by Lee Juslin
Lily, a Golden Retriever, came to Pat as a puppy in 2005. In less than a year, she earned her CGC (Canine Good Citizen) and became certified as a therapy dog.Pat, a dog trainer and evaluator for Love on a Leash (LOAL) therapy dogs, became interested in pet provided therapy when her husband was suffering from cancer. Her dog at the time provided a lot of comfort to her husband and, seeing what the company of their dog did to lift his spirits; she vowed to become active in pet therapy. She started by tagging along on therapy visits with established pet therapy teams. “Things were tough at home,” she said, “but those therapy visits provided me a lot of relief and were all the therapy I needed to cope with my husband’s illness and eventual death.”
Once Lily became certified in pet therapy, she and Pat joined a local therapy group. Soon Pat decided she wanted a bigger, more active national group, so she and Lily joined LOAL. They belong to a local chapter which boasts 38 teams. Although Pat and Lily have visited with wounded warriors and in other adult groups, Lily’s specialty is children. She and Pat participate in several reading programs where the kids love reading to Lily and Lily loves listening and interacting with the kids. Sometimes Lily even picks the book. Not surprisingly she prefers books about dogs!One of their favorite reading programs is at a local elementary school with third graders. Each child gets fifteen minutes to read to Lily. “The program is very low key,” said Pat. “If the kids stumble over a word, I tell them perhaps Lily doesn’t understand that word and maybe they should explain it to her. If they can’t, they eagerly pick up a dictionary and the child and Lily learn the word together. It not only helps to build vocabulary and reading skills, but it’s such a relaxed atmosphere with no pressure and no intimidation.”
One of Pat’s and Lily’s most memorable students was a little boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He wasn’t a very social little boy, but he took to Lily right away. He would come in with a book that he had picked out especially for Lily and say, “Lily, how about this one?” And, Lily would gently touch the book with her nose. Occasionally, he would point to a word and say, “Now, Lily, this is what that means” and proceed to define the word for her.
“The wonderful thing about third graders is they have lively imaginations and most still believe in Santa. Sometimes they’ll say: ‘Do you think Lily really understands that?’“ It’s a perfect setting for Lily who is a laid back, let’s-not-worry-about-tomorrow kind of gal. She loves to sneak kisses, giving Pat and the children lots of giggles. Lily provides a low stress atmosphere for learning with lots of shared laughter, yet clearly helping kids to bolster their reading skills.
If you would like to learn more about pet provided therapy and LOAL, visit their website: Love on a Leash.