My name is Cleo (Cleopatra) and my handler's name is Mark. He will tell you I have a lot of energy! I carry groceries, bring you your shoes, a drink from the refrigerator, throw away garbage and many other things. I am my best with a job. I continually go to school to keep my mind busy.
One day, I was in PetSmart with Mark and I saw a man in a wheelchair. Much to Mark's surprise I strained against the leash and pulled towards this man. Mark corrected me, but the man saw me and reached out his hand. So I was allowed to go to him and I laid my head in his lap. Once again I went against all my classes, climbing gently into his lap and laying my head on his shoulder. I snuggled close to him as he held me in a bear hug with his face buried into my neck. I am really not a kisser (usually reserve for Mark) but I kissed his forehead too. Mark apologized and went to pick me up. The man said, "Please, please let her stay!" Several minutes passed as his wife approached looking very surprised, her husband glanced up at her with tears in his eyes.
As my new friend talked to me, patted me and snuggled me, his wife stepped to the side and told Mark a story. My friend had lost the use of his legs while serving in the military. He had been in his wheelchair now for six months and recovering for a long time prior to that from his injuries. She said since he has returned, he has not smiled or cried and this was the first emotion she has seen from him. She also had tears in her eyes as she thanked us and she patted my head many times. My new friend also talked to Mark, smiled , laughed and thanked him for allowing me to be shared. He said I was special! He said I touched something in him that he needed.
That day, Mark went home and talked to his wife, Denise, because they knew they needed to change my courses a bit for my new "Job"!!!!!!!!!! I was too aware of people's needs to not go where my parents felt like they were being called. I am now a happy, smiling, registered therapy dog! I love my job. I currently am on a schedule at the Duval county courthouse giving support, love and doggy kisses in stressful situations. I also love to go to rehab facilities, schools, hospitals or anywhere I'm needed. Mark will tell you every visit, no matter where we go, warms not only the person's heart we are visiting but ours also! Pet therapy is such a double sided rewarding experience.
Much love and doggy kisses, Cleo🐕❤️ and Mark
For those of you who are interested in Pet Therapy and what it is all about..I can tell you about it from both sides of the story. You see I have been a nurse for 27 years .
A couple of years ago I was introduced to Pet Therapy at work while having a tremendously hectic day and trying to help a patient who was crying multiple times. She was reliving her spouses death over and over everyday like it had just occurred (one of the sad effects her dementia had on her mind ). Her husband had died over a year ago and the sadness in her face was almost emotionally unbearable for me.
Then in came a group of dogs and friendly faces. As I watched, I saw a lady approach this sad woman and place a small dog in her lap. She sat in her wheelchair, not really interested in anything, but within seconds out reached her hand and she began to stroke this small dog's head. I stopped working long enough to watch this interaction between this patient and this small dog and something in my heart stirred. She looked up at me smiled and said "She loves me". This isn't the first time I had seen this group but every time I saw them, I noticed not only did it turn my day around but it made a difference in the patients day as well.
My husband and I had recently welcomed a puppy that we were putting through training. The trainer asked those in the class about their goals for training . My thoughts went back to my experience at work and that's when I knew Pet Therapy was my goal for our puppy. I wanted to share that same kind of love and emotion that I had seen at work when I witnessed that sweet interaction.
After our dog completed her training, I began to inquire how I could become involved in Pet Therapy. Little did I know what a impact it would have on my own life and the joy and hope it could bring to others. Witnessing first hand the incredible instincts a dog holds and watching how they just seem to know what's right with each person they come in contact with.
I'm sure there are many stories that people can share but I'd like to share with you one of my own. I'm fairly new to Pet Therapy as far as being personally involved goes. Its only been six months that Taylei has been registered.
Being in the nursing field I naturally wanted to go into the facility I am familiar with. I thought I knew exactly who would love to see my dog and proceeded with just that mindset. As their nurse, I know each of these patients. One particular patient I know was refusing her medication, refusing her care and would scream at people to "Get Out ". She was basically giving up on life. Knowing that, I didn't think she would have any interest in Taylei or Pet Therapy. I knew her roommate was a huge animal lover so I went to their room with only the intention of visiting one person. As I entered the room the difficult patient called out "Bring her here". So I did. Her face lit up and the smile, the beautiful smile appeared. That was several months ago. And so began a love affair between this patient and Taylei, whom she affectionately calls "Baby ". She often speaks of her even when she's not there with me.
Since our first Pet Therapy visit, this patient has done a 360.. shes taking her meds, shes accepting care. She even began to crochet again and made "baby" a blanket .
She is realizing her life is not over. She has opened up to me about stories of her past, especially about her beloved dogs. Oh and even forced me to eat lunch with her, all while she spoke of how much she loves my Taylei (her baby).
