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Bright Spot Therapy Dog Training is completed for nine participating teams in the September course.

Pictured are the nine teams that completed the September Bright Spot Therapy Dog Training course.

Bright Spot just finished up its September Therapy Dog Training Course with nine teams completing the required classes.

These teams now qualify to move on to step two in the Bright Spot Therapy Dog certification process. This step involves a one-on-one evaluation of the team conducted by a Bright Spot evaluator that takes place in an actual nursing home setting. Class participants have been prepared with the skills and techniques they need to know to pass the evaluation and make meaningful visits to people in need as a certified Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team.

Teams are taught how to visit a patient in bed.

Pictured here, the team is demonstrating a visit with a patient in bed.

During the evaluation, the evaluator will watch both ends of the leash. The handler and the dog must work as a team, the handler always communicating to the dog how best to interact with the individual they are visiting.

For example, the handler with a large dog who is visiting a patient in bed must direct the dog to move alongside the bed and rest his head on the bed so the patient can pet his head. In time, the dog will learn to execute this maneuver instinctively. The handler of a small dog visiting the same patient in bed must pick the dog up off the floor – and with the patient’s permission – place the small dog gently on the bed within easy reach of the patient. This and a variety other techniques were played out in class, with each team getting its turn to practice.

Equipment found in healthcare facilities is introduced in class.

A variety of equipment often encountered in healthcare facilities is introduced in class.

A team that passes its evaluation is given the veterinary health form to be completed by the dog’s veterinarian and sent in to Bright Spot, along with the membership fee for registration.

Once these documents are received the new Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team is issued a Welcome Packet including certificate of certification, insurance coverage, Bright Spot Therapy Dog vest, t-shirt, identifcation badges for both dog and handler, along with online access to the members only portion of the website containing the Bright Spot Therapy Dogs Handbook and Official List of Volunteer Visiting Opportunities.

The next Therapy Dog Training Class will be held in October. All classes are held at Animal Alliances in Northampton, MA, conveniently located off I-91.

Check our website for exact dates and time. The October class is filling fast and space is limited. Sign up today to reserve your place in class. The final course of the year will be held in November, with classes resuming in January 2017.


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Therapy Dogs Head Back to College Campuses

A group of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs gathered under a large shade tree.

A group of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs gathered under a large shade tree on the grounds of Greenfield Community College ready to greet students at the Welcome Back Picnic.

On Wednesday, twelve Bright Spot Therapy Dogs and their handlers were on the campus of Greenfield Community College for the Welcome Back Picnic marking the beginning of the new academic year on this bucolic New England campus set way back from the main road, a long driveway leading in.

It was the last day of summer. A gorgeous sunny, blue-skied day in the 80’s.

The picnic was held outside on the patio and lush grounds surrounding the main classroom building. Once students greeted one another, exchanging stories of their summer activities and munching on food from a long buffet table laden with yummy offerings, their focus invariably turned to the friendly, outgoing therapy dogs. Some of the dogs were settled on the patio, others under a large shade tree.

Bright Spot volunteer Wayne Desroches brings both of his Greyhounds Milo and Max, former racers turned therapy dogs. Students enjoy hearing about their racing days.

Bright Spot volunteer Wayne Desroches brings both of his Greyhounds Milo and Max, former racers turned therapy dogs. Students enjoy hearing about their racing days at the track.

Students always ask questions about how the dogs are trained to be therapy dogs.

If they have a dog of their own, they often take out their phone and proudly display a photo or two. Love for their own dog is immediately evident. Sometimes they describe their dog’s personality wondering if he or she would be therapy dog material. Further questions are asked: Where do you visit with the dogs? Where is the training held and how long does it last? Always the question, Is there any particular breed that makes the best kind of therapy dog?

Bright Spot Oscar joins Milo and Max. Ready to be petted and hugged by adoring students - and staff, too!

Bright Spot Oscar joins Milo and Max, ready to be petted and hugged by adoring students – and staff, too!

Some students at Greenfield Community College hope to incorporate the use of therapy dogs in their future career plans.

