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Dogs put to the test

December 07, 2008|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Ask school students about test taking and they might say it is "for the dogs."

At Long Meadow Shopping Center on Saturday, that would have been true.

The Humane Society of Washington County teamed up with Lynda Bailey, an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International, to offer two different tests. Bailey described the Canine Good Citizen program as a sort of basic training for dogs.

"It's what every dog should know for manners," she said.

Even more popular was testing offered for dogs to receive certification as therapy dogs. Brian Filon of The Humane Society of Washington County said therapy dogs and their handlers visit facilities like nursing homes and hospitals to increase emotional well-being, to promote healing and to improve quality of life for patients and residents.

"Therapy dogs just go in and brighten people's lives a little bit," Filon said.

When 9-year-old Sara Hughes of Germantown, Md., spent time in the hospital recently, several therapy dogs paid her a visit.

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"I liked it because I missed my dogs and I got to see other dogs. It cheered me up," Sara said.

Sara's mother, Susan Dannis, 42, said the therapy dogs were instrumental in Sara's recovery. As a result, Dannis, who works as a veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., began research to find out how two of her dogs - German shepherds Z'Flores, 3, and Zico, 8 - could become therapy dogs.

"I want to go into hospitals and nursing homes and give back what has been given to us," Dannis said.

Bailey, 48, of Boonsboro, became involved with dog therapy based on personal experience. Bailey first encountered therapy dogs a few years ago while she was helping care for her husband's grandmother.

"I saw dogs come and work with people in therapy and I thought, 'Well, I could teach my dogs to do that,'" Bailey said.

Bailey and her dogs, Chelsea, 6, a Great Pyrenees, and Zoey, 4, a Great Pyrenees Bernese Mountain Dog, regularly visit people at Washington County Hospital and at six other nursing facilities in the area.

"When you go into a facility and see how these people just light up, it does your heart so much good. I've walked into rooms where people are just so happy to see somebody, and to see an animal," Bailey said. "A lot of people don't have visitors, especially at this time of the year, and they miss their animals because they can't have them in the homes."

Six dogs participated in the testing program. Handlers said they were excited to find an evaluator and test site.

"(Therapy dog testing) is not that easy to find," Dannis said.

Bailey said she is one of only two certified evaluators in Maryland.

Holly West, 41, of Martinsburg took her 3-year-old dog, Ruben, to the event. She described him as high energy and intelligent and said, "He needs a job."

Ruben passed his test. He soon will receive a certificate in the mail and begin his career as a therapy dog.

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