It's not just this one individual story but the many patients that I have seen be positively impacted that make me an advocate for promoting pet therapy and encouraging others to get involved. Why? Because sometimes even if it brings out that one beautiful smile, that, to me as a nurse makes it well worth it. You would be surprised how much it will do for even your own spirit.
To end this story .. I get asked by patients all the time, when can I bring Taylei in again and even was asked to send her picture to one patient via messenger.
Oh for a dogs Love ❤❤
We often get asked for help to get someone's dog trained to become a "therapy dog", when really they are looking for a service animal. Unfortunately, the media isn't always helpful, and often use the wrong terminology. One of the things we aim to do in our education with the public is to help people learn the difference. You will often hear me (and many therapy animal handlers) give the simple explanation:
"A service animal or emotional support animal serves ONLY the handler, a therapy animal serves everyone".
That is really boiled down explanation, but it is an easy way for people to understand that there IS a big difference. When you look into the definition of each of these animals, it starts becoming a little clearer.
The chart below will hopefully help you to understand the differences between the three working animals mentioned above.
A guest entry by our board member, Kathy Burns. Kathy is currently serving as board Secretary, a post she does with impeccable precision and dedication.
We all have our personal reasons for why we embarked on this wonderful adventure called animal-assisted interactions or “pet therapy.”
I had never heard of pet therapy until I served on the board of the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville. They got a resident therapy dog, Anita, a wonderful yellow Labrador Retriever. Anita lived with the executive director and went to work with her every day – literally. Anita knew her job and was good at it. I marveled watching her interact with the families, most of whom returned from the hospital after visiting their sick children looking tired, drawn and worried. But when Anita worked her magic, the physical transformation amazed me. You could see relief wash over them, and the concern and fatigue were replaced with smiles.
A few years later, a couple in my church shared with me a book they had self-published, Angel in Fur. Written in their dog’s “voice,” the book is the recollections of their beloved black Lab Candy’s pet therapy journey. Candy still holds the record for the number of visits at Wolfson Children’s Hospital – 336 in 13 years.
As they say, God works in mysterious ways. My husband Dan and I had lost our little dog a couple years before. While we still grieved for her, we felt we were ready to welcome a new little furry family member into our hearts. And it was then I felt that God was calling me to do pet therapy.
Our little 6-pound Yorkie, Libby, and I are relatively new to this, since we’ve been involved only three years. Just like all of you, I’m sure, we’ve had some amazing experiences. On one of our very first visits, Libby was in the lap of an Alzheimer’s patient. The patient was smiling, petting Libby and talking to her. It was only at the end of the visit that the activities director said she nearly cried watching the interaction because that patient didn’t talk. Then there was the little boy – a cancer patient – who had had a few really bad days. But when Libby gave him a “high-5,” his smile lit up the entire room! Another cancer patient, a teenage girl from China, spoke not a word of English. Libby curled up next to her in bed. And as I watched the girl petting Libby, smiling and looking into Libby’s eyes – and Libby looking into hers – I realized there was no language barrier between them.
It’s all about the smiles!
As I was embarking on this journey, I did a lot of research and quickly learned there is no “owner’s manual” for pet therapy. I did a lot of fumbling around initially and, with God’s help, managed to find my way.
That’s why Therapy Animal Coalition is so sorely needed and why I’m so delighted and excited to be part of such a dynamic and visionary organization. Whether you’re just starting out, are an experienced team or a facility or organization that wants to launch a program, TAC has the resources to help you share the healing love of pets.
It started with a connection. In fall 2012, I reached out to a therapy animal program director named Lori Coleman at Clay Humane. She and I immediately hit it off, as we were both building therapy animal programs and had many of the same values. Through the years in my work with Mayo Clinic's Caring Canine program, I met several others passionate about pet therapy. One thing that stood out to me was the fact that we all came from different backgrounds and experience levels, but we all had one thing in common: we wanted to grow the therapy animal community and reach more people with the healing love of pets.
So we started meeting together on a regular basis with an idea. An Expo. One afternoon of sharing our collective knowledge with others who might like to learn about this growing phenomenon called pet therapy. Within 4 or 5 months, we hosted the first Therapy Animal Expo under the name Northeast Florida Therapy Animals. I won't lie, it was a lot of work. And after that amazing October day, we didn't talk to each other much until after the new year. But by then, we were all missing the excitement of sharing our passion and we decided to go BIG.
We simplified our name and became an official nonprofit called Therapy Animal Coalition, Inc. A new chapter was born and we are furiously planning the next Therapy Animal Expo. But that's not all, we have a lot of great things planned. The first of which is our kick off Speaker Series event on May 16th at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital.
This website is going to get a huge overhaul to be more productive in moving our mission forward. We have so many exciting things in store for the future of our little organization. We hope that you will partner with us to unify the therapy animal community in our area and get more teams registered and volunteering.
Stay tuned for more announcements, including some guest authors on this blog. We are happy to have you along for the ride. Thanks for your support!!