By Sarah Mirasola Greco
Anyone who has ever met a CKCS knows without a shadow of a doubt that the breed is highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient and eager to please. This makes the breed traditionally good with children. The Cavalier is also a breed that loves to bond with more than one other dog – this makes them a safe bet to be friendly around other trained dogs. Lastly, wouldn’t you consider your Cavalier to be the love sponge of dogs? This personality traits of “lover” and “lap warmer” make them an excellent candidate for medical patients and the elderly. Is this enough to take your family pet / companion / best friend to certified Therapy Dog?
What is Pet Therapy? Imagine you’re home, sitting on your couch, and feeling down. Your dog crawls up and snuggles against you, looking at you wanting to be petted. After a few minutes you realize you feel better for some reason. That, in essence, is pet therapy.
Working as the human part of a pet therapy team has brought many rewards. From the children’s wing at your local hospital, when after a few moments a frightened child is petting your dog and laughing and smiling, to visiting a nursing home and watching the smile appear on the residents faces at seeing a friendly dog. Even going to a library for their Read to The Dogs program and watching a child struggle over a book, but they keep going while petting your dog, because the dog won’t judge how good or poor they read. Clay Farrell with Snickers and Louise
According to Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, the Cavalier ranked 44th. The breed is considered having average intelligence in working or obedience. So what is a Therapy Dog and can my CKCS make the cut? The title “Therapy Dog” does not breed discriminate. Therapy Dogs are dogs that are used to bring comfort and joy to those who are ill or under poor conditions. Therapy Dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people. Therapy Dogs can be taken to any number of places, including hospitals, nursing homes, foster homes, homeless shelters, schools, and places struck by natural disasters. They generally do not have any special training and are not trained to perform specific tasks like a Service Dog. A Service Dog is a working dog that has been individually trained to perform a specific task for an individual with a disability. An Emotional Support Dog is a dog that provides comfort and support in forms of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions. An ESD does not perform any specific tasks, they are meant solely for emotional stability and unconditional love. The terms Emotional Support and Comfort are often used interchangeably. An Emotional Support Dog is more than likely the companion of one individual whereas a Comfort Dog will provide support and love to groups of people.
It’s such a great feeling watching people’s faces light up when they see Daisy. It amazes me how something as simple as seeing a dog in a place that dogs are not normally allowed, can totally change how that person was just feeling. You can actually watch stress levels go down, and any sadness or pain they were just feeling practically disappear. Daisy regularly visits university students, a special education classroom, law enforcement officers, and is set to become the very first therapy dog specifically for hospice patients at a local hospital. Since I wanted a way to extend the benefits of the visit, I came up with the idea of a therapy dog/art program. Each month, I design adult coloring pages of Daisy for students to start coloring with colored pencils while they are waiting, then take the pages back to their dorms to finish and hang on their bulletin boards. Patients also color and hang the pages in their rooms, so they have a constant reminder of their visit with Daisy. Since February, Daisy has helped over 700 people. “Sharing Smiles and Joy” with Daisy, has been one the most rewarding things I have ever done! And, as much joy as Daisy brings to others, I get back even more in return!
Therapy Dogs are not covered under any specific Federal laws, but permission is typically needed from the place where the dog is to be taken. That means you shouldn’t plan on walking into your community hospital with your Cavalier in tow and proclaim to all that you and your dog are here to provide therapy.
Lola started her therapy journey in November and vigorously trained with Clay Farrell. We did several visits to a retirement home spending time sharing love with the residents and saying hi to the birds in the aviary.
Upon graduation she began the read program in Fort Atkinson enjoying books with kids and sharing cuddles. Although currently a part timer due to her parents rigorous work schedule during the week, Lola loves being around people and has so much love to give she looks forward to each time she gets to go to work.
Lola is currently working through the process of starting work at Children’s Hospital
Where do I get started? The CKCS on paper sure seems to fit the bill characteristically. You and your dog need to become a certified and registered therapy dog team. There are various routes you can take. Go online and search: “therapy dog training your city and state” and you will be delightfully surprised with the number of options in your own back yard. Programs vary in cost and training requirements all dependent on the goal you and your dog have for volunteer services. Some require attendance at dog training classes where your dog will be introduced to various activities including, but not limited to, working around medical equipment, approaching diverse people in a variety of positions, being comfortable around a variety of distractions and settings, handler skills to support your dog, socialization. Some require your dog to complete the Canine Good Citizen test. Be prepared to invest time in your training along with a financial investment anywhere from $50 – $200. Once you and your best friend have successfully completed your training classes, the organization you’re working with will either test and certify you or connect you to a nationally certified organization in your area that will put your skills and training to the test. It’s important that you affiliate yourself with an organization as you will be provided with access to insurance to protect you and your dog.
A handful of our SEWI club members are affiliated with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD). They go to various locations, some are “part time” while others have a more regular visit schedule.
Lt to Rt: Chris Farrell with Snickers; Clay Farrell with Louise, Casey Dobson with Sienna; David Riemersma with Lola
Good Luck to you and your best friend as you share your time and talent with those in need of LOVE & HOPE! After all, what is DOG spelled backwards?
Footnotes: Wikipedia: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel / www.usdogregistry.org / www.akc.org / www.therapydogs.com