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Fido’s Touch

Fido’s Touch ...From the pages of South Jersey Magazine...

Last month I was visiting with a family member who was in the hospital when someone quietly knocked on the door and asked if the patient was interested in having a visit from a therapy dog. “Absolutely!” we answered and in loped the sweetest dog with long legs, big brown eyes and soft, salt and pepper colored hair. We oohed and aahed and couldn’t stop smiling or petting the dog as her owner, a nurse at the hospital, answered the dozens of questions I had about her family’s pet.

The Pyrenees mountain/poodle mix is one of three dogs her family owns and the one she described as calm from the start. She decided to find out how to have the dog certified to safely make the rounds to patients in hospitals. Based on her description, her dog would be called and enticed to jump up on someone. If the dog jumped, she failed. Her dog would also have to remain calm and still when loud noises were made and items were dropped nearby. Think about the machinery, the beeping, and the other hospital noises that can be alarming to patients and you can understand why a visiting dog would need to be immune to it. Flinch or bark during the test and it’s basically bye-bye.

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No chances can be taken in a hospital setting with a dog that could potentially knock down or scare a patient. The nurse’s dog demonstrated why its demeanor was ideal for this line of work. When she wasn’t standing near us to be willingly touched, scrunched and cuddled, she set herself comfortably on the floor to wait on directions from her owner. There was no sniffing around and our new furry friend never needed correction. She was simply there to do her job providing some measure of comfort to the patient—not to mention me, having lucked out on the timing of my visit.

We talked about this big, beautiful, calming dog for quite a while after she left us with big smiles on our faces. I think if I had a headache then she’d have cured it. She made us feel good and I have to commend the nurse and hospital for recognizing what a positive impact the combination of “furryness” and friendliness can have. It caused me to wonder if our own dog, Roxy, could have been a therapy dog.

From the start—three years ago—our goldendoodle puppy was an eager student. Willing to sit, lay down and stay for treats. We taught her to roll over and even to cry. Seems silly but early on Roxy would lay on her side and rub her paws over her eyes and we would laugh, saying it looks like she’s crying. Then we started telling her to cry and giving her a treat as she was doing it. A new trick was born. She does go to her mat when we say “place” but keeping her there gets tricky—even with a treat—if someone comes to visit.

In that respect she would fail the therapy dog test miserably. If you called her to hop up on you she would gladly do so. If you jump, she jumps and is ready to run at you, with you or around you. We sometimes laugh our- selves silly at our goofy dog running and jumping around our backyard as if you are trying to catch her. She will dart through and around the bushes like she’s sprinting around a timed obstacle course. All she needs is a slight touch from me, Tom or the kids as we pretend to grab her to keep her going. She is a magnet for neighborhood kids.

Tom loves to sit in an oversized chair in our TV room and watch whatever sporting event is on, dozing now and then. Comfortably settled, he gets momentarily shocked when Roxy bounds into the room to see him and nearly unseats him and the newspaper, book and glasses usually in his lap. It’s funny to hear him tell her to get down only to then see him hugging her and rubbing her head with a smile. It’s the same for our kids when she greets them after school or they hug her before going to bed. That gives me a great feeling and puts a smile on my face.

So maybe my dog is a therapy dog, too! Definitely unqualified for a hospital setting, but here at home, she’s no doubt the best medicine.

Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November, 2016).
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Author: Robin Rieger

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