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Therapy dogs provide comfort to area nursing home residents
April 30, 2012

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

Dogs are considered a man’s best friend, and owners are finding that through Therapy Dogs International (TDI), they are able to provide enjoyment to others such as hospital patients, nursing home residents, and those in hospice care.

Deanna Schindele of Dassel recently had her second dog certified through the TDI program. She owns two German shepherds, Koda and Buck, who are already visiting residents of area nursing homes, including Lakeside Health Care Center in Dassel. Schindele is also working to have the dogs trained for hospice care visits, where there is great demand for therapy dogs, she said.

Therapy Dogs International is a volunteer group organized to provide qualified handlers and their therapy dogs for visitations to institutions, facilities, and other places there is a need. The non-profit organization was founded in 1976, and is headquartered in Flanders, NJ.

According to its website, studies have shown that holding or petting an animal can lower blood pressure, release strain and tension, and help those with depression and loneliness.

“It gives people something to look forward to,” Schindele said, who has been a therapy dog handler for two years now, first starting out in obedience classes.

Schindele gained a relationship with her dogs and developed a bond and partnership with them.

She felt blessed to have that bond with her dogs and wanted to share that with others and bring joy into their lives.

TDI dogs and their trainers typically will visit hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and women’s shelters.

“They really bond with the dogs,” Schindele commented. It also allows the residents to visit with the handlers as well, she said.

Her most recent visit to Lakeside was April 14. Schindele, along with fellow TDI chapter members, will make regular visits there the second Saturday of the month with their next visit Saturday, May 12.

Karla Sauer, activities aide at Lakeside, sees the positive effect the dogs have on the residents.

“It just gives them a calming effect,” she said. Even the residents who said they didn’t really like dogs couldn’t help but pet the TDI dogs.

Sauer commented on Tank, an English mastiff and one of the TDI dogs that visited April 14.

When she first saw the large dog, she thought, “Oh my gosh, he’s going to eat my residents.”

Instead, Sauer found Tank to be very gentle, calling him the “biggest baby.”

“[The dogs] are just very comforting,” she said.

An official TDI chapter has been formed based out of Hutchinson. Currently, there are eight active members in the area including Dassel, Cokato, Lester Prairie, Hutchinson, and Litchfield.

The group meets at 6 p.m. the last Sunday of every other month at Dunn Bros.

Schindele, a chapter member, explained that the chapter exists to organize visits, but one doesn’t need to be a member in order to be a handler.

It’s more a of way to coordinate efforts, since visits can be stressful on the dogs. It also helps with mileage expenses if visits are at a farther distance.

Typically, any given TDI dog reaches its limit at 45 minutes to an hour. “The more dogs, the easier it is on them,” she said.

With the TDI testing, the dogs also become insured in case anything should happen, but dogs are tested to ensure they are healthy and non-aggressive, Schindele explained.

Schindele and her dogs became registered through TDI at EZ Obedience Training and Board in Hutchinson with owner Char Gatz of Lester Prairie. Gatz is also the chapter secretary and certifed TDI instructor.

How to become TDI-certified

While therapy dogs provide many benefits, it’s not for every dog, however. A dog has to be of certain temperament, meaning the dog should be outgoing and friendly to all people; men women, and children.

The dog must also be tolerant of other dogs (both genders), since much of the time therapy dogs make visits as a group with their handlers.

In order to become certified, the dog must complete the 15 steps of the AKC/CGC Test, along with TDI additional steps.

In addition to behavioral tests, TDI steps include tests for reaction to medical equipment, acclimation to infirmities, willingness to visit with and be petted by people, reaction to children, and the ability to ignore food upon command.

Gatz recommends dogs have at least 16 weeks of obedience before taking the TDI test to help them prepare for it.

Dogs must also be at least 1 year old.

For full details of the program, or to request a visit by TDI handlers, visit TDI’s website, www.tdi-dog.org or contact Gatz at (320) 395-2693 or visit her website, www.ezobediencedogtraining.com.

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