National Pitbull Awareness Day
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Journey and Jackson are both certified Therapy Dogs through Therapy Dogs International (TDI). Read below as Journey and Jackson’s dad (and MetLife team member), Ronald, shares a look into their lives and how they help serve people in need.
A: My furry family members are two Golden Retrievers.. Journey is 11 years old and Jackson is 5 years old. Both boys are certified Therapy Dogs, certified through Therapy Dogs International (TDI).
We volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospital (here in Tampa FL) as part of the hospital’s pet therapy program. We visit two nights a week, usually in the evenings, visiting mostly with adult patients and of course hospital staff. We also do several special events at the Children’s hospital (Christmas in July celebration, Halloween parade, etc).
Journey is also a special dog as he was born missing his left front paw and has worn a prosthetic since the age of about 5 months. Some will ask us how we came to name our special pup Journey? Well – his AKC registration name is Eagle Ridge Don’t Stop Believing – which of course is an iconic song by the rock band Journey – so it just seemed to all fit together.
A: Yes, Journey was born missing his left front paw – which makes him a congenital amputee. When we first brought Journey home, one of our neighbors stopped by to meet the new puppy. Turns out that neighbor was the associate dean of physical & rehabilitative medicine at the University of South Florida. He put us in touch with Westcoast Brace &: Limb a local prosthetics company and they graciously agreed to see if they could create a prosthetic for Journey and they have been Journey’s partner ever since.
A: The prosthetic is modeled on a human runner’s blade design. There is a hard-outer shell with a backwards curved carbon fiber blade. There is a silicone inner liner that rolls up over the residual limb with a pin at the bottom of the liner which locks into the bottom of the outer shell.
Journey wears the prosthetic most days as it does help his gait as well as balances his shoulders and hips. The prosthetic does come off at night and when he’s in the pool.
Journey doesn’t have any real limitations, although he may not run as fast as others and now that he’s eleven years old; he is starting to slow down a bit. But missing a paw has never really interfered with his ability to be a happy healthy dog. In fact, as I often say, while Journey was born with what some may call a disability (missing his paw) he is not disabled. He teaches us that one can always overcome challenges with the right combination of drive, positive attitude, and support.
A: Journey and Jackson each became certified as therapy dogs at about 18 months of age. Journey has been making therapy visits coming up on 10 years and Jackson has been making visits for about 4 years now. Journey has “logged” over 350 pet therapy visits at St Joe’s and Jackson has logged over 100 visits at St Joe’s.
A: Both boys make regular visits as a part of the St. Joseph hospital pet therapy program. We alternate weeks so that each dog has their own schedule. Typical “rounds” last about 2 hours. We move through the hospital going from floor to floor visiting first at the nursing station (where there is lots of support and therapy for the nursing staff) and then moving on to patient rooms where we will stop in and visit with patients and family. Typical patient visits may last about 5-10 minutes per patient.
In addition, we do special events at the Children’s hospital participating each year in the “Christmas in July” celebration, the annual Halloween parade (and yes, the boys are in costume) and several children’s picnics.
Journey will also from time to time participate in events sponsored by Westcoast Brace & Limb and has visited with some amputee support groups to help those coping with recent limb loss.
Journey has also become somewhat of a therapy dog “ambassador” having been “interviewed” by local news media on several occasions as well as being one of the animals showcased in a Nature/PBS special called My Bionic Pet.
A: I have been volunteering at St. Joe’s as part of the pet therapy program for 15 years now (started with my first Golden Jason) and in all those years I have never once had a negative reaction to myself and my dog walking into a room. Quite the contrary, the visit is often the highlight of the patient’s hospital experience.
I have seen patients who were clearly “depressed” or anxious brighten and sit up as the dogs enter the room. Nurses have asked us (with patient‘s permission of course) to be in the room when a child has to have an injection as the calming effect of the dog is often the best medicine available.
