The Creation of a Therapy Dog Program

Tomorrow we’ll have the final post on the barking Poodle.  Today, we’d like to share a special guest article from longtime Canine Good Citizen evaluator Marilyn Putz, who has been involved with therapy dogs for nearly 25 years.

There are a few things I find especially interesting about the therapy dog program that Marilyn describes.  The longevity of this therapy dog group is unusual — some of the members have been with the group for 23 years.  Also making this group different than most was the fact that it was initiated by a veterinary hospital.  Bravo to Lincolnshire Animal Hospital in Illinois for being so forward-thinking!  Enjoy Marilyn’s story:

When I took the position of pet loss counselor at the Lincolnshire Animal Hospital in Lincolnshire, IL nearly 25 years ago, part of my job involved setting up a pet therapy group.  We started visiting a facility for adults with developmental disabilities.  When I say “we,” I’m referring to the entire staff of 3 veterinarians, several technicians, the desk staff, me, and of course our dogs.

The first facility that we visited was thrilled to have us.  Our visit was a complete success.  The clients loved us and we loved them.  Back then, we really didn’t know what we were doing in the way of visiting — we had no plan, no guidelines.  Some of our dogs did tricks for the clients who were sitting in a circle in the activities room.  We answered their many questions and let them pet our dogs.  We had no certification; we didn’t even know what that was.  This was before the time of well-established therapy dog standards.

Since that day 23 years ago, we’ve come a long way, as has the world of pet therapy work.  We are now a chapter of Therapy Dogs International (TDI Chapter #223) and our group consists of about 30 to 40 members.  Each dog in our group has earned the Canine Good Citizen award.

Each November, I set up our schedule of approximately 50 visits for the coming year.  We visit five nursing homes, a hospital psychiatric unit, three facilities for developmentally disabled adults, and two schools for autistic children.

The Lincolnshire Animal Hospital continues to support us in every way, from sponsoring a summer picnic for members to helping us purchase items such as plastic card holders for our name tags.

We have been fortunate to have been asked to appear on several TV programs in the Chicago area, and to have won several prestigious awards for our work.  I think that I can speak for the entire group when I say that our greatest reward is seeing our dogs bring so much happiness to the people we visit.

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About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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