Archive for January 21, 2011

Good Dog News: Pet Therapy Changes Lives, Including Our Own

Marilyn and her daughter, Brittany, raise and train puppies for Canine Companions for Independence, a non profit organization that provides service dogs to fill a variety of needs.

Brutus, a lab mix, came to Marilyn as part of the Canine Companions program but when it was discovered that he had IBS and atypical Addison’s disease, he was not able to continue the training to become a service dog. At that point, Marilyn decided to keep the sweet natured pup and find a job that he could do.

A physical therapist, Marilyn began taking the eighty-five pound puppy to work with her. When I have patients recovering from strokes who have a weakness on one side, it’s great physical therapy for them to brush Brutus or even lean on him for balance as they walk. And, he’s just so laid back and gentle, that he eases patients’ anxieties and makes physical therapy enjoyable.

Seeing how well Brutus did with her physical therapy patients, Marilyn looked into pet assisted therapy, thinking that this would be the perfect job for him. Now, at seventeen months, Brutus has been certified by Love on a Leash as well as the Delta Society. And, since his Delta Society certification is the highest level, Brutus can visit anywhere therapy dogs are welcomed.

Currently Marilyn and Brutus or Brittany and Brutus visit a local VA hospital as well as nursing homes, a senior center, and NOAH Homes which are facilities for mentally disabled adults. Even though he’s a big boy, everyone loves him, and he loves visiting people. One lady at a senior facility we visit is very anxious and cries a lot, but when Brutus comes in she is all smiles and even laughs a bit. And, it never fails to amaze me how they remember his name, even in the Alzheimer wing, though they don’t remember my name. Clearly he makes a bigger impression on them.

Brutus is a people-loving dog, but he is especially fond of children. Recently he was able to win over a disabled girl who was deathly afraid of dogs. Even though she had kept away from the other therapy dogs, she was drawn to Brutus and came over and sat by him, amazing the staff. This experience convinced Marilyn that she and Brutus need to increase his visits with children. They have already begun visiting at a library reading program and plan to seek out residential homes for children as well as facilities for mentally handicapped youngsters.

Brutus, despite his health problems, maintains a busy schedule, and Marilyn hopes that with medication and regular monitoring, he will have a long career as a therapy dog. He’s just such a big love and, though I’ve never had a therapy pet before, this is obviously Brutus’ calling. Anyone who chooses to get involved in pet therapy will discover what Brittany and I have and that is that we think we’re bringing something special to those we visit, which of course we are, but, as it turns out, we, ourselves, get so much out of it as well. Pet therapy changes lives, including our own.

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Have a question for Marilyn: Brutus’ Mom

Meet Lee’s therapy dog: Frosty

Help children understand assisted living and nursing homes with the Nurse Frosty books: Nurse Frosty


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