finding out that you are unable to care for him anymore. You are going to be moving to an assisted living facility and have to give up your precious pet to another family. It’s heartbreaking.

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Facility Therapy Dog Dexter Goes Back to School!

By Tamara L. Waters

Mary’s little lamb might have followed her to school – and that was against the rules – but if you visit the Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, Michigan, you’ll find that rule is not necessarily steadfast. Mill Creek Middle School is where you’ll find Dexter the certified Facility Therapy Dog encouraging kids to read, helping students who are feeling stressed or afraid, and greeting kids when they arrive on the morning school buses.

If you’ve had a pet, you know how they can calm and soothe when you’re anxious or afraid. Kids who have special needs will find comfort in Dexter’s presence as he does what dogs do best – give love and doggy affection.

Dexter is a 22-month-old Labrador Retriever, and he is now a part of the staff at Mill Creek Middle School where he is already a big hit with staff and students. Imagine being nervous about reading out loud because you’re worried about the reaction of others. With Dexter, students will get nothing but a tail wag, a friendly lick and a furry snuggle to spur them along and encourage them to do their best.

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What Qualities Does a Therapy Cat Need?


By Julia Williams

We recently introduced you to therapy dogs Stitch, Riley and Sophie, sponsored by CANIDAE. Inspired by their heartwarming story, I began to wonder if there was such a thing as therapy cats. I didn’t really think so, given that my feline friends have all been “scaredy-cats” who run and hide from the vacuum cleaner (aka, the “suck monster”), the Fedex guy, and pretty much all visitors except a chosen few. It turns out there are lots of calmer, more courageous kitties who aren’t afraid of strangers or noisy places, and these are the ones who make good therapy cats.

I’ve recently become acquainted with a delightful therapy cat named Tabitha, or Tabby for short. Tabby’s human mom, Karen, graciously gave me some information on the qualities a therapy cat needs and how to get started. I thought I’d pass them on, in case you have an outgoing feline and you’re interested in training them to be a therapy cat volunteer. I’d really like to do this myself, but I know my three kitties (bless their hearts), would make terrible therapy cats.

First though, let me tell you a little about Tabby. She just turned five and has been doing animal-assisted therapy for about a year. She’s a tabby cat of course, and lives in Vancouver, WA with Karen, her husband Scott and four other felines. Tabby loves human attention and being petted which, along with her calm demeanor and sociable nature, make her well suited to therapy cat work. Tabby likes attention so much that at home, she demands it from her humans all the time (that sounds like my cat Belle!). During her therapy cat training, Tabby even invented her own way of asking for petting – by sitting down and tapping people with one paw.

Karen trained Tabby using the evaluation criteria of The Delta Society, regarded as the top training/certification program for Animal Assisted Therapy. Tabby isn’t certified yet, but she will be very soon. In the meantime, the plucky feline is getting lots of paws-on experience as a therapy cat. How did that come about? Karen spoke with the director of an assisted living facility about Tabby and her training, and they agreed to meet her. Tabby naturally charmed everyone during her first visit – and the rest, as they say, is history!

Karen takes Tabby to the facility so she can visit with people who have severely limited mobility, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments that make it hard for them to interact with people. Tabby also goes to a nursing home and an extended care facility at the request of a resident’s family. No matter who she visits, Tabby always brings them a great deal of comfort and joy.

Before she began her therapy cat training, Tabby learned to wear a harness and leash, and ride in a cat stroller. During visits, the cat needs to be controlled somehow, and a leash is the best way. Karen said it’s not essential that the cat learn to walk on the leash, but people do enjoy seeing it. In any event, a harness and leash will keep the cat safe should they be startled by something and try to run away. If you’d like to leash-train your cat, this article gives step-by-step instructions.

To get Tabby used to strange settings and new experiences, Karen takes her to dog parks, offices, and stores that allow pets inside. Therapy cats should be even-tempered, outgoing and not afraid to meet new people. They shouldn’t growl or hiss at people, cats, dogs or other animals. Said Karen, “You can train them for the specifics, but if they aren’t calm then no amount of training will be enough.” Most Home Depot stores allow pets inside, she said, and they’re a perfect place to acclimate the cat to loud sounds, beeping equipment, carts (akin to wheelchairs in a facility setting), and being petted by strangers.

Not all therapy cats work with the elderly; some work with children in schools or pediatric therapy settings, and some work one-on-one with occupational therapy professionals. It’s important to choose a setting where you and your cat are comfortable, and pay attention to what your cat is telling you. Every cat has its own time limits, noise threshold and comfort level in strange situations. Watch your cat’s body language for signs of anxiety or fear, and end the training or visit when your cat tells you it’s time. You can always train more another day, but pushing your cat beyond their tolerance level will result in them not wanting to continue.

You can read more about Tabby’s therapy visits on her blog, Furry Tales of the PDX Pride. Tabby writes about her exploits so descriptively that it feels like you’re right there with her, visiting the patients and experiencing everything she does. Being a therapy cat is hard work, but it’s also very rewarding. I tip my hat to Tabby, a therapy cat extraordinaire! I can tell she loves her “job,” and she brings joy to so many people who really need it.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

What Qualities Does a Therapy Dog Need?


By Julia Williams

Last month I wrote about some of the many hard working dogs I admire. Naturally, therapy dogs are among this elite group of canine good citizens who contribute to our society. A therapy dog’s “job” is to visit nursing homes, retirement homes, hospitals, schools, prisons and other places where their emotional support is needed. Therapy dogs bring happiness, comfort, love and vitality to seniors, sick people, the disabled, and others who can benefit from the special spirit-lifting attention of a canine.

What exactly does a therapy dog do? Sometimes they provide much-needed companionship, and sit or lie quietly while being petted and talked to. Therapy dogs may work with disabled children, or visit elementary schools to help kids learn about humane treatment of animals. They might also visit patients in pediatrics, oncology, and other hospital wards or hospice centers.

Though sometimes thought of as service dogs, therapy dogs aren’t classified as such because they’re not trained to stay with people and don’t directly assist them with tasks. Therapy dogs also don’t require the intensive specialized training that service dogs do, but they must still be taught basic canine obedience, as well as how to properly act in a variety of settings and situations.

Have you ever wondered if your dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog? The good news is that virtually any breed of dog, large or small, young or old, can become a certified therapy dog. However, not all dogs have the personality and temperament needed to be successful at it. A therapy dog must be friendly, even-tempered, consistent, gentle, confident, comfortable meeting new people, and reliable in unusual environments. Above all, they must love people and truly enjoy being around them while being hugged, kissed and petted.

Qualities that make a good therapy dog include:

Good Canine Manners

A therapy dog needs to walk nicely on a leash, at the handler’s side. A dog that pulls on their leash can pose a safety hazard. They should not jump up on people or bark during a visit.

Naturally, therapy dogs need to be properly socialized with people. But they also need to be socialized with other dogs as well as cats, birds and even rabbits, since a facility might have any one of those as a resident. Very often, dogs and handlers will do team visits, so it’s important that a therapy be able to get along well with other dogs.

Therapy dogs need to be very obedient, and come reliably when called, even in high-distraction environments. They can’t jump onto beds or laps uninvited, or put their mouths on people. They should be able to greet people and respond to affection while maintaining a “sit,” so they don’t overwhelm frail patients or frighten people who aren’t used to being around dogs.

Therapy dogs must respond to commands given in a calm, quiet voice. Besides basic commands such as sit, stay and down, many therapy dogs know commands such as Paws On (put your paws up on a bed or chair) and Paws Off (put your paws back on the floor).

During a visit, therapy dogs may be exposed to bits of food on the floor, buffets, meal trays and other tasty morsels. Good therapy dogs respond reliably to commands to resist such temptations, such as “leave it,” which is essential for their own health as well as the patients they are visiting.

Comfortable Being Touched

A therapy dog must tolerate being petted on every part of its body, including the ears, tail and feet. Some patients may have problems with motor skills and muscle control, and their petting can be awkward or inadvertently rough. Any signs of aggression towards people would disqualify a dog as a certified therapy dog.

Social Skills

Therapy dogs may encounter all sorts of strange and startling things, such as loud voices and noises, shouting, crowds and unexpected noises. They can’t be expected to ignore these things, but should be able to recover quickly and not try to bolt away.

Therapy dogs will likely encounter many strange pieces of equipment and unfamiliar objects such as crutches, wheelchairs and gurneys. They need to remain calm and be comfortable and confident around these things.

Cleanliness and Good Health

A therapy dog needs to be bathed and brushed often, especially right before a scheduled visit. Their nails need to be kept short to avoid accidental scratches. Their skin and coat should be healthy and free from any sores or skin irritations. They require current vaccinations and annual vet check-ups.

Disposition

Good therapy dogs tolerate being dressed up in silly hats, costumes or capes that make people laugh and brighten their spirits. While this is certainly not a requirement or an everyday thing, it can be a way to add extra joy to holidays or other special occasions. It also doesn’t hurt if the dog knows a people-pleasing trick or two.

