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June 2007 Barker


14 May 2007

A few years ago, while I was an Obedience Instructor for the Washington State Obedience Training Club, a friend asked me to consider joining a newly formed Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Team at Overlake Hospital. At the time, Dante, my Tervuren, was a puppy and my Akita, Vic, would not have enjoyed such an adventure. I told her I would reconsider the suggestion when Dante was a bit more mature and further along in his training.

About a year ago, I finally found a few minutes to spare in my week and looked into the requirements for the Animal Assisted Therapy program at Overlake Hospital as administered by the Delta Society. I found the requirements to be quite extensive, but reasonable and very attainable for Dante and myself. He was required to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test (CGC), with a few additional tests required by the Delta Society for certification of a Therapy Dog. Without the Delta Society certification, Dante and I would not be allowed to join the AAT group. Dante had already passed the CGC and the additional tests were easy for him as he is well socialized, has sound temperament, and really enjoys people and attention.

The hardest thing that I had to teach Dante was to be quiet, Tervurens are “natural talkers”, and that Purell covered hands were the norm. Dante passed all of his tests and I passed all of mine over a period of several months. Delta Society issued Dante an identification card, complete with his name and picture, and Overlake Hospital issued him another one that identified him as a member of the hospital staff. He is required to wear his identification cards at all times when he is in the hospital, just as I am, and he also wears a bright yellow scarf and red Therapy Dog jacket for ease of identification. His jacket also bears the Sammamish Kennel Club name and logo.

In the last several months while volunteering our time at the hospital, we have met some really outstanding people on the Overlake staff and patients in the hospital. Dante has responded in a very positive manner to the staff and patients and is a very different dog than the one that I see at home or in the AKC Breed, Obedience and Agility rings. He seems to know who needs to touch him and who does not. He is warm and friendly to all that he meets whether in the hallways, elevators, reception areas, waiting rooms, patient rooms, or the parking lot. I have seen people replace worry with smiles as he approaches them with his open, happy face and freely wagging tail. In theory, it is easy to understand why hospitals would welcome our dogs; in practice it is even easier.

If you looking for a fun activity in which your dog is included, please consider becoming a member of an AAT group. AAT groups have been established through the Delta Society at many of the local hospitals and nursing facilities and are invaluable to staff and patients alike. After you have completed their training program, many of the facilities allow you to set your own hours and select the areas which you would like to visit. There are also other programs, such as Reading With Rover, that would love to have you work with them. Julia Johns participates in a reading program with one of her Cavaliers at her
middle school and is also a volunteer at Overlake Hospital, along with Verlynn.

If you are interested in more information about the Delta Society and the Animal Assisted Therapy programs, please contact Verlynn or myself. At first, I was not sure that I really needed one more “dog activity” in my life, but after seeing the changes that occur in people at Overlake Hospital when they meet Dante I do not regret even one minute that we spend there, not does Dante.

Dee Carlson
President – Sammamish Kennel Club

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