• Long Beach Breeze

Therapy dogs bring smiles to locals

By Guest Columnist Shirley Gay, P.O.E. Chapter G, Long Beach

Say “hello” to Scott and Zoe. They are both therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are trained to be welcome support and a joyful friend to people who are hospitalized, residing in nursing homes, or staying at behavioral health facilities, as well as children spending time in daycare centers for disabled children.

What does it take to have your dog become a therapy dog? The easiest way is to associate with a group that will help you in the process to train and manage your dog for the task. The group I chose is Pet Partners International.

Pet Partners International is supported by independent regional groups. My dogs and I are part of Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi. We meet once a month as a group and discuss any new Pet Partners business as well as recommendations for visits. Recently, Pet Partners has asked that all Pet Partners teams handlers be fully vaccinated against COVID 19. Many of the facilities we visit are requiring those vaccinations, as well as others, like the yearly flu shot. In addition, once a Pet Therapy Team passes an evaluation, visits are fully insured. This is part of the reason to require the COVID vaccine. We want to help people heal, not possibly pass along serious diseases.

Additionally, Pet Partners requires each handler train their own dog to obey basic commands, either by themselves or through any training program. I put Scott (my first therapy dog) through AKC’s Canine Good Citizen training program. This was very helpful, as Scott was a puppy (eight months old) when we started training. Therapy dogs are required to be at least a year old to become a part of the program.

Scott is very social and has a ton of energy. Although he learned most commands very easily, he had a very hard time leaving other dogs alone, as well as people who are reluctant to pay attention to him. He always wants to make new friends!

Zoe was much older when she came to live with us. She is not as exuberant as Scott and has no problem being calm. I call her my “lap dog,” and Scott is the “personality” in our family.

Scott passed his Pet Partners evaluation in April of 2019. Dogs are allowed to visit no more than two hours a day. Scott and I spent two hours a day for five to six days a week visiting in 2019. We were awarded the President’s (of the United States) award for volunteer service for that year. Of course, we visited fewer times in 2020 due to COVID and no vaccines at that point.

Zoe passed her evaluation in April of 2021. Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi put together a ceremony in July for all the newly registered therapy dogs. Zoe was featured on the local news as one of the therapy dogs graduating to full “therapy dog status.”

Today, I am happy to bring a happy moment in two bundles of joy (two therapy dogs) to all those we meet, wherever we visit.

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