CANIDAE is proud to sponsor several therapy dogs, including Stitch, Riley and Sophie, a trio we profiled a few weeks ago. You can read their touching story here, or check out other special canine achievers on the CANIDAE website.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Therapy Dogs Live a Life of Community Service


By Suzanne Alicie

CANIDAE sponsors several outstanding animals, and are exceptionally proud to be able to include therapy dogs Stitch and Riley as well as their newly certified partner Sophie. Because of the CANIDAE sponsorship and even the attendance of some company employees at events, these dogs are able to spread their love and comfort in an ever growing way including hospital visits, community events and the Make a Wish foundation.

Johne and Jane Johnson volunteered their time at the VA hospitals before they got involved with the therapy dogs. Johne bought Stitch as a puppy for the express purpose of training him to be a therapy dog in order to expand their outreach program with the VA hospitals in the area. Along the way they adopted Riley whose owner claimed that she was a terrible dog who didn’t like men. Riley became a certified part of the team and loves being around people, men included. This just goes to show that the way an owner thinks and feels about a dog does affect the way they behave.

Jane, a marathon runner, found a Maltipoo in a gutter while out training one day. She brought her home ,and now Sophie is the newest certified therapy dog on the team. Sophie is small enough to claim a lap to cuddle in when she visits, and usually does so. The Johnsons have also rescued another dog, a Bluetick hound named Bella who is in the process of training. These wonderful dogs visit VA hospitals as well as children’s hospitals and many community events to spread love and companionship.

Pets in general have a positive effect on people, and therapy dogs are trained to provide the attention and love that the people in the hospitals need. Mr. Johnson tells of many times when visiting the VA hospital there were patients who were despondent and non- responsive to him and the others who visited with him. However, when the dogs began to visit, these same people opened up and began talking about pets they used to have, and really enjoyed their visits with Stitch and Riley. Eventually those same patients began to look forward to his visits, although if he went without the dogs the main thing he heard was “Where are the dogs? Why didn’t you bring the dogs?” This lets him know that his therapy dogs are truly something special, and that they make a big difference to these patients.

The difference between therapy dogs and service dogs is that the service provided by therapy dogs is purely social. Service dogs are trained to stay with a specific person and assist them with different tasks, while therapy dogs are welcome visitors who provide their services to everyone they encounter. Many times veterans need physical therapy to aid with their recovery from illness and injury; this can lead to a boring and repetitive routine. Therapy dogs introduce something a little different and bring some excitement into the day. Lonely or depressed patients have shown remarkable improvement after a visit from Riley and Stitch. The unconditional love and acceptance of a dog can lift the spirits and distract patients from dark thoughts and loneliness.

Imagine being a bored patient who is in pain and all alone. Suddenly these two gorgeous golden labs and their tiny white partner burst onto the scene, three special dogs who love to be petted and played with, who are happy to just be in contact with you. Interaction with the dogs breaks up a dull routine and makes the patient feel so much better.

The training to become a certified therapy dog involves learning several important things. Besides basic obedience, these dogs learn to deal with loud noises, ignore food when it’s dropped or eaten in front of them, how to handle crowds, and the fact that everyone will reach out towards them. The mentality of a good therapy dog is that any attention is welcome, and that love is the name of the game. Little Sophie recently got to take a trip to Disneyland as part of her training to become certified.

Mr. Johnson says that any dog can be trained to be a therapy dog, but some may have learned behaviors that must be worked through first. Dogs that have been abused in any way may shy away from strangers wanting to pet them. The Johnsons now have three certified therapy dogs and only one of them has been trained for his job since he was a puppy. There is a difference, Mr. Johnson says. All three dogs are good at their jobs and love what they do, but Stitch is the one who has been raised with love from the beginning and simply has no understanding of anyone being mean.

Besides being beneficial to the hospitals and the people they visit, therapy dogs like Stitch, Riley and Sophie are also helping to spread the word of the importance and legal allowances for certified service dogs. Mr. Johnson often takes Stitch to dinner with him and his wife; this is not only a training enforcement for the dog but also a learning opportunity for the people who work in restaurants as to when a dog is allowed in, and the purpose of the dog for the person he is with. There have been several instances where Mr. Johnson has been told he can’t bring the dog in. This leads to educating and informing the employees and management as well as other diners about the legality of service dogs and their purpose. By taking on this challenge, Mr. Johnson is making the world more aware and hopefully making it easier for the people who need to take their service dogs everywhere with them.

The Johnsons, their wonderful dogs, and the Masonic lodge they are a part of have received awards for their community service. They plan to continue with breeding and training therapy dogs in order to make life a little better for all of those they encounter.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.