Therapy Dogs Make A Difference

FOCUS ON PETS

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Cleo loves to visit the folks at Manzanita Manor. Every week for the past two years, accompanied by her owner Jim Ritchey, she walks through the door and immediately word spreads down the halls, "Cleo is here". Many want to be up and ready to visit with her. For others, Cleo appears at their bedside.

Cleo is certified as a therapy dog through Delta Society, an international organization which instructs, certifies and provides liability insurance for therapy dogs.

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Patty Rinehart greets Cleo with hugs and kisses and then enjoys a comforting visit with the certified therapy dog. Although Patty misses her Cocker Spaniel, Mandy, Cleo always brings a smile.

The Delta Partner Program consists of three parts: Orientation, Workshop and Evaluation. The evaluation aims to insure that the dog/handler teams are controlled, predictable and suitable for visiting a wide variety of people. Upon passing the testing, the team registers to become Delta Pet Partners. im and Cleo have a business card stating their credentials as well as a badge which they wear when visiting a facility.

Cleo stands quietly beside the bed of Noma White. Although she normally likes to be sitting in her chair when Cleo visits, she fell recently and did not feel like getting up. She did want to visit though, as she just knows that she is Cleo's favorite. She particularly likes the feel of Cleo's velvety soft ears.

While petting Cleo, Noma talks about her fall, her love of dogs and her memories. Although in pain because of injuries from her fall, as she rubs Cleo's ears, a smile appears on her face, tension fades and she relaxes. Some of the pain is forgotten for a while.

Down the hall, Patty Rinehart waits for Cleo. Tears come to her eyes when she talks of her own dog, Mandy, a Cocker Spaniel who was placed with a Payson family when Rinehart moved into Manzanita Manor. She misses Mandy terribly and worries about her. She enjoys the opportunity to wrap her arms around Cleo and give her hugs and kisses. And she loves visiting with Jim about dogs and other subjects which might come up.

Scottie Justice, administrator of Manzanita Manor, knows how important these pet visits are to the residents.

"These people love dogs and cats," she said. "They had them in their homes when they came here. They miss them and worry about them. They worry whether they are being fed and properly cared for"

The residents love the opportunity to talk about the pets they left behind and about the pets they have had throughout their lives.

Cleo is so very gentle. A Rottweiler, she was obedience trained by Jim starting as a puppy. He taught her to heel, sit, stay and lie down. Jim also regularly took her to shopping centers where she would become accustomed to the noise, activity and all the people coming and going. Many would ask to pet her. Kids would hug her and want to take her home.Jim felt that Cleo would make a wonderful therapy dog and decided to go through the steps necessary to get her certified.

He had to attend a two-day orientation in the valley. There were eight teams in the class with Jim and Cleo. Only three teams passed the 55 minute test. Cleo was 20 months old. Every two years, they must renew their certification which requires a vet health check and a new picture.

"These pet visits are really good for the residents," Justice said. "It brightens up their day." The dogs also love the visits, the attention, hugs and ear rubs.

There are at least three organizations that certify pets for pet therapy. Some tend to be more popular in certain parts of the country. Delta has probably the strictest requirements. For more information about pet therapy, search the internet under pet therapy. Contact me if you are interested in getting your pet certified.

Incidentally, some time ago, I wrote about the need of foster homes for the pets of women in the Time Out Shelter. There is a need right now to foster a small dog. Please think about this great service and give me a call if you could help, (928) 476-2239. Thank you very much.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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