Millions of people around the country suffer from many types of mental and physical afflictions. Their function day to day is a challenge. Doctors, social workers, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry have reaped billions of dollars of income providing services that may or may not help and individual.
One of the most caring, unconditionally, loving treatments that none of these pills or counseling sessions offer comes in the form of a therapy dog.
Dogs are man's best friend. Dogs have tails that whip back and forth. Dogs seem to have constant smiles on their faces. Dogs have eyes that are deep and gentle. Dogs have soft tongues offering soothing licks to a person's skin. Dogs are truly a therapy worth their weight in gold.
I am a caretaker for a young lady named Lena. She suffers from a genetic disorder that has attributes of Autism, seizures, depression, anxiety, and physical abnormalities. Her daily life is a challenge. She goes to Easter Seals, a school that caters to special needs people.
One day, as I was attending the annual talent show I noticed the kids congregating around a woman and her dog. The dog was wearing a vest that said Canine Therapy Corps on it. I inquired about the small brown bundle of fur and was told his name was Rocko. He comes to the school as a therapy dog for the students as part of daily activities. This is a video of what a therapy dog's life is like in a day.
I was intrigued by this program because I thought this would be a great thing for my dog, Bailey, to get involved with. Bailey is very peaceful, gentle, and patient. She never snaps at Lena, who, believe me, tests her limits with ear pulling, hitting, and yelling. Some might consider this abuse, but do not worry, Bailey doesn't put up with it. She takes the yelling but will walk away from the other stuff. When Lena calms down, Bailey is right back at her side giving her licks and snuggling up to her.
I contacted Canine Therapy Corps with some questions as for how to get involved with the program.
Ann, Rocko's handler, responded with a list of what needed to be done. First and foremost, Bailey had to pass an evaluation for temperament and the ability to be trained. Therapy Dogs have to pass a multi-task test to do their work. They cannot jump on people, be afraid of sudden noises, listen to commands, and be able to be touched by strangers, to name a few of the requirements. Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs who go through a much higher level of training.
She also included a list of evaluators/trainers. I selected Bark Avenue Playcare, located in Chicago. I contacted them, and we set up an evaluation. The big day of our evaluation came. I took her in and was met by the owner, Daniel. We chatted for a bit. He told me he was in business for 15 years. Before he started up Bark Avenue Playcare, he was an X-Ray Technician (which he still does a couple of days a week). Daniel is also a veteran. He had great credentials all around in my book.
Daniel took Bailey and did some testing with her. He took her leash and walked her around the room to see how she handled when walking. Not too bad--a little pulling, and he suggested a Prong Collar. So he put that on for the rest of the evaluation. Her behavior changed immediately, and there was no more pulling on the leash.
Next was the crutch test, which involved him walking toward her on crutches. She was a bit nervous, but it was not a big deal. The sudden loud noise test was next. He dropped a metal bowl looking for a reaction from her, and there was none. He then sat in a wheelchair and rolled toward her. She was not scared of that, either. He put out his hand to pet her and she allowed him to.
Daniel took a big green box out and told her to get on it. She was apprehensive, but a bit of coaxing got her up on the box for a few seconds. After repeated attempts to get her to sit on the box, she did for a short period. He did stress that she would go from being a "pet' to being a working dog. Her success would depend on me, not just him. So, I had to ask myself...am I trainable?
His final assessment of her was she would need work, but was a candidate to be a Therapy Dog. I felt relieved and proud like a parent watching his child who's being tested for an educational program for elite children.
The next step is to enroll her in his Therapy Dog program which is a 6-week course. I would need to bring her there in the morning and leave her all day three times a week. I would have to make sure all her vaccinations were up to date and have some additional testing done on her by our veterinarian. The cost for this would run around $1800 for the training which includes lifetime training for touch up work as needed. I would also have to consider the doctor's fees and traveling costs for six weeks. I figured this could add up to be around $2700.
For many people that have dogs and volunteer, the cost is not a concern. However, because of my personal health issues, I am on disability and cannot work. I live on a monthly income which is barely enough to survive on.
This is a great cause, and I'm hoping that through peoples' generosity that I will be able to make this happen. Baily has the ability to be an excellent therapy dog and touch many peoples' lives.
If you would like to help, please make a donation toward Bailey's goal at https://www.gofundme.com/getbaileytherapydogtraining
Next: Therapy Dogs Unconditional Love Part 2: Meet Ann and Rocko
READ MORE FROM MY CRANIUM BY DAVID HERMAN