*Therapy Dog 1, Shiloh

A month ago I’d never heard of a therapy dog.

Rescue dogs, pot-sniffing dogs, police dogs. Yes.

War dogs, cadaver dogs, A Guide Dog for the Blind.  Yes. 

Pet dogs, hunting dogs, and lately bombsniffers.

But until Colleen Rae—yes, the same Colleen Rae whose comments enhance this blog—sent me a copy of her latest book Shiloh Speaks: A Therapy Dog’s Memoir of Unconditional Love, I knew nothing of therapy dogs.

Colleen co-authored the book about a golden retriever owned by Jerry Hill.  Jerry, Shiloh’s owner, had scores of stories in search of a writer.  Colleen and Jerry collaborated to produce a collection of short tales about Shiloh’s twelve-year career. 

Shiloh and Jerry go to work a couple of days a month at hospices, bereavement centers, and assisted care homes.  They bring cheer and affection to people whose lives are winding down, to people who are dealing with loss, and to people whose health has endured a major whack.  Many people have little to look forward to except the next visit of a furry friend.  People who may have little left to be appreciated for except a dog luxuriating in having his ears scratched.

Dogs are ideal employees.  They have no hidden agendas, no language barriers, and they like going to work.  Dogs don’t watch the clock, are equal-opportunity employees, and work for biscuits.

Shiloh has many stories that will push your warm buttons.  My favorite is about Rita, a timid, blind woman at a senior center.  For years Rita never spoke until she met Shiloh.  Stroking Shiloh, Rita uttered her first words: “Rita happy. Rita loves Shalow.”

Shiloh Speaks is available at http://www.shilohspeaksthebook.com/ as well as Amazon.

My friends in The Villages are retired veterinarians, and when I initiated a conversation about therapy dogs, I got an abbreviated seminar that stretched my mind.

Lyn tells me epileptics have dogs who are able to anticipate a seizure.

She tells me there is much documentation for dogs diagnosing cancer, especially breast cancer.

I learned that of all service dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind need to achieve the highest skill of all—that of informed disobedience.

Yesterday, I tagged along with a new friend, Tucker, an apricot-colored therapy poodle, on his shift at a specialty care center in Lady Lake, Florida. We’ll try to have the story filed in time for the evening news. 

10 Responses to *Therapy Dog 1, Shiloh

  1. Karen Goucher says:

    I had to respond. I am in search of trying to have Herb’s
    dog anointed as a Therapy Dog. To my surprise, when Herb
    was rushed to the hospital New Years Day….in there for 13
    hours…..Scuffy came back with me (I drove home to relieve the
    puppy) when Herb was ‘out of it’ and going for more tests. The
    nurse told me to bring the dog back as they could not get Herb’s
    blood pressure under control. Scuffy walked in with me and within
    45 minutes……Herb was announced fit to be discharged for the
    New Years eve ball to drop. Even the professionals did a double
    take….true story.

    Herb will undergo serious aorta surgery…enlarged aorta & aorta
    valve leakage. I am hoping Scuffy can come into the hospital when
    they feel it is safe for all concerned.

    Any tips in this area would be greatly appreciated.
    Loved this entry Al.

    • Carol Volckmann says:

      Hello Karen,

      Most hospitals today allow “therapy dogs” that have been checked out – shots, bathing, temperment etc. If the nurse told you to have Scuffy come back to help your husband, I am sure they already have a “therapy dog” policy. Check first with your nursing staff asking them who you should talk to.

      Scuffy sounds like just the right medicine for your husband.

      Good luck,


    • Bev Johnson says:

      Hi Karen,
      As the trainer and handler of the “Tucker” mentioned in this blog, I want to encourage you to take your “Scruffy” into the hospital with you. You should be prepared to show his rabies vaccination papers with you, as well as any other vaccinations listed, and take his ‘poop’ to a vet to check for any parasites. A copy of the recent test with negative results will save you any hassel about your dog’s questionable health.

      As for becoming a “therapy dog”… there’s a wonderful website (www.therapydogs.com) which gives the details you need to become a REGISTERED therapy team. [Note: Only Service Dogs are certified, all else are registered as they obtain insurance coverage to protect the team from any liability problems when they visit facilities.] This site also includes a list of people (Tester/Observers=T/Os) in your area who can perform the testing and three observed visits with you. But this sort of registration is not necessary if your are visiting only your husband and avoiding interaction with other patients.

