Last week we received a call from Nat Geo TV, asking us to bring dogs to the Langham Hotel in Pasadena where they were holding the Television Critics Association annual conference. In-between sessions, they wanted to provide some pet therapy to the attendees as they walked from one ballroom to another.
They asked for shelter dogs — to which we promptly said no, as shelter dogs don’t always do well around each other and with strange people touching them. The disappointed voice over the phone changed to excitement when we offered the therapy dog teams and we solidified the request with a yes, letting them know 10 dogs and their handlers would be able to attend this local event. The dogs included my own therapy dog, Bobbie.
The PHS therapy dog team is made up of volunteers and their dogs who visit schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities where people reside. They also participate in the Barks and Books program at local libraries where kids read to a dog to get them interested in reading. The team’s job is to provide affection, comfort and love to people of all ages.
Sometimes, therapy dogs are incorporated into medical or psychological treatment plans to help with a specific medical goal. For example, a person who had a stroke and needs to exercise a hand might be asked to brush a dog. Or, a child might have a dog brought into the courtroom to help get through testifying. Or a therapist will have a dog in the room to help a trauma victim discuss feelings.
To become a therapy dog, the dog and its handler must have a strong bond. The dog must also have basic obedience and a temperament that is comfortable in all settings and around all different people. The Pet Partners Program and Therapy Dogs International are two programs that can provide more details to owners thinking about doing therapy work. Therapy dogs are only allowed in facilities when they are working.
Therapy dogs should not be confused with service dogs that have specialized training to help people with disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairment, seizures and mobility issues. Those dogs are true working dogs and have intensive training to assist their human. They are allowed in stores, restaurants and other public places at all times.
Therapy dogs are also different than emotional support dogs that provide stress relief and emotional assistance to people who have a note from a doctor indicating they need a dog for issues such as anxiety and PTSD. In this case, there is no requirement for specific training as they are mainly providing companionship/support to the owner.
If you have a documented emotional support dog you are able to bring them on airlines and they are allowed in housing units where pets are not allowed; however, you are unable to bring them in most public places that do not allow pets.
On Saturday, as our therapy dog teams arrived at the Langham Hotel, we noticed that this event was kind of a big deal, attracting a large crowd that included celebrities and some fans alike. The fans were huddled outside trying to get an autograph, and as we walked passed them, they clapped and smiled as if we were celebrities walking the red carpet.
We lined up in the hallway with large dogs in the front and small dogs in the back waiting for the ballroom doors to open, and when they did, the guests were treated with wags and cuddles from the furry visitors. Statements such as, “I was missing my pet at home and this made me feel less homesick,” “this is the best day ever” and “these dogs are making me so happy” were heard by all of the volunteers that afternoon. We truly made a difference in the lives of the guests that day.
As we left the hotel, one of the fans yelled out loud, “That one is Bobbie, she is my favorite.” I smiled and realized the power of therapy dogs!
Photo: Pasadena Humane Society