by Lee Juslin
When Katie Greene was laid off from her IT job, she took it as a sign, a sign that she should pursue pet therapy with her rescue dog, Suki.
Katie had a degree in music therapy and Suki was the most laidback people-loving dog in the universe—at least to Katie. Seemed like a perfect fit, so Katie and Suki, a blend of husky, border collie, and whatever else, began training. After Suki had earned her CGC (Canine Good Citizen), the duo applied for membership in Love on a Leash (LOAL), a national therapy pet organization. Soon Suki and Katie were happily visiting at ARC of San Diego, a facility for disabled adults, a senior activity center, and the area VA hospital.
Visiting at the ARC had a special meaning for Katie as she had had a disabled child who had since passed away. Here were people with extreme motor skill limitations that made Suki’s trick of giving kisses on command especially important. “Many of the ARC residents simply couldn’t pat Suki but they obviously wanted to touch her,” said Katie. “I would have them hold a hand close to Suki and when I said: ‘Kiss, Suki’, she would gently give the hand a lick. We were then rewarded with the most beautiful smiles in the world.”
In addition to their therapy visits, Katie and Suki joined an exercise group for people and their dogs designed to keep the person and the dog fit. One day in class, Suki was on a thirty foot lead, she reached the end of the lead, and somehow twisted and dislocated her hip. The injury required major surgery and a two month break from therapy visits.
Happily, the six year old Suki has recovered and returned to her therapy work. She was greatly missed at the ARC, where some of the residents were able to relate Suki’s injury to their own health problems, as well as at the senior activity center. And, Suki obviously missed visiting all her friends. “She just loves to visit and gets so excited when we are getting ready to go.”
Because she is part border collie, Suki has strong herding instincts. She tries to herd the other dogs at the dog park as well as some of the other therapy animals. She was particularly interested in a bunny at one of the facilities. Katie made this a training moment, and Suki is no longer distracted by the bunny.
Katie is enjoying full time retirement from her IT job which allows her to focus on her pet therapy work with Suki. She says that if you have the right dog and take the time for proper training, it is a terrific way to give back to others. “Yes, it takes commitment,” she agreed, “but the rewards are so worth it.”
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