Debbi and her nearly seven year old German Shepherd, Tasha, were earning awards and setting records before they even learned about pet therapy.
Rescued at two and half from a life lived almost 24/7 in a crate, with no training, Tasha was a bit of a mess. She was not house broken, knew nothing of obedience, and had no manners. Debbi had her work cut out for her, but she was determined to turn this beautiful girl around. First up was tracking, and Tasha was tailor made for that activity. She loved the freedom and the challenge. In fact, she did so well that Debbi went on to become a certified tracking judge. From there, Tasha took on obedience and agility and excelled at both. In fact, Tasha earned four AKC titles in just eighteen months. Then, Debbi and Tasha were invited to participate in a Washington State University summer program, a part of which was How to Meet and Greet Dogs, and the direction of their lives changed.
At the summer camp program, it became immediately apparent that Tasha was a people dog. She just loved the kids. She loved it when they patted her, or laid partly on top of her. She began to sing with obvious joy as they drove up to the facility. Tasha was in her element. When Eileen, a long time, experienced pet therapy person (See: Elvis is in the Building), saw Tasha with the kids, she suggested to Debbi that Tasha would be a great pet therapy dog and the adventure began.
This past July, Tasha finished her training and became a certified therapy pet in Love on a Leash. Since then, Debbi and Tasha have become favorite participants in a library reading program as well as at assisted living and nursing homes.
At the library, kids who need to improve their reading skills, read to one of several therapy dogs that are present. Some of the youngsters read to Tasha in Spanish, and Debbi says that makes Tasha a bi-lingual shepherd. And, the youngsters never forget to share any pictures in the story with the dogs. In fact, when a reader says, Would you like to see the pictures, the head of every therapy dog in the room swivels and hones in on the picture being shown. This amazes the human handlers since picture is a word not usually part of a dog’s vocabulary.
As much as Tasha loves children, she may love the older folks she visits even more, because she displays a certain empathy for the nursing home residents. Once, visiting a very frail elderly woman whose hand was resting on the side of the bed but who could not reach for the dog, Tasha went quietly over and laid her head on the woman’s hand allowing her to rub Tasha’s nose. I had to turn away, said Debbi, because my eyes filled with tears.
Debbi says that with all she and Tasha have earned and accomplished nothing is as rewarding as their therapy work. I keep pinching myself; afraid I’ll wake and find this is all a dream. Being able to visit with Tasha and seeing the joy she brings is more than I ever thought possible. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
If you’d like to talk to Debbi about pet assisted therapy: Tasha’s Mom
Meet Lee’s therapy dog, Frosty: Frosty’s Page
The Nurse Frosty books for children: Nurse Frosty