I had just come to terms with the fact that my dogs are “otherly abled.” Sure, they pee on my couch whenever I turn my back for one lousy second. Sure, they eat poop and rocks. But, by God, they’re awesome at…ummm…well…They sure do look cute when they’re fast asleep.
Then I met Baci, the Therapy Dog.
Baci and his human Debbie came to visit the Helping Hands kids last Friday. Baci has passed tests to become a certified therapy dog. He is brimming with intelligence and is exceptionally obedient. When Debbie very casually says, “Look,” Baci practically gives himself whiplash as he turns to gaze soulfully into her eyes:
Therapy dogs work in a variety of settings. In nursing homes and hospitals, they bring cheer to people who are separated from their own pets or are unable to have pets of their own. Some therapy dogs work in school settings. One program, for example, pairs up children who are struggling with reading with therapy dogs, who sit and listen to them read out loud. Sometimes therapy dogs visit disaster sites to provide comfort to those in need.
Recently, therapy dogs from all over the country visited Newtown after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are beautiful stories of children opening up and speaking for the first time since the shootings after spending time with the therapy dogs. Some of the dogs returned to Newtown to be a gentle and reassuring presence when the children returned to school in a new building.
Debbie explained to us that dogs are so well-suited for this kind of work because they never judge, or make fun of a human. They love unconditionally. They don’t talk back. But not just any dog can be a therapy dog. Debbie told us that people who are interested in training a therapy dog can do certain tests to see if a puppy will be suitable. A first test might be to see which puppies in a litter will come when called. Another test is to turn the puppy on his back. If he doesn’t struggle to right himself, that’s another good sign that he will be trainable. Therapy dogs have to love people. They must be gentle, calm, and tolerant. They have to be obedient. In a hospital setting, where someone might drop a pill on the ground, for example, a therapy dog would have to “leave it” on command. They can’t be easily spooked or distracted. One of the tests Baci had to pass before getting his therapy dog credentials was to continue walking without paying attention to a set of keys being dropped from a height into a metal bowl.
Tallis, Chloe, obviously no one’s expecting you two to pass any kind of test anytime soon. But you better up your game, because Baci is making you look even worse than usual!