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THERAPY

AKC provides a plethora of information available to assist owners in training and certifying / registering their pets to perform therapy dog work. A therapy dog is NOT to be confused with a service animal (a dog specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability). Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and companionship and to help alleviate anxiety to persons in numerous settings, such as hospitals, rehab centers & long term care facilities, hospices, airports, libraries, etc. Use the link below to access all you need to know to get started in this amazing activity, then read further to meet a therapy dog and learn how he made a heart warming impact in his work.

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Pet Therapy Profile - Meet Mac and P.O.

 

Mac

We had recently lost a 6-½ year old blue belton girl to cancer. An acquaintance from upstate NY of our regular breeder heard of our loss. She had the half brother of one of our setters. He was just shy of a year and had been with her since birth, after his initial placement fell through.  We drove from NC and met in Syracuse. It was 50 degrees below zero with wind chill factors. We met in a parking lot. When we saw Mac, we were shocked at the condition of his crate (filthy) and his frantic demeanor. It turned out to be a rescue situation. He immediately bonded with me, almost intuitively knowing he was going home, for the first time ever. Mac was so dirty that despite the weather, we had to begin our drive home with windows rolled down. The “breeder” told us he had lived in a crate on her porch, but had brief yard privileges two times daily, weather permitting. He had no training and no socialization other than that. We took him to the vet right after getting home to find out that in addition to being underweight, he had bilateral ear infections and two kinds of parasites. We had to shave his entire body because he was so matted, we could not get a comb through him. While Mac was comfortable with me, he was skittish around my husband initially. We had previously registered a setter with the Pet Partners (formerly Delta) program so followed the same training regimen to socialize and prepare this young boy for life outside of a crate. We have often said he is our most grateful setter. He loves being around people and other dogs. It seemed a good fit to try him as a therapy dog.

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P.O.

Shortly after Mac came home, we tragically lost his half brother in an accident. Andy had been a regular visitor to the NC State Veterans Home in Black Mountain. P.O. (Pinckney Wilson) was a vet at the home we used to visit. He loved dogs and specifically had an affinity to English Setters, because he had one in his childhood named Danny. Once Mac was cleared by our vet and finished his training, we were invited to bring him to the Vet Home to continue the work Andy had started. While Andy was technically good, Mac flourished. He is more outgoing and quickly became a legend at the Home!! Not only were the vets happy to see him (“Here Bird Dog!!”), staff used to come out of their offices to pet him and say hello. Our normal interactions were a few minutes with each resident. Some we met casually in the hallways or open areas, others we met by going to their rooms, as requested. P.O. met Mac, and things changed! He had asked his daughters to buy him special dog treats to have in his room. He started a ritual with Mac that became their special routine.

 

First Mac had to sit, then he had to jump up on P.O. (in his wheelchair) and give him a good ol’ canine hug, then P.O. would put a treat in his mouth and Mac would have to “kiss him” to get it. [NOTE: This is NOT allowed per registered pet therapy rules. Mac was not registered and only allowed to do this with P.O. Interestingly, he never tried it with any other staff or resident, intuitively knowing this was special.] Our brief visits turned into 20-30 minutes. After Mac earned all his treats, he would rest on P.O.’s lap. I would then visit, all the while P.O. petting and loving on Mac. Oh, the fun we had and the stories he would tell. We shared special confidences. He told me about his Navy career, his subsequent GI bill education, family, career and finally, how he came to be at the Home just a few years earlier after a freak accident left him paralyzed. P.O. was a strapping guy who had many passions, chief among them his family, dog Bailey and being a longtime member in a local motorcycle club.

 

While he never complained, he did share his challenges about wheelchair confinement and his loss of independence. We had a pact that our conversations were between us and Mac, and a very special bond was formed. Each week, on arrival, I learned that Mac and I had to go directly to P.O.’s room first. As soon as I signed in at the front, he would pull me out of the lobby, to the right, down a hall, then left to another hall, another short left and we were at P.O.’s room. If I tried to visit with other staff or residents before we completed our time with P.O., Mac would be restless. After our visit with P.O., he knew the treats were done and could focus on his work!

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COVID hit and we could no longer visit inside. At first, we were allowed to be outside so that P.O. could use his grabber tool to give Mac his treats. Then concern over airborne particles, even when outside, resulted in visits through glass doors only. P.O. would sit inside with his cell phone so we could talk and Mac would sit by the door. It was frustrating for both Mac and P.O. but both were glad to be able to see each other.

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I knew P.O. had been seeing an oncologist so was not completely surprised when I got a call from The Home asking if I could bring Mac for compassionate care visits. They were requested by P.O.’s daughters. We were only too happy to comply. We were not allowed to visit any other residents due to COVID precautions and had to wear the mandated protective gear provided. We could come once a week on Thursdays for a short time only. P.O. would save up his strength for those visits and have his nurse arrange him on his bed to allow Mac to climb on up and love on him. The treats continued. One week we changed our visit to Wednesday and marked it in P.O.’s calendar so he would know when we were coming. Unfortunately, I got a call that morning from one of P.O.’s daughters who told me her father had passed peacefully that morning. She told me she would let me know about his services. When I read the obituary, I was profoundly touched, because the family had mentioned Mac in it and how much his visits meant to P.O. I went to the service and was even more touched to see momentos of P.O. 's visits with Mac displayed along with other photos and family memorabilia. 

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I share this here first and foremost, with permission from P.O.’s family. All the photos I took during our visits were only shared with him and his family. That is a strict policy for privacy reasons when you are working with a therapy dog. When I called and talked with his daughter about the possibility of posting his story here, she and her sister expressed great interest so that people could know the positive impact of therapy dog work. For their dad, it enhanced his life in his last few years. It is their hope that sharing this story will encourage others to pursue this activity so that more may benefit as P.O. did. If you have a story you would like to share, reach out. We would love to help you get the good word out!

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