Pet Therapy for Grieving Children

Jan 12, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

When Deb got her Maltese puppy, Kalia, whose name in Greek means good and beautiful, she was determined that the little pup would follow in the paw steps of her previous Maltese, Simka, as a therapy dog.

Deb, a martial arts teacher, began Kalia’s training by taking her to work where it became immediately evident that Kalia loved children. Next Deb and Kalia, at four months old, followed experienced therapy dogs on their rounds during hospice visits. Deb and Simka had visited in hospitals and hospice facilities, and Deb was hoping to do the same with Kalia. But, how to capitalize on Kalia’s love of children.


Kalia easily passed obedience training and earned her CGC so that by the time she was a year old she was ready to become a certified therapy dog. Deb and Kalia, as members of Love on a Leash, began therapy visits on their own, and Kalia soon developed a rather unlikely friendship with Devlin, a Doberman Pinscher and also a certified therapy dog and member of Love on a Leash. (See Devil of a Therapy Dog). A Mutt and Jeff duo for sure!

Deb and Kalia visited in hospice and also Kennewick Hospital where it takes six months for therapy dogs to be cleared for pediatric visits.

But Deb, still thinking about Kalia’s special love for children, wanted to extend Kalia’s therapy visits to include more children. Then, through hospice, she learned about Cork’s Place, a facility aimed at helping children ages three through eighteen who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The facility did not have a therapy pet program, but Deb was able to work with them to start one.

Cork’s Place provides a nonjudgmental environment where the children can express feelings more openly than they perhaps can at home. The program is divided into groups according to age, and a small group of therapy dog teams, including Kalia’s best friend, Devlin, visit the facility twice per month. At Cork’s Place, the therapy dog teams wait in the lobby for the kids to arrive. They greet the children and meet any new participants. Then, the group of kids meets in something called the Circle Room.

Cork's Place

Here, they sit in a circle and talk with each other and counselors while most of the dogs move around the circle cuddling here, giving kisses there, and generally offering comfort. Kalia, being the smallest of the dogs, sits on Deb’s lap and children come up to pat her and talk to her. Since the children at Cork’s Place are allowed to express themselves freely, the atmosphere can be loud, even unruly, but Kalia is patient and has proved to be a calming influence on the more active kids. It must be true that good things come in small packages, because Kalia kisses, given gently, are much prized by the children.

Read more animal related articles by Lee here in KRL.

Lee Juslin a graduate of Bucknell University with a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is a freelance copywriter who lives in NC. Until recently, she was active in pet therapy with her certified therapy dog, Frosty, and owns I B Dog Gone, an embroidery business dedicated to supporting several terrier rescue organizations.


  1. Another heartwarming article. Love reading these.

    Thanks Lee.

  2. I so look forward to Lee’s stories — wonderful, uplifting, and always thoughtfully prepared.

  3. Therapy Dogs are a wonderful resource…I truly believe we have only begun to tap into all the things that dogs can do, and I loved this story.
    If you are interested in your dog becoming a therapy dog, please visit the website of the local chapter of Therapy Dogs, International.
    My dog Nick, who has been featured in Kings River Life, has been a therapy dog in Fresno for six years.

    • Congratulations, Karan and thank you to you and Nick.
      I lost my therapy dog, Frosty, in March. We were starting our 11th year of therapy work. I am thinking about adopting another pup with the idea of going back into pet provided therapy. I really miss it.


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