Pet therapy program brings comfort to so many |

Pet therapy program brings comfort to so many

Heidi Rice
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO
Kelley Cox Citizen Telegram

RIFLE – “You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running…to see you again.”

Those are the lyrics to the 1970s James Taylor tune “You’ve Got a Friend,” but they also apply to the pet therapy program sponsored by the Grand River Hospital District which allows pets to connect with people by providing comfort and friendship.

Four dogs and their pet owners, along with instructor Sandy Sekeres of Rifle, gathered recently in the front yard of the E. Dene Moore Nursing Home to go through some training which will enable the pooches to become certified therapy dogs.

Terrah, a 3 -year-old female Siberian Husky, was brought in by her owner, Karla James, of New Castle.

“I wanted to see what this therapy was all about,” James said. “(Terrah) is very well-behaved and I thought she had the temperament for it. She loves people.”

Sophia is a 3-year-old Boston Terrier who was being given away at Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs before she was rescued by owner Dean Daringer of Rifle.

“My wife works in a nursing home and (Sophia) has been in a nursing home before,” Daringer said. “She loves people.”

The instructor of the class, Sandy Sekeres of Rifle, instructs the class with her three-year-old Golden Retriever, “Rifle,” who is a certified therapy dog. Sekeres and Rifle are well-versed in therapy sessions having worked at the Rifle Branch Library in the “Paws 2 Read” program along with visiting patients at Grand River Hospital, working at the Valley Veterinary Clinic, local schools and assisted living homes.

On this morning, prior to the hands-on training, Sekeres informs each of the dog owners that there is a manual they must also read before taking the written test.

“You must think about why you want to do therapy work, where does your dog fit in and where do you fit in?” Sekeres suggests.

Ideally, therapy dogs should enjoy being petted, be friendly when approached by strangers, be confident and not be aggressive or shy.

“You want them to be non-aggressive, predictable and reliable,” Sekeres said. “They should show a relaxed and friendly wagging tail with a soft-back body and a relaxed face.”

Therapy dogs are different than service dogs in that therapy dogs must be invited to a place, such as a hospital, whereas service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their owners go.

Still, therapy dogs are just as valuable in adding to the quality of a person’s life, whether it’s the wag of a tail or a lick on the hand.

“Therapy dogs make a positive difference in a person’s life,” Sekeres said with a smile. “Sometimes we go into a nursing home and the person has their eyes closed and they start to pet (the animal) and start to cry because they remember their pet. It makes a difference.”

The dogs at this training are learning to sit and “go down” along with walking nicely on a leash.

Several residents from the nursing home, most in wheelchairs, come out to watch the training and pet the pooches who range from medium-sized dogs to small lap-sized pugs.

“The residents enjoy watching the dogs and this class is really a first-time pilot,” sad Kaaren Peck, manager of volunteer services at Grand River Hospital District. “Sandy and a few other people come one day a week, but we’d like them to come five days a week. But they have to go through testing and this class gets them in the right direction. They’re not allowed in the hospital until they’re certified.”

Ruthie Swanson, a resident at the E. Dene Moore Nursing Home, remembers that a friend of hers had a dog that she became attached to. Joan Bartels, another resident, wanted to look at the pugs, which she says her son-in-law has.

Whatever the reason, the dogs seems to bring comfort to the people they visit.

Sometimes the dogs just sit with the patients. If they’re lap-sized, sometimes they get up on the bed and just let the patient pet them. The bottom line being that they bring unconditional love to those who want or need it.

Kind of like James Taylor’s song.

“Winter, spring, summer or fall…all you’ve got to do is call. Lord I’ll be there…You’ve got a friend.”

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