Riley Finds His Calling: A Therapy Dog Profile

Dec 5, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

When Toni got Riley from a Westie rescue, she had been looking for a companion dog but, with her hectic work schedule, knew she didn’t want a puppy. Riley at eleven months old proved to be even more than she had hoped for.

Riley, who wasn’t completely housebroken, came into Toni’s life during a period of some chaos. Her mother’s health was slipping and she needed to go into an assisted living facility. “So, I flew across the country with this dog I hardly knew,” said Toni. Riley, however, was more than up to the challenge. When it came time to visit at the assisted living home, Riley came into his own. “The people loved him and he loved them. He was calm and gentle; knew just how to behave. At that point, I knew I had a special boy and I began to think about pet provided therapy.”



Toni had already enrolled Riley in a basic obedience class and after completing several levels of obedience training and earning his Canine Good Citizens designation, Toni began to investigate places she and Riley could visit. “I discovered that many facilities did not require certification, only that the dog be well-behaved and up to date on his vaccinations.”

Toni works for a large corporation and has been assigned to a number of their facilities around the country including in CA, AK,VA and TX. In each case, Riley traveled like a pro and even became a kind of celebrity in the Alaskan airport that they flew in and out of often. In fact, when they fly, Riley comes to the airport wearing his therapy vest and practices his skills by greeting passengers as they come into the

Wherever Toni and Riley are posted, she makes sure his bed and favorite chair are ready and waiting for him. They also find places where they can provide Riley’s special therapy. “I believe in giving back to the community, and I know Riley agrees with me.”

Several months ago, Toni and Riley moved to Houston and, while attending a Blessing of the Animals sponsored by the Bellaire United Methodist Church, learned that the church had a therapy dog program. In talking to a church representative, Toni found out that the church not only sponsors a therapy dog program called, Faithful Paws, but also runs classes leading to therapy dog certification. Riley was invited to apply. “He’ll have to take a couple of classes, but he looks like a good candidate,” Toni was

At the first class, the instructor saw that Riley was already a well-trained pro and asked him to demonstrate the commands she was teaching. Of course Riley was letter perfect and the instructor told Toni, “He’s all set and doesn’t need any further training, I’ll certify him”.

With therapy dog certification under his belt, Riley and Toni began visiting nursing homes, rehab and hospice facilities, and a kid’s developmental center. At the center, the children would take turns patting Riley and talking to him. One little girl was shy around Riley at first but then grew to enjoy him. However, at that point, she decided Riley was hers and she didn’t want to share him with the other kids. “Since the center’s mission is teaching social skills, we used that as a teachable moment,” said Toni.

Although Toni and Riley maintain a busy visiting schedule, they make sure to have some down time. Riley, when not working, enjoys a good swim. Fortunately, the local dog park maintains a pond for water-loving dogs like

“Riley’s a special boy and I feel so lucky to have him. I believe he came into my life at just the right time. I might never have realized how great a therapy dog he would become if it hadn’t been for those early visits to my mother’s assisted living facility. Volunteering in pet therapy not only satisfies my desire to give back to the community and share a special boy with others, but it’s a great way to make friends and get involved in the community.”

If you would like to learn more about Faithful Paws, visit their website: Faithful Paws

Learn more about Canine Good Citizens here: CGC Test

Want to know how to see your ad like this at the end of an article? Email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] for more info. 10% of all ad sales goes to animal rescue.

Lee Juslin is a free lance copywriter living in North Carolina with her husband, Scott, and her band of misfits: Tarquin, a Wheaten Scottish Terrier, and three handicapped cats. They can be seen on their website: Hampshire Hooligans. She owns I B Dog Gone, a small embroidery business and is the author of the Nurse Frosty books for children and Frosty’s Story: Tales of a Therapy Dog. She supports a number of national and regional terrier rescue organizations.


  1. Lee is certainly one to know the joy that having a Therapy dog can bring – not only to the people they visit, but to the handler as well. Her Scottish Terrier Nurse Frosty was a familiar site in many facilities here and brought joy to everyone who knew her. This little Westie is not only a tribute to Therapy Dog programs – but to the abilities and versatility of the Terrier Group. Great story!

  2. What a terrific story. Thank you for sharing Riley and Toni and their story with us.

  3. Ozzie is inspired!

  4. Great article, Toni! Dekta Jct and Pike’s Waterfront Lodge misses Riley! We miss you, too!

  5. That dog looks like such a sweetie! My grandmother loved having a small dog to snuggle with. She had ALS and really struggled with muscle degeneration, so having a small dog was amazing for her. Now the assisted living facility has adopted one that roams freely through the halls.


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