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c. fern cook

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certified dog lover
by c. fern cook   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, October 10, 2008
Posted: Friday, October 10, 2008

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what animals give us when we take time to pay attention


C. Fern Cook
Hello, my name is Fern and I have a problem. I am addicted to the love my animals give me. Like many other people, I can not imagine living without my companion animals. But some people are not as lucky, because of health issues or age they have to give up the companionship of their pet.
A chance meeting introduced me to a group that visited hospitals and nursing homes with their pets to share their loving animals with people who need this special kind of love the most. From the start I know this was a group I would love to belong to.
They were not just animal lovers, they were doers. They were people who gave their time and talent to make things a little better for others. They did a lot more than just visit nursing homes. They did educational programs for schools, were involved with the companion animal training for people with disabilities, and made visits to special needs programs for children.     
I assumed this program was for dogs only, I was wrong again. At the first meeting I learned they had a rabbit, a cat, and horse in the group. Of course, they didn’t bring the horse to the hospital, the special needs children came to the horse. It was astonishing how horseback riding helped in so many ways. It calmed many, it helped with co-ordination, and sometimes it helped bring children out of their shell and interact with the outside world.
By the second meeting we were enrolled in a class to become certified therapy dog partners; by we, I meant my dog Lady and I. The first thing we discussed in class was what makes a good therapy dog. We had to ask ourselves these questions about our dogs: Do they love strangers, children, or just about anyone? Do they love to be touched and hugged? Do they obey commands even if they are distracted by noises or other animals? Is your dog at least one year old? If the answer was yes, you could continue on with the class.
A second provision was that they had to pass the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test and have a clean bill of health from the vet. The AKC's test is a basic obedience test to certify that the dog is well behaved and gets along with other animals and people. There are two groups I know of that do the certification: Therapy Dog International and The Delta Society. Both organizations offer liability protection. Certification is a good idea for both you and the facility you are visiting. It offers liability for you and lets the facility you are visiting know that you and your animal are suited for this kind of work.
As for Lady passing the test, I knew she would be good on all the requirements except one. Lady's hardest obstacle was leaving a cookie on the floor alone as we walked by. Lady's one weakness was snacking, my fault. We practice leaving a snack on the floor while doing off leash healing for a couple of weeks. It was going to be coin toss if she left the cookie alone on the test.
On the night of the test I was worried about Lady passing the test. Lady wasn't worried, she didn't know she had a test to pass; she was having a good time socializing with everyone. Now it was our turn to take the test. Lady didn't let that cookie out of her sight, but she didn't pick it up either and we were on our way to becoming a therapy team.       
Lady and I were ready to start visiting; we had already been tag-a-longs to a nursing home. I knew Lady was perfect for this; she loved to be petted and loved the attention and I enjoyed showing people my wonderful friend. Lady was always the perfect dog on these visits. I think she knew because the minute I put her therapy dog ID on her collar her demeanor changed. These visits worked out for everyone: I felt I was doing something good, Lady got special attention, and the people we visited had a break from their ordinary routine.    
Lady is now retired; she is getting old and has a hard time getting in and out of the car. When I get another dog that is suited for this type of work I will probably join another therapy dog group. It was really special to be part of such giving group of people.       

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