by Lee Juslin
When Julie lost her beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Keiko, she not only lost her best friend but she also lost a big part of her life. Keiko was a certified therapy dog. She and Julie had spent a lot of years visiting hospitals and participating in events to highlight pet therapy. Now Julie found herself on the outside looking in at what had been an important part of her life.
Within ten weeks, Julie added Joy and Happy, two little Yorkie puppies who would prove to live up to their names, to her family. “Of course we couldn’t get into therapy visits right away,” said Julie, “but I did begin training in basic obedience with the puppies as soon as I could. I wanted to be ready when they turned one.” Therapy dogs must be at least a year old to be certified and to do therapy visits.
The Boyz, as Julie calls them, turned out to be good students. They went through obedience classes and easily earned their CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certificates. Because Julie now had two Yorkies and most therapy organizations require that therapy visits be limited to one dog per handler, Julie opted for the therapy dog program at Scripps Hospital in LaJolla. She had done visits at the hospital previously with Keiko so she had contacts there. The hospital has its own therapy dog evaluation, and Julie and the Boyz easily qualified. The only problem was some sort of therapy vests to identify the dogs as part of the hospital’s program. Most national pet therapy organizations provide vests or scarves but the hospital did not. With The Boyz weighing only five and seven pounds, size was a problem. Luckily, Julie found a web site offering appropriate vests and was able to purchase two in size quadruple extra small.
At Scripps LaJolla, Julie and The Boyz visit cancer and heart patients and they also spend time cheering up nurses and staff. “Sometimes,” said Julie, “the workers on the wards need some special attention from The Boyz almost as much as the patients.”
Julie and The Boyz visit families in the waiting rooms, too. “Often we come in and you can feel the stress just permeating the entire waiting room. But, when the family members see The Boyz they smile and laugh, and I can feel the level of stress going down. I tuck one boy under each arm and we make the rounds. Since most therapy dogs are medium and large breeds, the Boyz petite size seems to draw people to them.”
Now, at almost four years old The Boyz are veterans and have been recognized by the hospital during Volunteer Week with special pins for one hundred and fifty hours of service. Julie has future plans to expand their pet therapy work. She wants to re-join Love on a Leash which is the national pet therapy organization she and Keiko belonged to. Membership in LOAL will not only allow her to visit outside of Scripts but will also give Julie and The Boyz opportunities to promote pet therapy by participating in fairs and other events with LOAL as she did with Keiko. However, since LOAL limits therapy teams to one dog and one handler, Julie is hoping to get her husband involved so she won’t have to choose which of The Boyz to leave at home.
“There are days when I still miss my Keiko,” said Julie, “but Happy and Joy never let me feel sad for long. It just feels so good to be back.”
Read more animal related articles by Lee here in KRL.