One of the critters that lives with us here on the “Hill,” is our 5 year old yellow lab, Bella. Now her name wasn’t always Bella…in fact her original name was Beretta which we later changed. We found Bella at the Washington County Humane Society when she was just 6 months old. I fell in LOVE that day….
She is a registered ( with papers) full blooded yellow lab….and she is a sweetie. Bella and I are a certified Pet Partners Team which means she is a certified therapy dog and I am her “handler.” We work weekly at a Nursing Home and at our local school. Because she wears a vest, it’s easy to get her confused with being a “service dog,” who works to help people and shouldn’t be disturbed while working. Bella is a “therapy dog” and I encourage people to touch her, snuggle with her, hug her, and just interact with her.
In the nursing home we work with memory care patients and seniors who are in the senior apartments. She visits them and gives them big slurps, she does tricks and just likes to make them happy! The residents often pause to tell me about a dog that they once had but many just simply enjoy feeling her soft ears and receiving gentle kisses.
We have recently begun working at our local school. While it took some patience and a little convincing for some, we are now working with students weekly, and Bella is enjoying her time with her new friends.
Here are some common questions that I am asked about Bella and the Therapy dog program.
How did you get interested in Therapy Dog work??
I had food poisoning a year and a half ago. I spent most of my days in bed and/or in the bathroom. Bella knew something wasn’t right with me. The days when I was the sickest, she would crawl up in bed and lay by my side, the whole day. (Keep in mind she was never allowed on our bed!) She accompanied me to the bathroom for my numerous trips, just being there for me. She even burst into my room at midnight one night and jumped up on the bed to check on me. It was amazing that she sensed something was wrong and did her best to see me through it. I realized then not only was she just a sweet dog, but she truly had a gift for sensing stress, problems and illness.
What training did you have to become certified?
We started taking Bella to basic obedience classes as a 6 month old pup. We had a bit of a break, but then continued with a more advanced training class called the AKC Good Citizen Class when she was 3 years old. By passing the Good Citizen Class, the dog earns the title and is rewarded for being a good citizen in the home and in the community. The next and hardest part of being certified is actually taking a Pet Partners course which trains and screens volunteers and their pets to visit nursing homes, schools and hospitals. After the training, the Pet Partner team is tested to see how the handler interprets and manages their animal’s behavior and how well the animal responds to the handler.
How does Bella help students at the school?
This year in particular our school had a bunch of new students enter through the doors. Many of these students knew no one….Bella was there to help the students transition to our school. She met with a few of them that were struggling to make friends. Those students suddenly had something to look forward to at school. Students have read a book or a story to Bella to practice their reading….she loves to listen, and never makes a comment about skipping a word, etc. She has gotten a treat from students who could spell their weekly spelling words correctly. Some students with special needs have brushed Bella to work on their fine motor skills. The possibilities are ENDLESS!! I guess all in all, she is making many people smile each day that she is there….
Working as a Therapy Dog is pretty special….but when she’s home, she’s just a normal, happy dog!!