By Alex Zdatny
With their friendliness and laidback personalities, therapy dogs can have a great influence on people’s lives, especially college students who experience stress almost every day from work and tests, according to therapy dog trainer and Rider groundskeeper Karen March.
Luckily for Rider students, the university holds a Pet Therapy Day each year.
Students from Dr. E. Graham McKinley’s Intro to News Writing class were able to see this firsthand when they visited the Lawrenceville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center with March in April. March also brought Quincy into the classroom to interact with the students.
The event is sponsored by the Counseling Center, and features approved therapy dogs. The last Pet Therapy Day was held in the fall 2012 semester. and the next will be held in fall of 2013. March and her dog Quincy are regular visitors to the event.
March, a therapy dog trainer for the past five years, says therapy dogs can also benefit patients at nursing homes and help comfort children at hospitals. Quincy, along with March’s other dog, Bella, have worked with many patients.
Both of March’s dogs are English mastiffs. Quincy is currently 4 years old, and Bella is going to be 6 in May. English mastiffs are big, which is good for people in hospital beds because they are able to reach them, March said.
In addition, therapy dogs can help people who have been afraid of dogs in the past.
“One of my neighbors had a bad experience when she was a little girl,” March said. “It had been 50 years, and she hadn’t gone near a dog, but now she can touch Quincy.”
March said her therapy dogs, especially Quincy, love children and work on the pediatric floor of Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell, N.J.
Quincy passed his therapy dog training test two days after his first birthday, March said. The basic obedience training includes learning how to sit, lie down and come whenever called. Dogs are trained not to give their paw and never to jump on anyone, March said. Since Quincy was trained to be a therapy dog, he will not perform tricks.
For the test, he had to walk past meat without eating it and ignore a dog and a person unless given permission. March said the hardest part was that the test was conducted with a loose leash. If it had to be tightened, they would fail.
March and the two dogs also work at the Lawrenceville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. March said Bella enjoys the nursing home better than the pediatric floor at Capital Health Medical Center because the patients are quieter and calmer.
For March, making new acquaintances and bringing joy to people are among some of the rewarding aspects of working with therapy dogs.
“Quincy and I have met a lot of great people, and it is fun to make a difference in somebody’s day,” she said.
March and her therapy dogs make frequent visits to the Lawrenceville Nursing Home on Wednesday nights. While at the Lawrenceville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, many of the patients’ faces light up when they see the two therapy dogs. Quincy loves the attention while Bella is the shyer one, March said.
Nursing home resident Marilyn said she loves dogs and has one of her own back home.
“The hardest part of being in the nursing home for me is being away from home and my dog,” Marilyn said.
March said she enjoys bringing her dogs to the nursing home because, “If I could share my dogs and make the patients happy, that’s all that matters.”
The defining factor that made March get involved with therapy dogs was their personalities, she said.
“One of my friends saw one of my other dogs and thought that she had such a great personality and that she would be a good dog to go to a nursing home or a hospital,” she said. “And we decided that we liked it.”
March got a second dog to continue with the work. She has worked with Quincy since he was 8 weeks old. He was the friendliest in the litter, and March started training right away when they came home.
“People will stop and talk to him and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what is that?’” she said. “He is a conversation starter because you just don’t see a dog that big that often.”
March said she would never do anything else with her life because she loves what she does. About a year and a half ago, March had her dogs tattooed on her arms saying that because she loves them so much, she wants them to be with her forever.
March has been shy all of her life until working with therapy dogs. She opens up more when the dogs are with her, she said.
“Therapy dogs are always friendly because they won’t go near someone who is uncomfortable and will respect their boundaries,” March said. “Any dog can be a therapy dog. If you pet them and it makes you feel better, then it’s a therapy dog.”
Additional reporting by Tara DeLorenzo
Printed in the 4/19/13 edition.