We have been asked to spend time at a hospice patient’s bedside because staff and family know the calming effect the dogs can have.
There have been countless times that nurses will just sit on the floor and spend a few minutes hugging the dogs or talking softly to the dogs and you can just see the stress and tension melting away. In fact, I often will have nurses (and even some doctors) comment “it’s been a tough day and I really needed that dog hug”.
There are several studies that clearly document that petting a dog reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and creates a feeling a wellness; and I get to see that every time we enter a room.
Journey is also certified as a “Disaster Stress Relief Dog” (DSR). That is a higher level of training and certification. As a DSR team we will respond to disaster areas (manmade or natural) to provide emotional support and therapy to first responders, victims and family members.
About four years ago Journey and I were part of a DSR team that spent a week in Orlando FL after the Pulse nightclub mass shooting providing emotional support and therapy at the family assistance center. Journey and the rest of the DSR team were on-site about eight hours each day providing emotional and therapeutic support to family members who had lost loved ones in the shooting as well as support for the first responders and care teams tending to the needs of victims and their families.
A: There are several organizations that test and certify therapy dogs. I am affiliated with Therapy Dogs International (TDI) which has been testing and certifying therapy dogs since 1975.
It takes about a year to train a dog for pet therapy work as they must be able to master all of the usual obedience commands (sit, stay, lay down, come, etc). The testing and certification of a therapy dog focuses on both the dog’s mastery of obedience commands as well as the dog’s demeanor and personality when in a clinical or therapy setting. Dogs are tested for reactions to being handled and touched by adults and children, tested to assess if the dog exhibits any signs of aggression (usually an automatic disqualification) or if the dog is overly timid, easily startled, etc. Testing also includes evaluating the dog’s reaction to riding in an elevator, interacting with wheelchairs or other medical devices, reactions to sudden or loud noises, alarms and the like.
Some organizations do retest or recertify dogs every 2-3 years, other organizations (including TDI) do not require recertification testing (so long as the dog remains active making regular visits).
While there are some organizations that say they will “certify” a dog online, it is important to note that testing and certification must be done in person by a qualified evaluator. In person evaluation is the only way to truly judge the dog’s behavior and response to the conditions encountered during an actual visit.
A: Almost any breed can be certified as a Therapy dog. Within the St. Joe’s program, we have several Goldens, Labradors, Sheppard’s, Poodles, and a variety of Toy breeds. In some settings, such as a nursing home, the smaller breeds are often preferred as they can more easily engage a patient while sitting in their lap. In the Hospital setting the larger breed dogs are often better as their size makes it easier for patients to interact with the dog while in bed.
Journey is certified by TDI and based on his accumulated visits holds the TDI designation of TDIRVA (TDI Remarkable Volunteer Achievement). Journey also holds a TDI DSR (Disaster Stress Relief) designation and an AKC title of Therapy Dog – Excellent.
Jackson is certified by TDI and based on his accumulated visits holds the TDI designation of TDIA (TDI Active volunteer). Jackson also holds an AKC title of Therapy Dog. Additionally, Jackson also holds three AKC rally/obedience titles (novice, advanced and excellent).
A: It’s important to point out that therapy dogs are not service dogs. They are trained and certified to provide emotional support and therapy, but they are not service dogs and ethical handlers (and organizations) will be sure to note this distinction.
Therapy Dogs can also be helpful in settings outside of a hospital pet therapy program.
TDI also operates a highly successful program known as “Tail Wagging Tutors” in which certified therapy dogs are used in school district reading programs to help children overcome reading disabilities. It’s a simple program, the dog lays quietly while the children read to the dog. Over time, we see the child’s confidence and reading ability improve simply because the dogs just listens while being supportive and non-judgmental. Having the dog to read to creates a safe space.
We also see therapy dogs being used in court room settings, often to help provide support to children while they are testifying. And we are seeing more therapy dogs now on college campuses providing some needed stress relief during exams.
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