      I had an aorta valve replaced with open heart surgery in March of ’09 and understand the stress you’re facing right now… and that little dog will be the BEST medicine for both of you! He’ll be nursing both of you with snuggles and carefully administered doses of intense love. You may not be familiar with what that looks like…. When the dog stares at you without blinking for a long time and then slowly blinks or closes his eyes he’s not falling asleep… no, he’s saying I LOVE YOU. By closing his eyes he is showing you the greatest sign of trust and connection with you in relinquishing his natural instinct to be on alert. He is saying, “You are more important to me than my own safety.” May God bless you and your husband now and always.

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    Thanks Al, for putting Shiloh and myself in the spotlight of your blog. Therapy dogs are indeed ‘man’s best friend,’ when they are needed most.
    I have been with Shiloh when he visited a Hospice and it is awesome the comfort and peace he can bring to a person making their final transition. i have talked to other therapy dog owners and they all say their dogs have a special sense that has been developed to bring this comfort. Thanks again.
    I’ll bet that Scuffy will be allowed in the hospital when the time is right.

  3. David Lewis LaRoche says:

    We have a Shih Tzu who is adding years to our lives and better ones at that. She’s just a puppy but has already learned not to judge but to accept and to love. If that’s my projection, so be it, but it works just the same.A female in the house without a complaint is most tolerable in itself, but a lady who meets, greets you wagging her tail and wants to play.- well, what better? No affense to the graceful and beautiful gender intended.

  4. MaryAnne says:

    this one I can speak to. Pioneer was a lovely Red Golden Retriever therapy dog almost 16 yrs. for a gal pal of mine with MS. As her disease progressed he was adept at answering the door, cranking door knobs and openig doors,carrying almost anything she required or needed, flipping the foot holders on her wheel chair, retreiving anything she asked for and transporting her computer in saddle bags on his back, among other items like her lunch and his water. In addition he gave her countless hours of support, companionship, friendship and unconditional love. He even carried the rings on a pillow on his back in her wedding ceremony. Pioneer is in doggy heaven now but my frienship with him will always be treasured. Kudos to ALL the folks who train these pillars of society as they do form relationships with them…..only to be relinquished… when they are awarded to a needing and deserving comapnion.

  5. karen wittgraf says:

    I wil always be amazed at the intelligence of dogs and ache at the stories of mistreatment of these wonderful animals. I have no tale of rescue to share, but can recall our Pommeranian, Fluffy, guarding anyone in the family that was sick..from flu to headache or injury. She would jump on the legs and protect us until we felt better. Dogs are teachers of compassion, discipline and tolerance that little ones pick up on quickly.

  6. Colleen Rae says:

    When I left Arizona many yrs ago and moved to S.F. I had a beatiful German Shepherd named Georgia. She was my constant companion. When she rode in the car in the passenger seat, if anyone got too close she would bark, warning them away. But once she got to know someone and more, when she saw they were a friend of mine, she was very gentle and sweet. Without my ever training her, she was a natural watch dog.
    Shiloh, the therapy dog I wrote about, had different training than the dog who cared for the woman above with MS. But his training took about 18 months to complete.I think her dog is technically called a ‘Service Dog.’

  7. Michael says:

    In the early 70,s a friend of a friend came by our mountain home. A big fellow, iron worker, he towed a small trailer that was his home from job to job as moved around the west. He had been in a Los Angeles gas station some days earlier and saw a man beating a dog on a leash. This big fellow took issue with the man’s behavior, exchanged some words, and got the response: “You want the damn dog, here!” and was handed the end of the leash. The big guy took the dog and put him in his trailer.

    He told us he could not give a home to a dog the way he lived, and asked if we would take the dog for an afternoon and see if we wanted to keep it.

    We did. For 12 years.

    Part Golden Retriever and part Shepard per the vet, her coat was the color of the grass hills of California in July. We named her “Summertime.”

    Summertime became a part of our family, loved by our 4 kids, and pretty good traveler too. Living on acreage, we would get visitors announced by her bark, never aggressive, but able to vocalize friend from stranger or 4 legged visitor.

    I was building a lot in those days, and Summertime was my companion in journeys to Reno or Sacramento for materials. She would lay on the bench seat of my old GMC pickup, and usually put her head on my right thigh as I drove and talked with her.

    Like a good psychiatrist, she would remain quiet after much of what I said leading me to flesh out my own understanding as she listened attentively. Those were 2 hour therapy sessions, and sometimes punctuated by my therapist sitting up and licking the side of my face. Unconditional love is a wonderful healer.

    I believe in the “Therapy Dog.”

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