Swiss Shepherd dog smilesJourney With Friends

Written by Christy Almond, originally published August 2014.
We have two busy dogs. Abby is an eight year-old Border Collie/Great Pyrenees mix. Denali (better known as Deni) is a five year-old Great Pyrenees. Both dogs were adopted from shelters. Both of them have jobs and work very hard. They are therapy dogs and they love what they do.

Animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activities have grown in popularity and have gained wide professional acceptance in the past few decades. Animal assisted therapy has proven effective and is becoming a mainstream form of therapy and education. These programs can be therapeutic, educational, or social and recreational. There are many benefits to animal assisted therapy, both physical and psychological. These benefits include increasing range of motion, strengthening hand-eye coordination, improving mobility, increasing self-esteem, developing social skills, encouraging socialization and communication, reducing anxiety, encouraging an attitude of kindness and compassion, improving concentration and focus, and improving the ability to trust. When Abby was three years old and Deni was four months old, they were tested for health, safety, skills and temperament and were accepted into a therapy dog program. They started working with children in a reading program at a library. Reading programs that utilize therapy animals help children improve their reading skills and become more confident readers. Children who struggle with reading are often more willing to interact with an animal than with another person. Animals are non-judgmental and less intimidating and can help make reading a lot more entertaining and engaging. Abby and Deni continue to help children become more confident and enthusiastic about reading by visiting schools and public libraries.Abby and Deni also work with children at local schools and other facilities. They visit with children who have special needs, children who have hearing or vision impairments, and children who have been affected by abuse. Abby and Deni have learned a few words in sign language. They understand “sit”, “down”, “stay”, and “come here”. This is fun for the children who are hearing impaired to be able to communicate with the dogs and have them respond. Since they frequently work with children, Abby and Deni have to be very calm, patient, attentive, tolerant and responsive to instruction. They are well-behaved with other dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, horses, and all other animals. They are accustomed to being petted, hugged and handled (and the occasional attempt to be ridden like a pony) and are not affected by loud noises, exuberance, or increased activity.

Abby and Deni have worked with people in a respite care center for mentally and physically challenged adults, children in hospitals, summer camps, and they regularly visit an assisted living facility. They also teach children about how to care for a dog, responsible pet ownership and the importance of volunteering and giving back to the community.

Most of all, Abby and Deni give unconditional love and acceptance to the people they visit.