We’ve all seen therapy dogs in the hallways of a hospital or nursing home. Maybe you’ve seen them during the training process walking through a store or in your neighborhood, but what do they actually do?
PVMA awards the Wodan Animal Hero Award annually to an animal in the state of Pennsylvania who performed a heroic act in the preservation of human or animal life. In 2009, four therapy dogs from southeastern Pennsylvania received the award as on-going animals heroes for the work they did everyday. Elliott, Artemus, Ignatius, and Oliver are English black labradors owned by Mark and Carol Zebrowski, and they are truly animal heroes.
Here, in Mark’s own words, is a little bit about these amazing dogs and what they do for others.
“The dogs’ work as therapy dogs involves visiting facilities that can benefit from human and dog interaction. This ranges anywhere from visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and assisted care facilities to schools, businesses, and adult and special needs care centers. The possibilities are endless. We have “worked” in hotels, restaurants, rest stops, firehouses, banks, and pet stores.
On our formal visits as a handler/therapy dog team, our goal is to interact with everybody we can. This includes patients, staff, and other visitors. It can be as simple as a wave into a room so that people can see the dog or a sit-down, hour-long discussion where lots of hugs, kisses, and stories are exchanged. The amazing thing for me is to watch how the dogs assess the need of the person and then deliver. It is such an intangible thing that provides such a tangible result. Smiles, laughs and—sometimes, yes—a few tears are a part of each and every visit.
Visits to facilities that are expected to last an hour or two have gone as long as six or seven hours depending on who needs the love of a dog. People who are deathly afraid of dogs are within minutes hugging them like they been best friends for life. Children who are scared or intimidated are soon asking for the leash to hold them. Patients who respond to very little or no to external stimulus will smile or react when they see the dogs.
Remarkably, there is a story worth sharing from every visit, regardless of where it is, who it is with, and whether formal or informal. Visits are not always easy, for either me or for the dogs. It is easy for me to tell when they are emotionally affected by a patient, either by the severity of their condition or the patient’s emotion when they see the dogs. They never let anyone down though, always remaining stoic and providing as many hugs and kisses as needed. Funny thing is, they never turn it off either. Some of our best visits have come just walking down the street in a new environment. A person will stop to talk and the dogs can sense they need to go to work, changing from their bouncy “out for a walk” disposition to their serious “ok, this person needs my help” character.
One thing for sure is that they always, always, always bring smiles to everyone they meet. We live by a simple rule from Winston Churchill, “you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”
But in therapy dog work, you get back just as much as you give, if not more. There is nothing we do that is more rewarding to us.”