Today, with therapy dogs appearing literally everywhere they can be of help, I encourage them to pursue their dreams. It’s more a real possibility today, thanks to scientific proof that human-canine interaction is, in fact, therapeutic. We see therapy dogs today working with therapists, oncologists, funeral home directors, teachers, guidance counselors, corporate executives, and many more. The possibilities today truly are limitless. A far cry from when I started working with therapy dogs 24 years ago!


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To Get A Dog or Not Get A Dog

This is Annie. She has been a member of our family for 9 years, from the time she was 10 weeks old.

This is Annie. She has been a member of our family for 9 years, from the time she was 10 weeks old.

As a person who dedicates her life to living and working with therapy dogs, I am often asked the question, Should I get a dog? It comes in different forms, but boils down to the same thing:  Should I add a dog into my already complicated, busy life?

Just last week, I received an email from a woman who wants to have a therapy dog. She  read about the meaningful work therapy dogs do and wants to become involved with this type of volunteer effort. Wonderful, I thought, until I read further along… BUT, she said, I already have two dogs and don’t want a third dog… BUT, neither one of those dogs could be a therapy dog. I really want a therapy dog. What do you think?

When a question like this comes through my inbox, I’m remained of the time years ago when the mother of one of my fourth grade students came to me saying, My son wants a dog, and my husband wants one, too. I don’t want a dog. I don’t even like dogs. What should I do? My husband and son promise they will take care of the dog (the son, a 10 year old, the husband working full time, and she home all day)…

Here's our wonderful Lily and King, 7 year old siblings.

Here’s our wonderful Lily and King, 7 year old siblings.

Normally, I’m not one to hand out opinions, but when it comes to dogs, I simply can’t hold back. My opinions are strong and since dogs can’t speak for themselves, they need caring humans to look out for their welfare. When a dog is taken into a home, she should be entering her forever home, which amounts to a commitment of 9 to 15+ years. Large dogs typically live shorter lives, some very small breeds can live beyond 15 years. That commitment not only involves a roof over her head and food and water, but exercise, preferably with her human, regular visits to the veterinarian, and training, lots of training. This is a huge commitment both in time and money.

Sadly, in today’s society, dogs are treated by some as disposable.  The shelters are filled with unwanted dogs. The child who begs for the dog loses interest (no surprise!), so poor pup is taken to the shelter for adoption. The too busy career man, woman, or couple don’t have time to train the puppy so it acts out and chews on the new couch. When she starts on the table legs and rug, she’s off to the shelter. It’s natural that the interest of a young child jumps from one thing to the next as he learns and explores the world around him. And, adults working hard at demanding careers often have little time for necessary rest and relaxation, let alone taking care of a dog’s needs.

Our three trained to wait patiently for dinner.

Our three trained to wait patiently for dinner.

It’s wonderful to have a dog or dogs in your life. But, it’s not bad to not want a dog. What’s wrong is to bring an unwanted dog into your household. The only right way to get a dog is to have total commitment from everyone involved. If children are part of the equation, they can help with her training, feeding, grooming, walking, and clean-up. This, though, must have the involvement of the adult or adults in the household. It is NOT up to the the child, it’s up to the adult.

My two grandchildren, ages 3 and 5 keep begging their parents for a dog. They love visiting our house and playing with our 3 English Setters. Since my daughter grew up in our 3-4 dog household, she is well aware of the amount of care and time needed with dog ownership. She and her husband both have demanding jobs and she wisely has told her children no dog for now. Instead, she focuses their attention on exploring creatures in nature. The other day they did FaceTime with me…. they were all excited: Gran look at the fuzzy caterpillar we found in the yard. Then they shifted to telling me they just took a long bike ride with their dad, and yesterday they took a hike. Someday, I’m sure they’ll get their dog, but for now caterpillars, bike rides, and all sorts of things are grabbing their attention.

