'Canine good citizens' ready to help

There are reasons why a dog is called "man's best friend." Dogs along with other pets can help as a form of therapy. Research shows people with pets can live healthier and happier lives.

There are reasons why a dog is called "man's best friend." Dogs along with other pets can help as a form of therapy. Research shows people with pets can live healthier and happier lives.

Local residents Angie Walther, Lynda Hemmerich, Kyle McNally, Julie Raykovich and Maureen Fischer recently graduated from Therapy Dog Training in Bemidji with their dogs.

They completed volunteer training based on Standards of Practice through materials from Delta Society's Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy Team Training Course, Therapy Dog International, Therapy Dogs Inc. and 4-H Dog Therapy program.

The five dogs passed a basic health screening, a Therapy Dog Skills and Aptitude Test and they were certified as AKC Canine Good Citizens (CGC). The CGC training was an optional obedience portion the dogs passed.

"They have to be social dogs, friendly to begin with. They can't be shy. They can't show any kind of aggression," said Angie, who completed the program with her miniature dachshund, Beamer.


The dogs were required to be current on all vaccinations and adequately groomed.

"A lot of the visits are in group settings with more than one dog around, so you want to make sure your dog gets along with other dogs," said Lynda, who completed the program with her poodle, Pepper.

According to Angie, Julie was the first to hear about the training and share the opportunity with the others. Lynda, Angie, Julie and Maureen work together at Angie's Groom 'N Board in Park Rapids.

The training was an hour and a half once a week for six weeks. The dogs were not required to have any previous training.

"We did a little obedience as well, but it wasn't a requirement for the therapy," explained Angie.

During the weekly sessions, the dogs were exposed to a variety of things found in a care giving facility.

"She (instructor Tracy Parthun) brought in medical equipment, such as crutches, a wheelchair and a nebulizer and we had to walk our dogs around this," said Angie, "and they would make loud noises, drop pots and pans to see if your dog would be afraid."

The dogs were also exposed to different smells they would encounter and engaged in role-play with owners to involve the dogs in certain situations.


"It gave them exposure so that if someone came up to them in a wheelchair they wouldn't be afraid of it," Angie explained.

Role-playing also gave the owners experience.

"It taught us how to handle situations," said Angie.

The owners were given information on techniques for preventing and reducing stress, conversation starters, listening skills, what to take on a visit, such as leashes, handling potentially difficult situations and preventing injuries, accidents and unusual occurrences.

"With collars and things like that you have to be really careful and be aware that elderly people have really thin skin so you could easily bruise or hurt them. So you need to make sure you don't have any choker collars, things like that which could pinch them," said Lynda.

According to Angie, they also learned things such as placing a towel on the resident's lap to set a small dog on so they do not scratch someone.

"We were told that we were our dogs' advocates and to make sure that their well being was always taken care of," explained Lynda. "Make sure that somebody in a wheelchair doesn't accidentally roll over their toes."

During one of the sessions, the class visited a nursing home in Bemidji to receive more hands-on experience.


According to Angie, they were given tips for therapy such as having two leashes on a dog and if someone is in a wheelchair, they can hold one leash while the owner holds the other and they can walk the dog together.

"Even people with really bad arthritic hands find a way to pet the dog and it's relaxing for them and therapeutic," said Angie.

"She (Tracy) also suggested throwing balls that the dog can go and get. For patients that is good exercise to use their arms," said Lynda.

On Sunday the five had their first visit, at Green Pine Acres nursing home in Menahga.

"It went really well," said Angie. "The dogs did wonderful. It makes you feel good knowing you made somebody's day. That makes us feel good knowing that we are able to do that, share our love of dogs with people. None of us have kids, so our dogs are our kids."

Angie said the group hopes to continue these kinds of visits about once a month and expand the places they visit to other caregiving facilities such as hospitals.

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