Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years and have well-earned their title of man’s best friend. They are often inextricably woven into our lives, yet when many people get older, they may find themselves with no access to this important friendship. Therapy dogs can help fill this void to some extent.
Pam Booras of Unleashed Potential in Ottawa is a dog trainer and behaviorist specializing in therapy dogs. She visited the PCCC on Feb. 23 with Tillie, one of her three rescued Cavalier King Charles Spaniels who is a certified therapy dog, and of course, a very good girl.
After an introduction and description of what therapy dogs do; how they differ from service dogs; and how they’re certified; Tillie and Pam provided a more direct example of what they do by moving their way through the room and making new friends who shared the stories of the dogs they had once owned.
“Programs like this are good because it increases people’s awareness of these dogs, and it’s good for the people here to see a dog again. It helps them share their stories, and it brings back good memories,” said PCCC site manager Shauna Greenwood, who laughed as she received a few licks on the nose as Tillie lay on her lap.
Booras regularly visits several area nursing homes and hospitals, including the emergency rooms and intensive care units, and she was quick to explain why a visit from a friendly, calm dog can be of greater assistance than one might think.
“It gets people’s minds off of why they’re there and helps put them in a different place temporarily. It’s a reprieve that brightens up their day,” Booras said.
She also said staff members of the places she visits are just as enthusiastic about spending a bit of time with Tillie to reduce their own stress and are often first in line. She said more and more places are beginning to develop their own therapy dog programs as knowledge of their benefits become more widely known.
“It’s very rewarding because of how happy the dogs make people, and I love to share that,” Booras said.
To be tested and certified, dogs must be at least a year old, pass behavioral tests and yearly health inspections, make a certain amount of visits per year, and most importantly, they “need to love people, all people, of all ages and types — everyone,” Booras added.
Marsha Tock, who was at the PCCC that day to learn about and meet Booras and Tillie, explained simply and perfectly what she enjoyed about it.
“I just love dogs,” said Tock, happily.