When the questions come to me, I’m actually glad. It tells me that these people are not acting on emotion and running out to adopt the cute puppy they saw online for adoption. These are the people who are thinking about such a big decision. I take it as my mission to help them look at the pros and cons, often playing the devil’s advocate, prodding them to think and dig deeper into the decision-making. I always end by saying, Bottom line, YOU must want this dog. REALLY want this dog. Because that’s what a dog deserves.



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Lots of Interest in Therapy Dogs These Days

At Bay Path University, Bright Spot Therapy Dog Arlo relaxes students preparing for exams

At Bay Path University, Bright Spot Therapy Dog Arlo relaxes students preparing for exams

Therapy Dogs bring smiles to people wherever they go. Today, you’ll find therapy dogs almost anywhere. Certified therapy dogs are found at Los Angeles’ busy airport LAX soothing harried travelers waiting for flights, in funeral homes comforting mourners, and, I’ve now heard that therapy dogs are used to help ease tension in grad students practicing delivery of their dissertations. These are some of the newer ways that therapy dogs are being utilized today. For an old timer like me who has been visiting with my therapy dogs since 1992 when I had to push my way into a nursing home to visit with my dog, I find tremendous delight in the evolution that has evolved over the past two decades. Therapy Dogs are now recognized as truly therapeutic and beneficial in both healthcare and education.

Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team Training Classes are held at Animal Alliances in Northampton, MA, conveniently located on Damon Road right off I-91.

Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team Training Classes are held at Animal Alliances in Northampton, MA, conveniently located on Damon Road right off I-91.

Along with the interest from practitioners seeking the canine visitors, interest from dog owners seeking to share their beloved friendly, outgoing, well-trained dogs with those in need keeps growing. This is seen in the numbers of people signing up for our Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team Training Classes. Our organization is based in western Massachusetts, but draws people from all over New England who seek the type of thorough training we provide that prepares them with the skills and techniques needed to make meaningful visits.

Bright Spot Team Training Classes introduce the types of equipment a team would encounter in some healthcare environments.

Bright Spot Team Training Classes introduce the types of equipment a team would encounter in some healthcare environments.

We are kicking off our fall line-up of classes with a FULL September class schedule. A waitlist was started back in the beginning of August. Once we set the cut-off (classes are kept small to allow plenty of time for individual attention and practice), the waitlist people jumped onto the October class schedule.

Here, a team is learning to interact with a patient who is bedridden.

Here, a team is learning to interact with a patient who is bedridden.

Needless to say, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs is thrilled to have so much interest from people wanting to become involved with this amazing type of work. We currently have 151 healthcare and educational facilities throughout New England eagerly awaiting a well-trained certified Bright Spot visiting team. This is a wonderful activity to do with your dog, one in which you and your dog will receive as much pleasure as do those you visit. Check out our website today to learn the steps involved with becoming a certified Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team. Sign-up for the October class before it, too, gets marked FULL.

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Therapy Dogs on Duty at Home


King, Lily, and Annie never fail to rise to the occasion at hand. This month, it was all about lying down quietly keeping me company while I recovered from eye surgery at the beginning of the month. I’ve had to rest and sleep in an upright position to keep bruising and swelling down on my face and help speed recovery. I’m all about following doctor’s orders, and my in-home therapy dogs didn’t let me down. All day long, Lily lay at my feet, King alongside me, and Annie on the floor right up against the sofa so I could pet her head.

There have been other times through the years when the tables have been turned and it’s not me out visiting with one of my therapy dogs to comfort someone in need. Like the time a couple of summers ago when I broke my ankle and could do nothing but sit and elevate all day long. The dogs just know what they need to do. They are always there to comfort and offer companionship…unending, never complaining.


This weekend, I was able to start increasing activity – and first on the docket was brushing and bathing all three of my constant companions, by now in much need of both. Today, Annie got a trim – her fur, as usual, had grown the quickest. They’re happy to be looking and smelling good. Happy, too, to have me on the mend ready to start doing some fun outdoor activities together.


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Reading Buddy Program at Eric Carle Museum


Therapy Dog Rowan and his teammate Diane Houston participated in the Bright Spot Therapy Dog Reading Buddy Program at the Eric Carle Museum in South Amherst, MA. 

