August has always marked an exciting mile marker. It was the month Willie and I renewed our commitment to serve the community through therapy dog visits. When Willie was a puppy, a trained explained to us that the German Shepherd part of him would not be as content if he didn’t have a job or work to do. We knew we didn’t want to train him and then have to send him to another family or person and then we found out about therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are trained by their owner and certified after months of training to visit classrooms, libraries, and medical facilities to relieve stress and bring love to people.
We trained through Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Willie passed everything with flying colors. The trainer was right, he was made to work!
For two years, we visited after school programs and a retirement home every Thursday as part of our #therapythursdays. We found out that many retirement or assisted living communities can’t allow pets because of the communal nature of their facilities. This means that when a resident joins one of these communities they have to re-home their own pets. Willie loved being the adopted pet for the community. In our work with the after school program, we discovered that many kids in high poverty apartment complexes have a great fear of big dogs and especially German Shepherds. Willie was able to help them overcome their fears and also teach them about how to greet and meet dogs.
My favorite visits were the ones where we got to read a book and then meet children, though. The reading teacher in me knew that the pairing a reading experience with a real life experience would help solidify the story as well as the love of reading in young students minds. Plus Willie had lots of practice relaxing while a story was read after years of bedtime stories with his human siblings. The request have continued to come in for Willie to come to visit and there are always more places that request a therapy dog visit than we can fit in our schedule.
As the renewal papers came in the mail this year, I hesitated. Willie just celebrated his tenth birthday and I noticed last Spring that getting in and out of the car was getting more difficult for him. His hips reflect the years of playing and working. He was always very tired after our visits. After much thought, I decided it was time for Willie to retire from his work as a therapy dog. It wasn’t an easy decision because it brings both us so much joy. We also knew with a new human to care for at home Willie would have plenty of work to keep him busy!
I can truly say that having a therapy dog and being a therapy dog handler has deepened my compassion and commitment to see and listen to people’s stories. Thank you, Willie!