A dog is man’s best friend. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows the benefits they can provide. Dogs make you smile, laugh, cry, love, and provide you with companionship.
But did you know they can also be therapists?
Therapy dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, schools, retirement or nursing homes, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with disabilities.
A dog becomes a therapy dog through training and certification from one of the many therapy dog organizations. Nick Marinello of Fair Haven certified his dog, Abbie Rose, through Therapy Dog International and helped her bring smiles and comfort to patients for 11 years.
Abbie Rose was a West Highland Terrier, better known as a Westy. While any breed can become a therapy dog, Westies are not typically suited for the role because of their high-strung nature. But Abbie Rose was different. She was very calm, wasn’t easily rattled, and enjoyed being around humans and other dogs.
Abbie Rose was Nick’s fourth Westy and he knew she was special. When she was about one-and-a-half, his wife, Susan, began working with Abbie to make her into a certified therapy dog. Nick took over the training after a time.
Abbie Rose worked at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch for nine years with children who had special needs or were sick with cancer. She was one of the original four service dogs at the hospital. Today there are over 30 therapy dogs at Monmouth Medical Center. Therapy dogs have also become popular in other hospitals on the Jersey Shore.
Therapy dogs bring immense joy and impact the people they work with. There are medical benefits to working with therapy dogs, such as lowered blood pressure, but there are emotional benefits as well.
Abbie Rose formed relationships with the hospital staff and the patients she worked with. The relationships she formed with the patients were unique. Some days a patient’s only interaction was with Abbie Rose. Everyone looked forward to seeing her weekly at the hospital.
Therapy dogs also benefit from the work. Abbie Rose knew every Thursday she needed to take a bath so she could go to the hospital on Friday. Her personality changed the moment she entered the hospital, according to Nick. She would play at home, but calmed down and enjoyed going to the hospital each week.
Sadly, Abbie Rose passed away in the summer. And as a testament to her popularity with the staff and patients, Nick received sympathy cards from many of the people she worked with. The staff at Monmouth Medical plan to dedicate a wall to honor the therapy dogs that have worked at the hospital and passed away, and Abbie Rose will be the first one recognized.
After working with a therapy dog for so long, Nick would advise future therapy dog owners make sure their dog does not run up to patients. He says it is important people are comfortable with the dog before it comes over to them. Also, teaching the dog tricks in another language helps, Nick said. Abbie Rose learned a variety of tricks in Spanish.
Nick is enjoyed his time training and working with Abbie Rose so much, that he wrote a book about the day in the life of a Westy called “Annie’s Rul
Nick made the choice to certify Abbie Rose as a therapy dog, and by doing so made a difference in the lives of many people.
Abbie Rose and other therapy dogs provide affection and comfort to those that need it, providing many emotional and medical benefits. Dogs are a blessing, and through therapy they can share their blessings with those that need it the most.
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Meghan Busch is a public relations and marketing coordinator with TEDxNavesink. She has been working in public relations since 2013 and has a Master of Arts degree in corporate and public communication from Monmouth University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies from the College of New Jersey.