When therapy dogs first started working, virtually all of the dogs simply went to nursing homes to visit with senior citizens. Some facilities arranged for a group of people and dogs to show up and do a demo or presentation in a common room. Others had individual handlers and dogs go room to room visiting. This is still a common way for therapy dogs to work today but therapy dogs have branched out into many other areas.
Eli, Sherry Hanley’s stunning Belgian Sheepdog, was on hand to provide emotional support for the responders to the 9/11 terrorist act. A troop of Golden Retrievers showed up in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook school shootings. Therapy dogs are proving their worth in many, many areas.
Petting a friendly dog can help when your family is in any tough situation – such as dealing with a child with cancer. James working the Ronald McDonald House is a clear-cut example of that. Uno brightening up the day for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed is another example of a therapy dog opening new horizons. Many hospitals now allow therapy dogs in to visit most wards with some restrictions. They have learned that dogs are good for people.
Therapy dogs are a vital part of the “Read to Rover” programs. Children who need remedial help with reading do much better when paired with a willing dog to read aloud to than if they have a human helper. What better partner than a beautiful well-behaved show dog? The dog gets some special “me” time and extra loving. The student gets a fun partner to work with.
Therapy dogs, by virtue of insurance coverage, often are used as partners in presentations about how to avoid dog bites, how to approach a strange dog and how to care for your dog at schools. They are excellent partners for any tutoring situation, not just the elementary school reading programs.
When our school district went on an austerity budget, all the remedial help for math and reading positions were cut. Many people stepped up to help but many parents are intimidated by math. I figured I could handle 5th grade math but put one stipulation on my volunteer help. I insisted that our two Corgis be allowed to help. My reasoning was simple.
I was working with 5th grade boys, a couple of whom had some mild behavior problems. I used the dogs as rewards and to keep the boys calm. If one of the boys became agitated or frustrated, I handed him a Corgi and told him to take a short break and pet the dog. It never failed to calm things down and get them back on track. In addition, the dogs were used as rewards. If you did your work well, you were rewarded with walking the dog back to your classroom and demo’ing a trick or two for your class. Suddenly, the kids who were looked down upon a bit for needing extra help were stars.
All five boys passed math and went on to graduate high school despite that rough year. One boy ended up joining my dog 4-H group with his own dog. Pembroke Welsh Corgis Susan (CH Hungry heart O’Culdi CD RN HSAs AX AXJ) and her daughter Flash (CT Culdi’s Hearts on Fire CD HSAs RAE NA OAJ OF) were chosen as volunteers of the year by our school district. Purebred dogs making positive waves!
Basically the sky is the limit for retired (or even still active) show dogs who go into therapy work. There are so many areas your dog can shine and bring joy and help to others. Be creative – you can find a way for your beautiful show dog to “give back” to the community in some way.