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Updated Feb 23, 2014 - 11:50 am

Testers determine dogs’ potential for therapy work

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Wheelchairs, walkers, strangers, loud noises — none of
the usual distractions seemed to faze Leila.

For nearly an hour on a recent Wednesday morning, local dog-testers Jan Monroe
and Shelley Godfrey took the 8-year-old Newfoundland through the paces.

The big black dog reacted with a tail wag when Godfrey approached her from a
wheelchair. Later, she barely batted an eye when Godfrey walked noisily toward
her with a walker, and then hardly looked up when Monroe ran past her.

It came as no surprise to her owner, Cindy Smith.

“She comes from an active home,” Smith said, laughing, when Monroe and
Godfrey commented on Leila’s reaction to the commotion.

Each of the tests was designed to gauge Leila’s suitability as a therapy dog.
Ease around wheelchairs and walkers is necessary at the nursing homes that the
dogs regularly visit, Monroe and Godfrey said, and running is a frequent
occurrence on visits to hospitals.

The preliminary test, which took place in a meeting room at a Chino Valley
church, also focused on basic dog-handling commands and the dog’s tolerance to
enthusiastic attention, such as petting and hugging.

By early indications, Leila was a good fit. “She was the perfect dog,” Monroe
said later.

“I really had no doubt,” Smith said of Leila’s suitability as a therapy dog.

Plenty more testing is still to come, however. Before Leila can be qualified to
visit nursing homes or hospitals through the TDInc. program, she will have to
undergo extensive test visits.

The entire testing process takes four days, Monroe said. After passing the
first round, the dogs take part in three on-site visits — two to medical
facilities, and a third to the Courthouse Plaza.

On this morning, Monroe and Godfrey — both volunteer tester/observers with
TDInc. — had initial appointments with three owner/dog teams.

First were Annie Oakley, a 5-year-old labradoodle, and her owner Carole

At first, Annie flew through the tasks, walking obediently with her owner, and
responding enthusiastically to a stranger.

It was only when Monroe brought in her large gray mixed-breed dog Henry Higgins — the “neutral dog” — that Annie became a bit agitated, pulling on the leash
and barking.

Monroe and Godfrey explained that calmness around other dogs is a must with
therapy dogs — in the event they run across one while out on a visit.

Because Annie reacted calmly to all of the other tests, Monroe recommended that
Stern-Childs continue working with her around other dogs before taking the next

The commitment to helping others through their dogs was apparent among all
involved.For Godfrey, the desire to become a TDInc. tester grew from personal
exposure, when her grandson Trent was undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin

“Back in 2006, my grandson was five years old, and he was in the pediatric
oncology ward (in a Las Vegas hospital),” Godfrey recalls. “I walked up to his
room, and he was there, bald, wearing sunglasses, and with him was a black and
white Papillon with sunglasses on,” Godfrey said. “They were having so much

Before she even left the hospital that day, Godfrey had decided to get involved
with therapy dogs, she said, noting, “I absolutely saw what value dogs have.”

She and Monroe said they often see patients — sometimes with Alzheimer’s
disease — respond to dogs when they would respond to nothing else.

The two said there are more requests for therapy dogs in the community than
there are dogs available, and they hope to attract more owners and dogs to the

The all-volunteer TDInc. program has a one-time $10 registration fee, and a $30
yearly membership fee. Monroe said membership comes with insurance coverage.


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