Thursday, April 22, 2010
By Suzanne Alicie
CANIDAE sponsors several outstanding animals, and are exceptionally proud to be able to include therapy dogs Stitch and Riley as well as their newly certified partner Sophie. Because of the CANIDAE sponsorship and even the attendance of some company employees at events, these dogs are able to spread their love and comfort in an ever growing way including hospital visits, community events and the Make a Wish foundation.
Johne and Jane Johnson volunteered their time at the VA hospitals before they got involved with the therapy dogs. Johne bought Stitch as a puppy for the express purpose of training him to be a therapy dog in order to expand their outreach program with the VA hospitals in the area. Along the way they adopted Riley whose owner claimed that she was a terrible dog who didn’t like men. Riley became a certified part of the team and loves being around people, men included. This just goes to show that the way an owner thinks and feels about a dog does affect the way they behave.
Jane, a marathon runner, found a Maltipoo in a gutter while out training one day. She brought her home ,and now Sophie is the newest certified therapy dog on the team. Sophie is small enough to claim a lap to cuddle in when she visits, and usually does so. The Johnsons have also rescued another dog, a Bluetick hound named Bella who is in the process of training. These wonderful dogs visit VA hospitals as well as children’s hospitals and many community events to spread love and companionship.
Pets in general have a positive effect on people, and therapy dogs are trained to provide the attention and love that the people in the hospitals need. Mr. Johnson tells of many times when visiting the VA hospital there were patients who were despondent and non- responsive to him and the others who visited with him. However, when the dogs began to visit, these same people opened up and began talking about pets they used to have, and really enjoyed their visits with Stitch and Riley. Eventually those same patients began to look forward to his visits, although if he went without the dogs the main thing he heard was “Where are the dogs? Why didn’t you bring the dogs?” This lets him know that his therapy dogs are truly something special, and that they make a big difference to these patients.
The difference between therapy dogs and service dogs is that the service provided by therapy dogs is purely social. Service dogs are trained to stay with a specific person and assist them with different tasks, while therapy dogs are welcome visitors who provide their services to everyone they encounter. Many times veterans need physical therapy to aid with their recovery from illness and injury; this can lead to a boring and repetitive routine. Therapy dogs introduce something a little different and bring some excitement into the day. Lonely or depressed patients have shown remarkable improvement after a visit from Riley and Stitch. The unconditional love and acceptance of a dog can lift the spirits and distract patients from dark thoughts and loneliness.
Imagine being a bored patient who is in pain and all alone. Suddenly these two gorgeous golden labs and their tiny white partner burst onto the scene, three special dogs who love to be petted and played with, who are happy to just be in contact with you. Interaction with the dogs breaks up a dull routine and makes the patient feel so much better.
The training to become a certified therapy dog involves learning several important things. Besides basic obedience, these dogs learn to deal with loud noises, ignore food when it’s dropped or eaten in front of them, how to handle crowds, and the fact that everyone will reach out towards them. The mentality of a good therapy dog is that any attention is welcome, and that love is the name of the game. Little Sophie recently got to take a trip to Disneyland as part of her training to become certified.
Mr. Johnson says that any dog can be trained to be a therapy dog, but some may have learned behaviors that must be worked through first. Dogs that have been abused in any way may shy away from strangers wanting to pet them. The Johnsons now have three certified therapy dogs and only one of them has been trained for his job since he was a puppy. There is a difference, Mr. Johnson says. All three dogs are good at their jobs and love what they do, but Stitch is the one who has been raised with love from the beginning and simply has no understanding of anyone being mean.
Besides being beneficial to the hospitals and the people they visit, therapy dogs like Stitch, Riley and Sophie are also helping to spread the word of the importance and legal allowances for certified service dogs. Mr. Johnson often takes Stitch to dinner with him and his wife; this is not only a training enforcement for the dog but also a learning opportunity for the people who work in restaurants as to when a dog is allowed in, and the purpose of the dog for the person he is with. There have been several instances where Mr. Johnson has been told he can’t bring the dog in. This leads to educating and informing the employees and management as well as other diners about the legality of service dogs and their purpose. By taking on this challenge, Mr. Johnson is making the world more aware and hopefully making it easier for the people who need to take their service dogs everywhere with them.
The Johnsons, their wonderful dogs, and the Masonic lodge they are a part of have received awards for their community service. They plan to continue with breeding and training therapy dogs in order to make life a little better for all of those they encounter.
Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie