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Therapy dogs prescribe a dose of puppy love - MessAge Media: Health

Therapy dogs prescribe a dose of puppy love

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Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 5:00 am

Dogs can often provide humans with entertainment, but therapy dogs can offer something more.

One local couple discovered a special trait in their beloved pooches, Snickers and Muppet. Both dogs are two-year-old female golden-doodles (golden retriever and poodle mixes) with therapeutic senses.

Linda and David Causton of Aitkin decided to share their pups’ special qualities with Aitkin Riverwood and Aicota Health Care Center patients, residents, staff and volunteers who are in need of a little puppy love.

The Causton’s therapy dogs visit Riverwood Healthcare Center every Tuesday, and they visit Aicota Health Care Center the last two Thursdays of each month.

“I can’t tell you how many patients and staff have thanked us for doing this. They love it,” Linda said.  

The therapy dog visits serve as a special moment of the day, David added. He believes it helps patients with their healing, and makes time spent in the waiting area more bearable.  

“We find many of our patients are animal lovers. The dogs are very well accepted by patients,” said Kristine Layne, chief nursing officer at Riverwood. “It brightens their day and brings a smile to their face. Even the staff get perked up when they see the dogs. They love them, too.”  

Riverwood has provided Muppet and Snickers with their own scarves and badges, and the dogs even have their own trading cards on order.

Not just ‘entertainment’

The Caustons first brought Snickers home on Feb. 8, 2017. Around the same time, Dave suffered an allergic reaction which resulted in a two-day stay at Riverwood. Director of Quality Jayne Anderson was receptive to the couple’s request for Snickers to visit Dave at the hospital.

“She jumped right up on the foot of Dave’s bed,” Linda said. “The doctors and nurses all loved her. One of the nurses suggested we go down to administration to visit staff.”

One day, staff requested Snickers pay a visit to a patient who raised poodles her whole life. The woman was too ill to care for her dogs and had to give them up.

On their way to the room, Snickers broke heel and went straight for the woman’s hospital room without any guidance, and put her head on the woman’s lap without command, Linda said.

“The lady bent down and held her and cried,” Linda added with tears. “Snickers never broke that position for 10 to 15 minutes. That’s when we thought, ’This could really be a therapy dog instead of just entertainment.’”

Snickers completed obedience school at Northland Pet Lodge in Crosslake, and was trained by the nationally known director of training, Roger Peterson. She also completed advanced obedience classes and the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program. With the training and recommendation of the trainers, and observation of hospital staff, Snickers was enrolled at Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization out of Wyoming state.

In July, Linda’s daughter Dawn Soltis unexpectedly died at the age of 48. Soltis taught special education at Forest Lake High School where she worked alongside her service dog, Muppet, with students and faculty.

“She was an incredibly beautiful, professional woman,” Linda said of her daughter. As for Muppet, “She was quite a star.”

The Caustons took ownership of Muppet and started a foundation for the Forest Lake High School to raise the funds to find a service dog to take Muppet’s place.

Like Snickers, Muppet was also registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, but must be retrained and reregistered since registration doesn’t transfer with new ownership, Linda explained. The Caustons are currently in the process of updating Muppet’s paperwork, and the pup starts advanced obedience class on Jan. 15, 2018.

Following discussion at the leadership level, the board at Riverwood determined the dog visits aligned with the mission of the hospital.

“Every dog (like every person) has a special talent. Not every dog is a therapy dog, certainly,” Linda said. “You can’t just have a nice, friendly dog and say it is a therapy dog. There is a registration process.”

The Caustons prepared the proper paperwork and by April, the couple was able to work out a schedule for Snickers to visit Riverwood regularly.

Now that Muppet has joined the family, she does therapy dog visits, too. Muppet will also work with mental health patients following the completion of the Riverwood clinic expansion.

The hospital has a pet visiting policy, and the Caustons are limited to which rooms they can visit in the inpatient area. “If a patient has just had surgery, an animal is not allowed due to risk of infection,” Layne said.

Linda explained Muppet and Snickers are not like typical service dogs– where the public should always ask the dog’s owner to approach.

“Snickers and Muppet are therapy dogs and they welcome the attention,” Linda said. “That’s what their job is. One thinks she is here to be adored (referring to Snickers). The other comes in and says ‘How are you?’ with her approach (referring to Muppet). For us, it is a pleasure to meet other people.”

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