When we adopted our first two Greyhounds, Treat and Hawk, we were thrilled to take them with us to PetSmart and Petco, but we didn’t know of a lot of other things locally that we could do with them. As I began to make more connections with dog people, I started hearing about therapy dogs and what they do. It seemed to me that Treat was a natural, so I began looking into ways that we could start to do some kind of therapy work. We took basic obedience as a way to get started.
A friend of ours told us that she did nursing home visits in a nearby city with a group called Paw to Paw. She invited us to come along and see how we liked it, and I eagerly accepted. And it wasn’t a surprise at all that Treat was a natural. After almost a year of doing nursing home visits, she and I went and took our TDI test and passed with flying colors. Not long after that, we became a certified R.E.A.D. team.
I look back and realize that volunteering as part of a therapy dog team was gift that I gave to myself. I gained so much confidence, and it’s nice to have an experience a few times a month that takes you out of our own troubles and lets you bring smiles to other people. It was also a grounding experience for me. We’re all going to be old one day, and the alternative to that isn’t pleasant.
After Treat died, I realized that I didn’t want to stop doing those things. Our partnership was so close, that I felt like my arm had been amputated. We had truly become extensions of each other. I know that parts of me died when she did. However, after the intense grief of her passing began to wane, I began to think. I decided to look for a new therapy partner.
As we went back to the kennel, I had a good idea about what I was looking for. I needed a dog who was calm, outgoing and trainable. Most importantly, I needed a dog who was really drawn to me. I’ve told the story about meeting Bunny several times here on the blog. She walked in so calmly and leaned against me, with those amber eyes holding mine with a steady gaze.
The truth of the matter is that Bunny’s first therapy work was healing my heart from the loss of Treat. It took a little while before we were ready to start doing nursing home visits, for various reasons, but after that first summer, we started visiting again. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Bunny wasn’t perfect, but Treat was in my mind. Starting over was tough. It was hard to remember that Treat hadn’t been perfect when we started, either.
Now, I look back and realize that Bunny has been doing nursing home visits for several years. She handles it like a pro. She has her Canine Good Citizen certification and our home owner’s insurance would cover any incidents that happen. But I’m realizing that we need to make our “in the future” goal more present. I really want to decide on an organization to test with and find someone who can administer the test in the near future. I have had experience with TDI before, and I liked Delta Society, but I’m not crazy about their rules about raw feeding — not because we feed raw, but because I don’t think an organization should dictate to people who are volunteers how they feed their dogs. I’d be really interested to hear from others who are certified with a group what you like and don’t like about them.
Since I’m sharing some things about therapy dogs today, I thought I’d also mention that Cesar Canine Cuisine is having a really cool initiative to celebrate therapy dog teams. If you have a therapy dog and some good stories about your work, drop in and share your story. They will be posting links to the stories people share on their Twitter and Facebook feeds. Cesar is committed to sharing $100,000 with three therapy dog groups in 2012; Intermountain Therapy Animal’s R.E.A.D. division, The Good Dog Foundation and The American Humane Association’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program. Hilary Duff will be their campaign ambassador, as well. They have a lot of reasons for doing this.
• CESAR® Canine Cuisine believes that a relationship with a dog can truly improve every life, including people in need. Dogs are capable of lowering stress, anxiety and even blood pressure. We support the work of therapy dogs because we know that they have the power to truly transform lives.• CESAR® created the Share a Story and Share the Love initiative, a social media campaign to help support and spotlight therapy dog organizations, to ensure people in need continue to receive the powerful benefits of a dog’s unconditional love.• The Share a Story and Share the Love campaign encourages dog lovers to share the heartwarming stories of therapy dogs through their social media communities such as Facebook and Twitter. In return, CESAR will share the love with three therapy dog organizations through donations that help continue the services they provide to people in need. Together, we can raise awareness for therapy dogs and the benefits they bring to people in need.• It’s easy to get involved in the Share a Story and Share the Love campaign. Visit cesar.com/therapydogs to see the real-life stories of therapy dogs spreading their love and simply share those stories with others through your social media communities like Facebook and Twitter. With your help, CESAR can continue to donate to therapy dog organizations across the country.