Why I do therapy work

by Sarah Gaziano

SophieSomeone asked me recently why my dog and I participate in animal-assisted therapy. I have been a Pet Partners certified animal-assisted therapy handler since I was in high school. Fifteen years of bringing my various family pets to nursing homes, hospitals and schools. I have watched children light up at the sight of a dog. I have watched the sick and disabled move their hands for the first time after surgery to pet a dog.

I’m lucky enough to have a mother who paved the way for me to start therapy work on my own. She has been going on her own visits for over 20 years and visits at least 3 times a week. The story I’m about to tell you is hers.

My mother and her dog volunteer with a local hospice program. They are assigned a person and stick with that person until the end. Mom was assigned to a woman who was non-verbal by choice and occasionally aggressive with the nursing home staff. No one expected the therapy visits to work out, but my mother doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Mom and Sophie walk in on the first day and sat next to the patient. She said, “If you hate dogs or want me to leave, give me a nod. Otherwise we’re just going to sit right here for a little while.” All three sat in silence for an entire hour. Then they left.

A few days later, Mom tries again. Standing in from the of the patient’s room, she hears, “The lady with the dog! Come sit down and tell me your name.” Everyone was shocked at her willingness to communicate, but maybe more so for her enthusiasm. She talked to mom for the remainder of the visit and for many weeks after that. She talked about her own dogs, her life, her interests, her favorite books and movies, her family and everything in between.

Before she met my mother, she had no other visitors. She had no reason to talk. No one to speak to.

That. That is why we do this work.

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