Studies have shown that dogs can help lower your blood pressure and improve the amount of exercise you get daily and increase your life span. Peggy Goldberg, Counselor at Centralia College, has been aware of this for many years, participating in a therapy dog program at Providence’s Animal Assisted Activities & Therapy program in Olympia. More recently she has been instrumental in bringing dogs to campus during finals study sessions to help ease student’s stress.
Goldberg’s experience began around 16 years ago. She always loved dogs and says, “I got interested just because I know the difference they have made for me.” She decided to check into therapy work since she is a counselor, and found out about the Delta Society (now Pet Partners).
Goldberg’s experiences have been amazing. In the Pediatric Unit at Providence St. Peter Hospital, there was a child who had not spoken since they were admitted. But once the therapy dog arrived, the child began speaking. At the Chemical Dependency Unit, a patient was just so grateful. “I needed to feel special today and Brodie made me feel special.” Goldberg says that, “Sometimes people just cry. One time in the intensive care waiting room, a person came up to the dog, didn’t say a word, just hugged him and cried.”
Therapy dogs are different from service dogs, which perform a specific task to help their owners. Therapy dogs consist of animal assisted activities like visiting people, but can also be more intentional as well, with a goal. For instance, for a person who needs physical therapy to work on a physical skill, they are much more likely to want to throw a ball for a dog than randomly just throw the ball to the wall.
The first time Goldberg brought the therapy dogs to the college campus it was advertised and held in the Atrium in the Student Center. The room was completely full. There was so much interest. In that situation, the owners just took the dogs around the room to see each person. Goldberg says that in a smaller group setting, people usually go to the dogs and just hang out and simply be with them. Some people just pet the dogs, others lay down on the floor with them or just sit next to them.
This year, Goldberg’s Golden Retriever, Dewey, will be going to the finals studies session in the college library. Goldberg is anticipating that Dewey’s two best buddies, Australian Shepherds, will attend at least one night as well.
Goldberg hopes that bringing the therapy dogs in for finals is the beginning of an animal therapy program at Centralia College. “It’s a little hard because the people I draw on live in Olympia,” she explains. But she would like to keep bringing them for finals, and also visit the campus daycare and teach the children how to safely approach dogs. She also has visions of going around to various campus offices to visit and provide a stress break for staff. “I want to use it more in the Counseling Center as well,” Goldberg says. “It’s worked really well, particularly with adolescent boys. They often don’t want to communicate but with the dog there, suddenly they open right up, talking about all kinds of things.”
Providence Centralia Hospital doesn’t participate in the dog therapy program but there are other places in Lewis County where therapy dogs can and have been used. For instance, the dogs have gone to the Centralia Timberland Library to help with reading time. A child may struggle to read, but it’s very different if they can read to a dog, “without the fear of feeling judged,” explains Goldberg. Nursing homes also welcome visiting animals. Requirements for non-hospital visits (the Lewis County visits) are less stringent, but dogs do need to love people, be clean, well-trained, and have a good temperament. And there is one basic rule – no matter what, if the animal gets stressed, you leave. The animal comes first. “That’s the part I really appreciate about the program,” says Goldberg.
The time commitment for participants is only about two visits a month. “They really can’t do a lot of visits because it is very tiring for the dogs,” explains Goldberg. “Other than that, it’s just working with the dog which is great because it strengthens and deepens the relationship between the dog and owner as they are working as a team.” Even if a person doesn’t have a dog, they can participate by helping the dog/owner teams during visits. Goldberg works what is known as “unleashed” at Providence St. Peter Hospital right now, not taking her young dog in, but helping the leashed team as needed.
If you are interested in participating in a therapy dog program or would like to help with growing the program in Lewis County or at Centralia College, Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s everything from just plain fun to magic,” Goldberg smiles.