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Kindly Canines trained to bring comfort and joy

May 30, 2004|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Youngsters who happened to come to the Chambersburg Kmart on Saturday could get comfortable on a big pillow on the sidewalk out front, reach into the nearby bookcase, pull out a dog-themed book and read to a dog.

The dogs loved it, and so did the youngsters.

The dogs and their handlers all are members of Kindly Canines, a local group of volunteer therapy dog teams. While some dogs still are in training, the rest have been trained, tested and certified as therapy dogs. They visit local nursing homes, hospitals and schools to bring joy to others. Individual teams become members of Therapy Dogs Inc., a national organization headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Coordinator and handler Marti Heater of Chambersburg started the group in August 2003 and already has 26 teams of one handler and one dog each. While not affiliated with Therapy Dogs Inc., Heater has adopted all of their guidelines and is certified by them as a tester and observer.

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The group already is expanding its services to the local area. Kindly Canines member Dave Yoder said that six members recently took Community Emergency Response Team training from the Franklin County Department of Emergency Services.

"The area where county emergency services believes Kindly Canines can be most helpful is in psychological response to disasters," Yoder said. "Dogs have a soothing effect on people under stress."

All of the dogs are the owners' pets, and most have had no major training, Heater said.

"These are real dogs with real people for real life," she said. "They are friendly and are under the handler's control. Some are shelter dogs."

Two of the dogs have had a "college education," according to Alicia Saldana, 26, of Shippensburg, Pa.

Saldana's labrador, Duff, was released from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program when it was discovered he did not like the noise of New York City, she said. Because Saldana had raised him as a puppy, Duff was returned to her. When she takes him to a nursing home, the residents pet him and many of them tell her about dogs they used to have, she said.

The other "college boy" is Keno, who graduated from The Seeing Eye, but was released and returned to Cathy Valencia on Tuesday. He can work in harness, Valencia said.

Emma is a 3-year-old lab springer mix that Pat Worthington of Shippensburg adopted from a shelter. When she and Emma visit a nursing home, "she sits with the residents, shakes paws and gives them kisses," Worthington said.

A green kerchief around Emma's neck states her status as a "future therapy dog." One requirement she will fulfill is not to be startled if cornered by a wheelchair or walker, or in any other unusual situation.

Several of the dogs have visited the Life Skills class at McConnellsburg (Pa.) High School, Valencia said, where the dogs sit and listen to students read.

Heater said she plans to develop the program throughout the school system.

For more information, contact Heater at 717-263-2076 or send e-mail to kindlycanines@comcast.net.

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