Therapy Dogs bring comfort and cheer
With her sunny disposition, Gail Bliss’ 7-year-old Golden Retriever, Libby, inspires smiles when she visits cancer patients, assisted living residents and patients in substance abuse treatment programs each week.
Bliss, of Brighton, decided to get Libby involved in pet therapy not long after retiring from her job managing a dental office nine years ago.
“For Libby and I, that’s what we do,” she said. “I have a purpose, and it is a very worthwhile purpose I feel we both enjoy. I have found it to be really rewarding. When we visited the cancer center, some of the patients couldn’t believe that there was a dog there. We made some patients happy and that’s the name of the game.”
Bliss is just one of a handful of Livingston County residents who walk the halls of assisted living centers and hospitals, looking to bring some comfort and cheer each week. Several dog owners volunteer with the county’s branch of the Detroit-based, Pet-A-Pet Club. The group started in 1986 and is dedicated to helping volunteers visit area nursing homes with their pets.
In Livingston County, the group visits the Caretel Inn and Independence Village in Brighton and Medilodge in Howell. Bliss goes along with the group for some of the visits, but has also made other arrangements for Libby to visit facilities such as the St. Joseph Mercy Woodland Cancer Center and Brighton Hospital. They make twice a week visits to the cancer center. Libby will stop by to nuzzle a chemotherapy patient or offer comfort in the waiting area.
Dog trainer Linda Nichols, of Howell, said pet therapy offers people a new way to work with their pet while serving the community.
“A dog owner is usually a nurturing person in the first place,” said Nichols. “They want to carry that into something where they can help others. They feel good about it and they can see the smile on the face of the person that is interacting with their dog. So it makes them proud of their dog.”
Nichols, owner of Fido Fundamentals, in Howell, offers intermediate and advanced training sessions to pet owners who want to train their dogs for therapy work. She also offers Canine Good Citizen testing for people who would like to know if their dog is a good candidate for therapy work.
“Some dogs are a really good at reading people, they know that they have to be more careful or gentle with some and they are much more suited for it than others,” Nichols said.
The best therapy dogs are those that have been exposed to many new situations.
“One of the important things about a therapy dog is that they have to be able to be introduced to many different types of people many different types of smells and sounds and surfaces,” Nichols said. “They have to be will adjusted and not be overly anxious about those things or they won’t make good therapy dogs.”