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December 5, 2007 > Warm Hearts and Warm Noses

Warm Hearts and Warm Noses

By Cheryl Blumenthal Olvera, Hug-A-Pet Team Member

If your dog loves people and does not jump up on them, gets along with other dogs, is very social, and is not timid around strangers or afraid of loud noises, you may enjoy taking part in Ohlone Humane Society's aptly named Hug-A-Pet Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program.

When I first heard the name of the program, I thought what a fitting name it was. My dog, Bob Gates, loves to be hugged, kissed, and petted. After working for several years in an office, sometimes windowless and sometimes from early in the morning until late at night, I had the opportunity to begin working at home a few years ago. Since I am able to be flexible with my hours, I thought it would be great to give back to the community. I heard of Hug-A-Pet through the Santa Paws event that the Ohlone Humane Society held every year.

Bob Gates, like many golden retrievers, is very friendly and loves people. I knew I had to share him with people who miss the dogs they used to have and miss their homes. About four years ago, we started visiting Aegis Assisted Living and Carlton Plaza, next door to one another in Fremont. I always tell Bob he is going to work and he runs with me to the front door of each facility. We visit seniors, some of them with Alzheimer's. The happiness many residents feel while Bob visits is incomparable. Facility employees get as much a kick out of Bob visiting as the residents. Many come up to him and tell him "hello" and make sure to tell the residents that Bob is there.

We have met several friends through the program. There was a man who lived at Carlton Plaza who was a lifelong dog lover. Bob knew his haunts and would find him whenever we visited. He would run up to his wheelchair and put his head in his lap. Bob knew the three places he could usually find him - in the library, outside his room or down the hall waiting to go to the lunchroom. The man used to tell Bob he was the highlight of his week. When he passed away, Bob looked for him for months afterward.

One of Bob's friends always sings, "Yes, sir, that's my baby" to him. Other people shake hands (and paws) with him or rub his tummy. Many people give him the best petting and massages. There is a little lady at Carlton Plaza, who I'm sure Bob outweighs, that Bob thinks is his personal masseuse. The people we visit are always so thankful even to spend just a few minutes a week visiting with Bob.

Occasionally Hug-A-Pet dogs will visit in costume. Residents get a kick out of how adorable the dogs look dressed as a clown or a ballerina. Other dogs just come as they are. We recently obtained handsome vests with patches that identify the dogs as OHS therapy animals. Even dogs like Bob who prefer to be "au naturel" don't mind wearing the vest.

Hug-A-Pet candidates go through an evaluation process that is basically the Canine Good Citizen Test with the addition of exposure to wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and other equipment that could be encountered in a residential or care facility setting. One very important aspect of the ATT evaluation is that a dog must enjoy meeting and being touched by strangers.

Evaluations are done by an OHS team headed by professional canine obedience trainer and behaviorist Elissa Cline. Candidate assessments are held periodically at a Fremont location and new members are mentored by an experienced team leader.

If you love spending time with your dog, it is so rewarding to share his or her love. There are many senior facilities, care centers and day-care facilities that would welcome animal assisted therapy and we are always in need of more teams.

Further details can be obtained from the Ohlone Humane Society website at www.ohlonehumanesociety.org. If you are interested in participating in the
Hug-A-Pet program contact Director Kathleen Jackson at KJack36478@aol.com or leave a message on the OHS Advice line (510) 792-4587.

For details of the Canine Good Citizen test go to: http://www.inch.com/~dogs/cgc.html

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