We read about and hear about Therapy Dogs so much these days. We watch YouTube videos of these wonderful dogs in action. I write posts every week on Say Hello Spot highlighting the meaningful work these special dogs perform. But, what about the Therapy Dog’s handler (in most cases, his or her owner)? Truth be had, not much is said about the other end of the lead.
Granted, some dogs seem to be born Therapy Dogs. They’re pure naturals. I’ve seen this through the years. Along with the wonderful, outgoing personality required of all Therapy Dogs, the born-to-be-Therapy Dog, has an innate set of good manners. The requirement that the dog wear a collar that is attached to a lead seems totally unnecessary. The born-to-be-Therapy Dog could make rounds of a facility on his/her own, it appears. But, how did the Therapy Dog get to his/her visiting location?
I’ve seen relatively few of these ready-to-go dogs. My first Therapy Dog, Beatrice, was one of these naturals, but my other six were not. And, to answer the question above, as terrific as that dog may be, he simply can’t drive himself to his volunteer site. It takes a dedicated woman or man. I call these folks exceptional people. They believe in the power of the human-canine bond and, knowing they have dogs with wonderful temperaments, they work hard at developing the skills needed to perform this meaningful work. They sometimes work several years before their particular dog is ready to begin actual Therapy Dog training.
The making of a Therapy Dog is not a quick-fix kind of thing. It’s not for everyone. It takes a true dog-lover. A person who is willing to take the time, often carving out large amounts of time from what seems like an already much-too-busy schedule to work on Therapy Dog development. For those bitten by the passion one feels when one believes in the power of the human-canine bond, making time isn’t adding on more work, it’s enjoying a full relationship with one’s dog and receiving great satisfaction from sharing him or her with those in need. They train after work, before work, on weekends, on lunch breaks. Some travel great distances to obtain the required training. Don’t we always find time to fit in the things we truly love doing?
Who are these extraordinary people? They come from all walks of life. Some are teachers, school principals and guidance counselors, social workers, therapists, physicians, and nurses, postal workers, accountants, computer programmers, college professors, bankers, religious leaders, veterinarians, dog trainers, retired business people, career community volunteers, and so many more. They dedicate their time to the training and relationship-building it takes to become a certified Therapy Dog Team. They set aside time in their busy schedules to take their well-trained, sweet, gentle Therapy Dogs to visit folks on hospice care, those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, residents of a nursing home, those suffering with mental illness, or our soldiers at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital and the Soldiers Home. To volunteer in schools, both public and private, helping children at risk both socially and academically. These extraordinary people, those at the other end of the lead, often put aside personal invitations to social events, to fulfill their commitment to providing comfort and caring to those in need through the human-canine bond. Through my 23 years of working with Therapy Dogs, I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of these special people. It is in honor of them that I write this post today.