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Therapy dogs visit the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged to help ease stress or to provide company. Those interested in participating in the program are invited to an informational meeting at the Ericksen Community Center on April 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Lois Hall
Herald Staff Writer

Is Fido calm, friendly and open to meeting new people? If so, he might just have what it takes to become a certified therapy dog.

Dog owners interested in entering the Therapy Dog Outreach Program are invited to attend a public information and interest meeting April 16 at the Ericksen Community Center at 6:30 p.m. Clinton County Emergency Management Plans Officer Jennifer Paukner said that the meeting will help determine the level of interest in the program locally. 

Paukner said that becoming a certified therapy dog handler is a relatively simple way to make a difference in someone’s life.

“On its most basic level, a therapy dog is a well-behaved dog that doesn’t mind meeting new people,” Paukner said.

“With the people they’re visiting, a lot of the time it’s the bright spot of their day.”

Therapy dogs and their handlers visit nursing homes, schools, residential facilities, or just about anywhere people might need cheering up. Paukner said that those who interact with the dogs may not have many visitors, and could really use the pick-me-up.

Paukner, who has participated in therapy dog programs in the past, said the experience is beneficial to the handler as well as the person being visited.

“It’s extremely rewarding to know that you’ve made a difference in these people’s days,” she said.

Those who attend the meeting will learn more about eligibility for the program.

Criteria include friendliness, both around people and other pets, willingness to be petted by strangers, and the ability to sit calmly and politely.

Paukner said that dogs will have to pass a test to become certified.

If enough dogs are eligible for the program and interest is high enough, Paukner said that a group will be formed to help set a visiting schedule. 

Additionally, she said therapy dogs can be utilized by Community Emergency Response Teams to help ease stress in disaster instances.

Follow Ben Jacobson on Twitter @BJacobsonHerald.

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