by Lee Juslin
Karan was a cat person. She had no real dog experience, and she traveled a lot so a dog seemed out of the question.
However, when Karan retired, she thought a dog would provide protection and another dimension to her life. She knew she wanted a medium sized or larger dog but two things she absolutely didn’t want was drooling and lots of shedding. Research led to a breeder who had crossed a Poodle with a Golden retriever, hence no shedding or drooling and high potential for a people-friendly, smart dog. Karan had always liked the Golden Retriever personality.
Karan got Nick, a first generation Goldendoodle. From the start, she was impressed with Nick’s wonderful, friendly personality and her intelligence. Karan had heard about and read about pet therapy and began to think that Nick might be a good candidate.
Karan worked with Nick who proved to be smart and fairly easy to train. When they were ready, she applied to Therapy Dogs International. Nick passed the difficult test with flying colors. Today, at eight, Nick is a veteran of pet therapy and regularly participates in the Tail Wagging Tutor Program sponsored by a local public library in Fresno County. “From the beginning, Nick loved kids,” said Karan, “so I knew this program would be a perfect fit.” In addition, Karan herself had retired after thirty years as a reading specialist so it was a good fit for her, too.
The Tail Wagging Tutor Program is designed to help kids who are reading below grade level. “Reading aloud is a great way to practice and improve reading skills, but lots of kids don’t want to do it at home or in a traditional school setting because they are shy or embarrassed. Reading to a dog like Nick is relaxing for the kids and helps them improve their skills without pressure and at their own speed.”
Nick was the first read-to dog in the area. “At the time, there was no local chapter, but over the years we’ve formed a chapter and other therapy pet teams have joined us in the program,” continued Karan. Nick has done some amazing things in the reading program. One day, a boy came in with his mom along with his mentally and physically challenged brother. While Nick was lying calmly listening to the older brother read, the younger one grabbed a fist full of Nick’s fur and pulled. “I knew it had to be painful, and I grabbed her collar because I didn’t know what to expect. But Nick, bless her heart, remained calm. In fact, she looked at the little boy and began to wag her tail. After the mom pried the boy’s hand loose, Nick leaned over and gave him a gentle kiss on his hand. She’s not supposed to lick or kiss on a therapy visit, but this was a special occasion.”
Nick also serves as an ambassador for therapy pets by making appearances at craft fairs and other public gatherings. In fact, Karan says that their local therapy pet group has more requests than they can handle. There are about 50 teams in the group, but not all of them are active. The chapter could use more qualified, therapy pet teams to help them handle the large number of requests for therapy visits that come into the chapter.
Passing the test to join Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is not easy, and a dog is only allowed two tries at the test before being permanently disqualified. For this reason, the chapter offers orientation evenings and practice tests to help more dogs and their handlers become qualified.
Karan has also become more deeply involved by getting certified as a TDI evaluator. She is quick to stress that therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. They can not be taken into restaurants and other places where all but true service dogs are banned. “Nevertheless, seeing the smiles and hearing the happy giggles as the children read to Nick and the other therapy dogs, I know we are providing a priceless service.”
Editor’s note: Nick has also been seen on stage in local theatre productions–you can learn more in KRL’s local actor profile of Karan.
You can find more animal rescue, therapy animal, and other pet related articles in our pet section.