There’s something about a dog.
In times of stress, a good dog can be a wonderful diversion for those who need to forget about life’s challenges for a while, and a Wayne business owner and animal lover helps test dogs that can be used as therapy dogs that visit people in nursing homes, hospitals or even schools.
Dawn Jacobson, owner of Canine Design in Wayne, is a certified tester for Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a Cheyenne, Wyo.-based organization that serves to help volunteers who want to use their pets as therapy resources for people who need to forget about their stress and bring a little joy and happiness in their lives.
“I get nothing out of it except the joy that it brings to people,” she said while grooming Zuzu, her 5-year-old standard poodle on a recent morning at her downtown business.
Anybody with a dog that is well-behaved and has a laid-back temperament can be a therapy dog, and it doesn’t require a lot of work for an owner to get their dog certified as a therapy dog, Jacobson said.
“They don’t need to be obedient dogs who sit and stay,” she said. “Nice, behaved dogs who don’t bark excessively and don’t pull or drag you around are great dogs for therapy dogs.”
Jacobson said she will meet with the team – the dog and its owner – in a location that is strange to the dog, such as a park. She will meet the owner and then talk with and touch the dog to see how the animal responds.
“I’ll grab its feet, maybe pinch a little just to see how it reacts,” she said. “I’ll have the owner walk the dog on a loose lead and then drop some pots or pans to see how they’ll react, or have someone roll by in a wheelchair or walk by with a walker to see how they’ll respond.”
Dogs have to be at least a year old before they can test, and children can test their dogs with an adult or guardian present. And the benefits for both the animal and their patients – well, Jacobson says it’s priceless.
“I’ll take Zuzu to a nursing home and a lot of the people just love the dogs,” she said. “We go to Wakefield twice a month, and a man at the rest home there will let Zuzu put her paws on his shoulders and they’ll dance and walk around. It’s just fun to see these people smile when the dogs come in and I get so much joy out of it.”
She will also make her dogs available for kids at the library or even at Providence Medical Center or Providence Physical Therapy, where Zuzu is a hit with kids dealing with Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS).
“The kids who are working through the pain therapy, I’ve taken in a couple of my dogs and these girls get on the floor with them and just play and giggle, and it’s really nice to see them enjoy that time,” she said. “A lot of times when I take her to the library, the kids see her and she’ll just get swallowed up by them and swarm over her. You have to have a dog that can handle something like that.”
For a lot of patients, particularly the older ones, the touch of a dog’s fur is something that they truly enjoy.
“A lot of Alzheimer’s patients have touch issues, so they love to touch Zuzu and get their fingers in her fur and grab her ears,” she said. “And she just loves the attention. She was a rescue dog and just loves everybody and she’s a great therapy dog.”
And Jacobson said that Zuzu can sense if a patient doesn’t want to interact with her.
“The older generation, people in their 80’s and 90’s, didn’t have house dogs, so there are some who don’t react very well when a therapy dog comes into a facility,” she said. “Some people just don’t like dogs, and Zuzu knows – she’ll look in a door at the nursing home and then will keep going. She just gets that vibe that the person in there my not like dogs, and I don’t make her go up to anybody she’s not comfortable with.”
Just about any dog – except those who are mixed with coyote or wolves – can be used as a therapy dog. Jacobson has a smaller poodle, Quinn, that will often come with Zuzu on visits. There’s also Obi, a rat terrier, who not only enjoys the therapy sessions, but is a show dog as well.
Jacobson said that anybody who is interested in volunteering their time and their pet as a therapy dog should check out the Alliance of Therapy Dogs website for information on getting registered and getting connected with a trainer in their area. A team has to do three observations after testing before they are registered as therapy dogs.