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SPOTLIGHT ON THERAPY DOGS

PERFORMANCE INTERVIEW: SPOTLIGHT ON THERAPY DOG

Featuring Pat Goshorn and “Rusty” Dreamtime Hocus Pocus UDX3 OM3 RM RAE THDX CGCA TKE

“Bekka” Bluquo’s Dance the Night Away CDX PCDX BN GN RM THDA CGCA TKE

“Pippa” Dreamtimes Master Gamer CDX BN RA THD CGCA TKE VHMP

Heather (HR) How did you get started in Aussies?

Pat Goshorn (PG) I wanted to downsize to a smaller dog (previously we had several Dals).  I researched online and found the Australian Terrier breed which sounded like the perfect dog for me. At that time, my daughter worked for Iams and the employees were allowed to bring their dogs to work. Her friend had two Aussies and we went to visit them. I loved her dogs and was sold on the breed immediately. My first Aussie was from the same breeder as hers but Zippy had several health issues. When he died at age 10 of liver cancer, I found the breeder referral page on the ATCA and contacted them. Through that I was put in contact with Marilyn Harban. who had one puppy left from her recent litter. I went to see him and knew he was meant to be mine. I got Rusty in 2011. He became an awesome obedience dog as well as an excellent therapy dog.

(HR) How did you become interested in therapy, or had you done it with the Dalmatians?

(PG) I had never done any therapy work before I got Rusty, although I was aware of its existence. I planned to do obedience with Rusty after I retired, and decided to try some of the newer activities  that didn’t exist  when, at age 14,  I got my first CD on my Cocker Spaniel.

 Rusty adored visiting my parents who were then in their 90s. Both spent short periods of time in a nursing home and really enjoyed having Rusty visit. Most places allow visits from family pets even if they are not therapy dogs. Since I was still working and lived about 2 hours away from my parents, I couldn’t spend as much time with them as I would have liked. After they passed away, I decided to have Rusty certified as a therapy dog to honor my parents. I knew that most residents in nursing homes do not get many visitors. In 2014 we embarked on the journey of therapy dog visits which I am still doing today. He has completed over 300 visits and earned the Therapy Dog Excellent title from AKC. He died in 2023.

(HR) Were you aware that there were therapy dog organizations?

(PG)At the time I decided to do official therapy dog visits, I investigated the various organizations that sponsored therapy dogs. I had done a lot of reading about dog training and therapy dogs and knew that he needed to be certified by one of the organizations. In addition, by keeping track of the number of visits, the dogs can earn titles through the AKC if done through certain organizations. He was certified through Therapy Dogs International and later through Alliance of Therapy Dogs. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your dog certified by one of the professional therapy dog organizations, as they provide insurance for the rare instance of injuries or accidents while visiting. Residents are at risk of falling due to balance issues and bleeding or bruising due to scratches on thin skin. You are also protected in case of dog bites and other issues. Each organization has its own certification test that the dog must pass and a written test of rules which the handler must pass. Their standards are high to protect the residents, handlers and dogs.

In 2015 I got Bekka and hoped that she would also do therapy dog visiting as well as obedience and rally. She had the perfect personality for a therapy dog and today she probably prefers therapy dog activities over other activities she is involved in.  

(HR) Did you select Bekka for therapy work? What was your criteria for selecting Bekka?

(PG) I didn’t get to choose Bekka as the litter was small and I wanted a female; there were only two females in her litter, and her breeder Rita Farmer wanted to keep the other one. Bekka was a tiny puppy, so she got a lot of extra handling, feedings and attention. Perhaps that helped form her personality as she is outgoing and loves all the attention she can get. She was certified as a therapy dog in 2018. At that time, since I had two dogs, I started visiting the nursing home twice a week. Bekka has completed over 175 visits and has her Therapy Dog Advanced title from AKC. Before the end of the year she will have 200 visits and earn her Therapy Dog Excellent title.

(HR) Did you ever come across a time during your therapy visits where your dog was not as engaged as you would expect? How did you handle that?

(PG) In 2020 I got Pippa to add to my crew with plans of doing a variety of activities including being a therapy dog. However, she was a Covid puppy and despite my best efforts at the time, she just did not get enough socialization as a puppy. She was certified as a therapy dog with some reservations, but I thought I could overcome them. She did therapy dog visits for about a year and completed 50 visits for her Therapy Dog title. But she did not really enjoy it. She would allow strangers to pet her but was not the same happy little dog while visiting. It was just not her “thing”, so I decided to let her retire from that and do other things she thought were more fun.

(HR) Good for you! Tell me one of the funniest things that has happened with one of your therapy dogs.

(PG) Bekka knows that she is not to pick up things from the floor. If I see something first and I remind her to leave it, she is very good about leaving it. However, one day she was doing some tricks, so she was off leash. She spotted a puzzle piece under a table, darted off and got it, quickly chewed and swallowed it and returned to me,, as if she did that all the time. Although it happened several years ago, one resident always asks, “is that the dog that ate my puzzle piece”?

Many older women tend to keep a tissue in their hand. Bekka loves to eat tissues so she will go up to their hand and gently tug on the tissue to try to take it from them. She has succeeded a few times, but I always intervene, and we have a good laugh about my little thief.  

(HR) How about any time your dogs were intuitive to the residents or something poignant that happened during a visit?

(PG) When I first started with Rusty, there was one lady that had not spoken since she had come to the nursing home. When she saw Rusty, she leaned over and said “puppy, puppy”. The nurses were amazed that she had spoken. Every time we came she would respond to Rusty but not say anything else.

The husband of a friend of mine was admitted to a nursing home, and he loved to have Bekka come and sit in his lap and Bekka loved to do it.  As his health deteriorated, he became bed ridden but he still wanted Bekka up on his bed which she did willingly and snuggled up to him. The week before he died, she did not want to lay on the bed. She started shaking and crawled up on my shoulder to get away and refused to move closer. She was picking up some vibes that were uncomfortable for her. I thought she should have snuggled up to him like she usually did but there was no changing her mind.

(HR) I call that the Lassie dream…..what we expect them to do, verses what they do. They are so intuitive.

(PG) I also did some therapy work at our local library and another nearby library. Children would pick a place to sit- bean bag chairs or other comfy spots to read to the dogs. One little girl in first grade got really upset with Bekka because she was trying to show her the pictures and Bekka wasn’t looking at them. It was funny as she did this each week and wanted me to ‘make’ Bekka look.

Doing therapy dog visit is very rewarding. Several residents have told me that seeing my dogs makes their day. They can hardly wait until we come again. It reminds them of dogs that they had over their lifetimes, and I have heard many stories about their dogs. It is kind of funny as some of the residents with memory issues tend to call my dogs by the name that their last dog had.

Each time I leave the nursing home, I know that I have touched the residents in a positive way and have made their day brighter. Knowing that, I look forward to our next visit as well.

(HR) Would you be willing to mentor someone who might be interested in starting therapy work?

(PG) Absolutely! Email would be the best way to reach me.   pgoshorn@yahoo.com

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