According to veterinarians.org, an estimated 50,000 therapy dogs work in the U.S. A therapy dog is technically any dog that has been trained to work with people in order to provide comfort and emotional support.
These dogs can serve in schools, therapy offices, homes, hospitals, nursing homes, areas of crisis, and any other place where a person may need help to relax.
In order for a dog to be officially able to train into a therapy dog, they must first become a “certified good citizen.” This assures that the dog is not a threat and will be able to function well around people. Next, the dog must attend classes and be exposed to potential working situations. This is what gives them the official title of a “therapy dog.” Overall, these trainings can last six months to a year and cost anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000.
Many Marian girls may not realize that there are two therapy dogs that consistently come into the building: English teacher Mrs. Alee Cotton’s golden retriever, Tucker, and mental health therapist Ms. Emily Jamber’s yellow lab, Millie. Both women had their dogs certified through Pups With a Purpose, a training center in Omaha.
Jamber knew she wanted a therapy dog in high school when she learned that her school counselor had one. Now that she is a licensed therapist with Millie, her own dog, she is able to see the benefits that Millie brings.
When a client enters a session or Millie does crisis response, “elevated and stressed moods are immediately lowered,” Jamber said. The presence of a happy and calm dog like Millie helps assure people that they are safe. “People are more likely to trust me to open up when they come in and see a dog that they can talk to as well,” Jamber said.
Dr. Michelle Ravnsborg, mom of senior Ally, had her golden retriever Petal trained for therapy through Love on a Leash in Omaha. Ravnsborg, along with her husband BJ, is a veterinarian. She “saw how much happiness pets bring to people, and wanted to have a dog that could give joy to people who were unable to have one of their own,” Ravnsborg said.
She loves “seeing people almost immediately relax, smile and feel comforted when they get close to her,” as well as having her around when the family needs some extra love.
Petal even got to attend this year’s Surprise Day, which was a great surprise for Ally’s last year, and made her a popular visitor with the students.
Just like Tucker, Millie, and Petal, any dog can become a therapy dog with the right personality and training. Although there is a cost to having your dog certified, there are also a lot of benefits. Having a dog that is specifically trained to handle mental health issues and general emotions is something that can help people feel safe, supported, and less alone with their feelings.