Today was Elvis’ final therapy visit, ending his 6-year career as a therapy dog. Over the past year he’s been losing his enthusiasm during our visits, so I decided that the time had come for him to end his career.
Therapy visits take an emotional toll on dogs, and as a handler – whether therapy, hunting, showing, competing, you name it – your primary job is to look after your dog’s welfare. With Elvis, I could see the early signs of burnout; since Sophie passed away two years ago, he has been doing all the therapy visits each month.
Some guidelines provided by Intermountain Therapy Animals with whom we were certified include:
– be aware of stress on your dog, be their advocate;
– the maximum length of a visit should be no more than two hours;
– give your dog a break every 20-30 minutes;
– remember that your dog may need to be de-stressed following a visit;
– praise your dog and give them a special treat – for Sophie and Elvis, this usually meant an Arby’s roast beef sandwich.
Both Elvis and Sophie were certified as a therapy dogs before the American Kennel Club (AKC) created Canine Good Citizen (CGC) as an official title, and I did want Elvis to receive his title before he retired, as recognition for all the great work he has done over the years.
During his six years as a therapy dog, Elvis earned his CGC and Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA) titles from the AKC. He was awarded Asti’s Compassion Trophy by the Spinone Club of America (SCOA) for the year 2015 “In recognition of the Spinone demonstrating superior performance as a therapy dog”.
He made 191 facility and hospice visits (just 9 visits shy of being eligible for Therapy Dog Excellent or THDX title) and visited well over a thousand clients. Not to mention all the staff members of these facilities who likewise benefited from his visits.
Elvis’ legacy will not be limited to those whose suffering and loneliness he helped ease, but also in those whom he inspired to have their own trained and certified as therapy animals. Elvis can also take credit for inspiring the Veterans Administration (VA) home that we visited, into obtaining a live-in emotional support dog for the residents.
Retirement from one job does not mean retirement from all jobs. As long as he has the ability and desire, Elvis will continue volunteering for 4H and schools, hunting, fishing, and visiting grandchildren.