No. 454 - A UNIQUE FORM OF THERAPY

No. 454

Jim Davidson√ČNEWSPAPER COLUMN

A UNIQUE FORM OF THERAPY

I have a 95-year-old friend and reader who has a great sense of humor. In her last letter, she wrote these words on the outside of the envelope: "Lord, make me as good as my dog thinks I am." Wouldn't we all be better people if we could meet this simple test?Ê There is good reason why a dog is known as man's best friend. We could commit murder and come home and our faithful pet would be there with a friendly welcome, wagging his tail and wanting a pat on the head. This unconditional love and acceptance is the basis for what I want to share with you. If you have a dog for a pet, perk up your ears because what I am going to say will bring a smile to your face and hearty amen.

Several weeks ago I had a letter from Ms. L.T. Cook, who lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas and she reads my column in the Sunday Edition of the Sentinel-Record. She was telling me about a fantastic pet therapy program that was started by Ted Ericson in 1997 in Hot Springs that is meeting a tremendous need. The reason I decided to share this with you is because this is a concept that will work anywhere in the country. If you care about people, especially older people who cannot take care of themselves, you will be interested in what some of their citizens who volunteer their time and dogs, have done.

Ms. Cook is now the coordinator for the Hot Springs Pet Therapy Program and in her own words, let her tell you what these people are doing with man's best friend. "We visit local nursing and retirement homes and hospice, plus we participate in an after school program. Our volunteers are ages 6 to 82, from grade school through seniors, plus puppies and individually owned, temperament tested dogs. We also participate in Senior Day, Make A Difference Day and Christmas to Share. We have over 30 volunteers, plus Lakeside Key Club Members." In case you don't know, this is the student outreach program of Kiwanis International.

That is the 'nuts & bolts' of what these people are doing to make a difference in the lives of others, but a letter to the editor from Judy Hocutt really puts this unique form of therapy into perspective. Judy writes, " I have a very special friend, a Lhasa apso named "Patches," that has so much love to give to all she meets, that I felt she could certainly share all that love and all those "kisses" with other people. Patches had visited my mother during her stay in a nursing home and she brought smiles and laughter to a great many of the residents. That started me thinking about Patches visiting the nursing homes in Hot Springs.

Back in January, we made our first visit and it was an overwhelming success, not only for the residents (who were so excited to pet a fluffy puppy), but I made a comment to the activities director, "Why don't more people do this?" This has been so much fun and Patches had a great time. It only took an hour and I came away feeling we had been given a gift that money can't buy. Let me share this one experience: One of the residents told me over and over that she was afraid of Patches. I suggested I hold her head and she just touch the fur on her back to see how soft she was. Well, before we left, she was feeding Patches treats from her hand and told me, "I'm not afraid of Patches anymore."

Before I conclude, I would like to ask you a few questions. Do you have a leash law in your community? Do you have an animal shelter? Do you have stray dogs roaming your town or countryside that are a menace to your pets or even your children? Is there an emphasis in your community on spaying or neutering to keep down the number of unwanted animals? From what I can tell from the literature, Hot Springs is doing a good job with these issues and much of the credit goes to Dan Bugg, Supervisor of Animal Services. Like anything else, if you are going to be successful, you have to have good leadership.

One reason I know they are doing a great job is the preparation and printing of a great calendar. There is really no way I can do it justice, but it's in color, has a beautiful pet, (dogs & cats) on each page. The back cover is filled with animals of all sizes and shapes and it is just really professional. I believe they have a contest to select the pets that are featured in the 12 large photos for each of the months of the year. If you would like to have more information about possibly starting this kind of unique pet therapy program in your community, call Dan Bugg at 501-262-2091. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)