Last week, I penned my articles sitting at Advocate Lutheran General while my sister struggled to recover from an emergency appendectomy. On her last day in the hospital, we heard a light tap at the door and a smiling woman entered. “Would you like to have a visit from a therapy dog?” she asked my sister, who feebly managed a nod.
What I saw next changed me forever. After laying down a blanket to serve as a barrier from shedding on the patient or the bed clothes, a small, beautiful tri-color spaniel was lifted onto her bed and laid down. The look in my sister’s face changed immediately as she started telling the volunteer about our spaniel who passed last September.
The dog that we met that day was part of Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy group, and you can find more about them here: www.rainbowaat.org. They are a local group, based out of Morton Grove. I have even dropped in for a class there when Logan was testing for her CGC title and really, you couldn’t ask for a more understanding and caring group of people. That’s why they do what they do – for free.
In case you don’t know about therapy dogs, here are the basics. Most therapy dogs and their handlers are volunteers. Depending on which organization they belong to, they can either provide emotional therapy or assist in physical therapy or both. Emotional therapy would be like the visit I described above, providing comfort to an ailing patient. Assisting in physical therapy, like the dogs at Rainbow are certified to do, means that the dog could walk along someone who is re-learning how to walk and provide the motivation to keep walking.
Therapy dogs are not service or assistance dogs, so they don’t have the special rights those dogs receive. Therapy dogs cannot go into most buildings or transportation systems. They have to be invited in as a volunteer service, which can takes weeks of negotiating between the building owner, dog handler and therapy group. Service dogs have much more training and therefore can go in more places.
However, therapy dogs do a world of good. Although my own dog is certified in this kind of work, we have never gone on a visit (we are starting the negotiation process now) it was a miracle and a blessing to see the amazing work these dogs do up close and on someone so special to me.