Rowan met his buddy Hunter and Hunter’s Mom Khrystal in the museum library. Hunter, who just turned five, was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) when he was eight weeks old. Khrystal has posted a number of photos and write-ups about Hunter on the internet to increase awareness of SMA. Rowan gave Hunter a big kiss and Hunter gave Rowan a big smile when they met.

Rowan sat by Hunter’s side as they both listened to Khrystal reading several books written and illustrated by Eric Carle, Hunter’s favorite author.

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Heat and Humidity Tough on the Dogs

SUMMER Annie:slates

Here in western Massachusetts, July finished up strong with blasting heat and humidity – and no rain. The entire month was like that. The poor dogs simply couldn’t get comfortable no matter where they went, inside or out. Our old 1792 farmhouse doesn’t have AC, so it offers little relief. Annie is the smartest of the three. She gravitates to the cool slates on the porch in times of extreme heat.

King takes to the couch, no matter what the weather’s like. It may not be the coolest place, but it’s his favorite place to be!

SUMMER King:couch

And Lily, always determined to be outside on the hunt no matter what, tries to find a cool shady spot to lie in, but within ten minutes, even she’s joining Annie on the slates.


Many plants in the gardens I’ve lovingly tended are dead. Leaves on the trees are starting to turn. And, sadly, the roads are too hot, even in the early morning, for dog walks. When the weather gets this bad, I really wish I lived on a lake. Just looking at water cools me off.


August has brought with it a bit of rain… Perhaps we’re in for a change!


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Annie – HAPPY 9th BIRTHDAY – to You!


Born on July 14th, 2007, Annie is the oldest pup in our pack of three wonderful English Setters. She entered our lives as a ten-week-old rascal of a puppy, and was soon educated in the ways of the household by her great grandma Trudi who was twelve years old at the time. Great grandma Trudi lived to the amazing age of sixteen years, two months, with few health problems throughout her record-long life. Annie seems to have her great grandma Trudi’s genes still maintaining her youthful looks. I swear she beams when she and I are out walking and someone comments on my cute new puppy!

Unlike her younger siblings, seven-year-old littermates King and Lily, Annie isn’t a therapy dog. No, Annie prefers the home life. Happy just to remain back home while King and Lily suit up in their therapy dog vests each week to head out to work in schools helping children learn to read and do better in school. Annie’s working title is Household Manager, and my senior partner, now that great grandma Trudi, and littermates James and Julia – all older than Annie – have passed on. She’s now the one at the top of the ladder, and in her own quiet way, she enjoys having it over King and Lily. She keeps me in line, too, acting as my inner conscience… she seems to be with me wherever I go. I hear her voice in my head keeping me on track.

Like her great grandma Trudi, Annie (knock on wood) has had no major health issues, just a needed teeth cleaning now and then. She gets a clean bill of health from the vet at her annual check-ups. At nine-years-old, she’s well on her way to reaching Trudi’s age… our longest living dog… maybe Annie will break her record! Her birthday treat? Broccoli. This girl loves her vegetables, broccoli being her favorite. After downing a few florets, she and I will go on a long quiet walk together. Something we both enjoy. What better way to celebrate her 9th birthday!

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Bright Spot Launches Summer Reading Buddy Program at Eric Carle Museum


For the third summer in a row, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs launched the start of our Summer Reading Buddy Program at the Eric Carle Museum in South Amherst, Massachusetts.


King was very excited to put on his therapy dog vest and head out the door to go to work. Since the school year ended in mid-June, King hasn’t been working with any young children – something he loves doing.


Every Monday afternoon throughout July and August, young children have the fun of reading aloud to one of our specially trained Bright Spot Reading Buddy Dogs. Whether the youngster simply talks about the pictures in the book or reads every word on the page, sitting next to the dog and petting him provides a sense of calm. The non-threatening, non-judgmental Reading Buddy sits or lies down and seemingly listens to every word spoken by the reader – and enjoys looking at the pictures,too.


