by Lee Juslin
Rachel knew she wanted to be a vet from early on. Her mother supported her dream by scheduling vet appointments for times when Rachel could go, too, Then, at nineteen, her dream was given a big boost when she landed a job with a vet clinic run by a father/daughter team. Both vets were mentors to Rachel, and she was able to get practical experience in caring for sick animals and even observing surgeries. Not afraid of hard work, Rachel worked full time at the vet hospital and carried a full load of college courses at night. Dreams are worth working hard for.
Rachel had a second dream and that was to train and work with her own therapy dog. As a child her grandmother was very ill, and Rachel would go with her grandfather to visit bringing along the family dog. Seeing how much those visits meant to her grandmother, Rachel began reading and thinking about pet assisted therapy.
Out on her own but feeling a bit lonely, Rachel got her first dog, Amaretto, a little beagle. They began classes in obedience and agility. “I knew Beagles needed lots of training, but I was determined that Amaretto would be my therapy dog”, said Rachel. Unfortunately, where Rachel and Amaretto lived in the Midwest, there didn’t seem to be a therapy pet organization, so this dream was delayed.
When Rachel moved west to join her boyfriend and finish her degree in Bio Chemistry, with the ultimate goal of getting into a vet school, Rachel looked for a therapy pet program. She found Love on a Leash, and she and Amaretto were able to join. They have since also registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc.
Rachel and Amaretto squeeze in therapy visits with Rachel’s busy schedule of grad school and work. Amaretto likes a variety of visits so they go to a local VA Hospital as well as a Paws to Read program at their library. Amaretto enjoys settling in with the various patients at the VA and receiving lots of pats and attention. She seems to sense when some patients need some extra therapy.
At the library, Amaretto is eager for the kids to come and read to her. One little girl looks for Amaretto, and they have developed a bond of trust that includes Amaretto rolling over to let the little girl rub her belly.
Rachel and Amaretto also enjoy visits to a nursing home that is divided into separate buildings. “There is one particular one we never miss because the ladies are always outside looking for us on visiting day. When they spot her coming, their eyes light up and Amaretto’s tail never stops wagging.” She often entertains the ladies with her “paw to hand” trick. This involves Rachel hiding a treat in one fist behind her back, then bringing both hands out in front of her, and asking Amaretto to paw the hand with the treat. Amaretto’s pawing average is very high.
Seeing how enjoyable therapy pet work is, Rachel and her boyfriend have gotten another dog, Athena, and she is just a month away from her therapy dog certification. Athena is a Beagler, part Beagle and part King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. A very laidback breed that is not recognized by the AKC but is registered with the American Hybrid Association, Athena is a quick learner and likes the kids in the library program as well as the senior population in the nursing home, where she is particularly good with Alzheimer patients.
“We’re also going to do something a bit different with Athena and schedule visits to the Cancer Center, because Amaretto is not as comfortable with cancer patients. I’m hoping Athena will be.” With the help of her two partners, Amaretto and Athena, Rachel has realized her dream of doing therapy pet work. Her second dream of becoming a vet is not far behind.
If you would like to learn more about pet assisted therapy, visit Love on a Leash or Therapy Dogs, Inc. You can also Google pet therapy to find more organizations.
You can find more animal rescue, therapy animal, and other pet related articles in our pet section.