by Lee Juslin
At the end of this article is a chance to win a copy of Frosty’s Story. Tails of a Therapy Dog.
While most senior facilities have always welcomed well-behaved dogs for family visits, over the last few decades pet visits have come to encompass a more structured program of pet assisted therapy involving strict standards for training and behavior.Therapy pets are now certified through a number of national and regional therapy pet organizations. Even the American Kennel Club, which had already established dog behavioral standards through its Canine Good Citizen certification, has recently established a program to recognize registered therapy dogs.
Therapy dogs, along with rarer therapy pets like cats, bunnies, and birds, visit senior facilities, programs for children with reading difficulties, wounded soldiers, hospice patients and more. My Scottish Terrier therapy dog, Frosty, and I have visited hospitals and senior facilities for nearly ten years. Over the years we have met a number of interesting folks and had both funny and sad experiences. Recently I compiled our adventures into a book: Frosty’s Story. Tails of a Therapy Dog.
Frosty and I began our career visiting in our local hospital. The therapy pet program was new, and we were the inaugural therapy dog team. We visited twice a week in two different wards, and we usually saw different people each week. As we became known, we began to get requests to visit specific patients. Perhaps that’s why at Halloween Frosty was invited to be the Grand Marshall for the children’s parade held in the exercise facility that also housed the hospital’s day care. A friend made Frosty a nurse’s outfit complete with starched cap and, when the big day came, she marched along at the head of a line of monsters, witches, and princesses past people exercising on various equipment and in classes. People waved and cheered—just like a real parade—and Frosty thoroughly enjoyed all the attention.
When we relocated to the south from New England, we started visiting in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Seeing the residents from week to week, we formed friendships and were treated like members of the family. Miss Elizabeth was one of our favorite visits.
Miss Elizabeth, a widow who had raised seven children and worked with her husband on their farm, was quite a character. Although her experience with animals was not with a pampered pet like Frosty, she and Frosty soon became fast friends. In fact, on occasions when we arrived and found a family member visiting, there was no need for introductions.
As one of her daughters said upon meeting us: “Oh yes, this is Frosty. We know all about Frosty.”
One day when we arrived, Miss Elizabeth was quite agitated and told us that a squirrel kept getting into the bird feeder outside her window. In desperation, she had played her tape of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” with the volume turned up thumping on the window in time to the music. Unfortunately, that was not a permanent fix for the squirrel and while we were talking, he reappeared and jumped up onto the feeder.
“There’s that squirrel,” Miss Elizabeth said. Frosty heard “squirrel,” creatures she hated, and went into action. She rose up on her hind legs, put her front feet on the table by the window, and gave one loud bark.
Miss Elizabeth was gleeful as she patted Frosty and said, “Good Dog!” over and over.
The story of Frosty routing the squirrel spread through the home and to Miss Elizabeth’s family. For weeks Miss Elizabeth talked about Frosty chasing the squirrel and proudly declared her feeder “squirrel free.” Even a year later, she was still laughing about the incident.
To enter to win a copy of Frosty’s Story, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Frosty”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 28, 2012. U.S. residents only.