Readers must be signed-up ahead to reserve a coveted slot with the Reading Buddy. Four time slots are available every Monday afternoon. To reserve a time for your young reader, call the Eric Carle Museum and ask to sign-up for time with the Reading Buddy . One of the readers King had today has come to the Summer Reading Buddy Program every summer since it started at the Carle. Both the children and their adults love it!

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Summertime: Poison Ivy and Dogs

photo: from internet images

photo: from internet images

I wrote this post in July 2013 and decided to repost it today when I realized what I was scratching on my ankle was not a mosquito bite, but the beginning of an outbreak of Poison Ivy. Oh, yes. The dogs have been up on their hunting hill! My post received a great deal of attention from my readers back in 2013. Here it is again, for new readers to the blog, and as a reminder to all poison ivy sufferers…

Poison Ivy: Can dogs get it and break out in an angry, itchy red rash that can turn blistery with an acute case? No, thankfully, dogs don’t get this dreaded summertime curse. Yes, I call it a curse because I have been plagued by Poison Ivy since childhood. I am always on the lookout for those pointy, shiny green leaves. There are many look-alikes, but someone like me knows only too well what vine-like plants are and are not Poison Ivy. Here, on the Farm, Poison Ivy is everywhere. I’ve learned to avoid it as I did as a child when playing in the field behind our house.

So, dogs don’t get Poison Ivy, but people can get Poison Ivy from dogs. The dog can carry the oil of the Poison Ivy leaf on his fur. When a person pets the dog’s fur, she can get the rash from the oil she has touched on the dog’s fur. I learned this several years ago when I broke out in an acute case of blistery poison ivy on my legs. I hadn’t been anywhere near any Poison Ivy, but the dogs’ favorite hunting hill grows a healthy crop of the stuff. It flourishes on that wooded hill. You would think I was fertilizing it. Covered in Poison Ivy over my entire legs, I observed one of my dogs actually lying down in the shiny leaves on the hillside. Evidently, a very cool, shady spot!

This was a dilemma. What to do? I couldn’t prevent the dogs from hanging out on their hunting hill. Seeking a solution, I spoke with the man who cuts our lawn. No, he said,  you can’t cut it down. The person doing the cutting would surely come down with a severe case of poison ivy. No, he said, you can’t burn it. You can get Poison Ivy from the fumes. What then? I asked. His solution was to use a highly diluted Poison Ivy killer. I resisted this solution. I couldn’t, just couldn’t, use any type of poison where my dogs tread. He assured me that it is used all the time and is perfectly safe around children and dogs. Still I resisted.

The following summer, I changed my tune. I spend a lot of time training, bathing, and grooming my dogs. Thus, I’m handling their fur a lot. Once again, I broke out in an acute case of unsightly, blistering Poison Ivy on the back of my legs. This occurred just a few weeks before my daughter’s wedding! Mind you, when the blisters heal, I’m left with scars that eventually fade over time. This was enough! I gave the lawn man the okay to go ahead with the Poison Ivy killer. It killed off the plants over a period of several weeks. But, what I wasn’t expecting was the plants growing back the following summer. The crop seemed even more vigorous! Not a permanent solution.

A forester friend gave me my solution! This woman spends all day in the woods, and she, too, is plagued by acute cases of Poison Ivy that have hospitalized her. She told me about a product called Tecnu. It’s actually a wash. After being exposed, you’re supposed to wash the exposed areas of skin with the Tecnu wash. Her tip, however, was to apply the oily substance as a preventative. She buys it in gallons and applies a thin coating before going to work each day. I have followed suit. I cover my arms and legs with Tecnu as a preventative. If I feel a spot of the rash ready to erupt on my neck, or face, or other area I didn’t cover, I quickly apply it there and keep doing so each day.

Since following this regime, I have avoided acute cases of blistery Poison Ivy. The dogs continue to lounge wherever they like on their hunting hill, and for me – so far so good. Now, I’m not endorsing the use of this product for others in any way but as directed. I’m sure using it as a wash immediately after exposure, as directed, would be highly effective for most people. I’m an acute Poison Ivy sufferer, I’ll do the extreme!

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