Our Harley is a certified therapy dog, and he and I visit the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Berteau campus on a weekly basis. Every Friday we go up to the fourth floor and visit the patients in the Transitional Care Center.
The patients, workers and visitors love it when the therapy dogs come by. So much so in fact that once a month a mini dog show is held on the fourth floor. For this event, all the therapy dogs and their handlers try to come. There have been some shows when we had as many as six therapy dog teams participate. On Sept. 28, three teams were able to make it: Harley and I, Sophie and Joy, and Chalice and Bruce. Each team brings their own special qualities and talents to the event.
As you all know, there is a lot of training that goes into the "making" of one of these wonderful animals. First and foremost, they must have a calm and gentle personality and get along with other dogs and people. Besides the normal obedience classes, they have to go through additional training and pass other tests to assure they are able to perform the tasks asked of them.
Let me tell you a little about each of these great dogs.
Chalice is a 7-year-old retired racing greyhound. She was adopted four years ago and is certified through Therapy Dogs International. She has just recently begun her service at EMH. Prior to that, most of her visits were to nursing homes. Chalice is a great ambassador for her breed. She is tall and lean. With her tan coloring she looks like a deer. Quiet and docile, Chalice greets everyone that comes to see her with her soft brown eyes and warm doggie smile. Her presence in the room is soothing to those that attend the show. It has been scientifically proven that petting a dog lowers ones blood pressure and has a calming affect on people. Greyhounds are wonderful dogs and one of the oldest breeds around. There are records of them dating back to the days of the ancient Egyptians.
Sophie is a 4-year-old purebred black labrador retriever. The lab is the number one dog in the USA, if not the world. Sophie is also certified through Therapy Dogs International. In addition, she has her Utility Dog title through the American Kennel Club. This means she is able to do scent discrimination retrieves, along with other exercises. When Sophie comes to visit, she does short demonstrations of these exercises. She retrieves small dumb-bells that Joy places for her. Ask her to bring her stuffed animal to you, and she will do it with tail-wagging enthusiasm. People enjoy it so much, Sophie gets rounds of applause! Sophie also participates in the R.E.A.D program at local libraries, visits schools and other facilities in addition to EMH.
Harley is a 3-year-old all-American dog. He is a mix of three wonderful breeds: the black labrador retriever, the golden retriever and the Irish setter. All three breeds give him his gentle and loving disposition. He was adopted in June of 2009 and began his therapy dog career in May of 2010. Harley is very sensitive toward the “vibes” people put out. He can tell when something is bothering them and will literally offer them a shoulder to cry on. This was shown most recently at EMH when a nurse who had lost her own dog saw Harley. As she hugged him, she began to weep. Instead of pulling away from her, he leaned in, closed his eyes and let her cry into his fur. He did his job wonderfully that day. Harley visits EMH, participates in the R.E.A.D program like Sophie does, has worked in the ILCHIP program (Illinois Child’s Identification Program), visited local nursing homes and worked other local events.
As a side note, R.E.A.D. stands for Reading Education Assistance Dogs. These wonderful animals go to local libraries and children read stories to them. The kids forget about feeling nervous or self-conscious about reading in front of their peers. Before they know it, the child is enjoying the experience of reading instead of dreading it. They are even looking forward to the next time!
Therapy dogs are certified through two organizations: Therapy Dogs International and Delta Society. All breeds of dogs can be certified as therapy dogs, from purebreds to mutts, from the giant St. Bernard to the tiny Chihuahua. These four-legged therapists bring a delightful change to an otherwise quiet day; they spark lively discussions and bring back memories of previously owned pets. People have even commented on how having the dogs visit helps them forget their problems for awhile.