Therapy and Service dogs work in ways that redefine the meaning of man’s best friend, providing life changing support and relief for people of all ages and needs.
Although Bristol comes from a generation of show dogs, his owner, Susan Winkler, had a very different vision for Bristol when he became a part of her family eight years ago. — Winkler wanted Bristol to help other people.
To this day, Bristol continues to work as a service and therapy dog and truly lives up to his name, The Honorable Baron.
“He’s on the show stage every day,” Winkler said. “[Bristol] spreads love and joy wherever he goes.”
Bristol is and English Springer Spaniel and became a therapy dog when he was only 10-months-old. He became a service dog shortly after.
People who have mobility issues, anxiety issues or just need extra help and support with certain tasks will benefit from a service dog, Winkler explained.
Bristol’s main job for the past three years has been helping Winkler’s husband, Jack Winkler, with his mobility and providing him with emotional support when he goes through chemotherapy. Mr. Winkler emphasized that Bristol plays an incredibly positive role in his life. Bristol also continues to volunteer in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.
“He provides tremendous help and relief that a person couldn’t provide,” Winkler said.
Bristol is a registered American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen and a THD which is an AKC Therapy Dog. When you register a dog through AKC, the owner must select a unique name so there won’t be duplicate registrations – hence Bristol’s name the Honorable Baron, which means “master of the land.”
The process to become a registered therapy and service dog isn’t very long. To receive this certification, Bristol had to pass a 10-step-test which consisted of adhering to basic commands and evaluating his temperament when around people and in public. A service dog certification is similar; however, there are a few additional skills dogs are required to learn.
Lori Coleman has worked at the Clay County Humane Society for 20 years and one of her responsibilities is to coordinate the pet assisted therapy program. She is also an evaluator with Alliance of Therapy Dogs where she administers the testing process for therapy dogs to be registered.
“I can’t think of anybody that wouldn’t benefit from having the opportunity to spend some time with a therapy dog,” Coleman said.
For service and Therapy dogs, their vests are their uniform and they know that once it’s on, they are working.
Coleman is certain that her Australian Shepard, Deacon, thoroughly enjoys his job as a therapy dog because he is always eager to work. She explained that when she holds up his harness, Deacon becomes exited, animated, and even jumps in place, attempting to put the harness on himself. When he’s at hospitals he wanders the hallways and rooms determined to find patients to comfort.
Deacon went through five different homes before he found his forever home with Coleman, who adopted him when he was only one. Deacon is registered through an organization called Alliance of Therapy Dogs and provides therapy to people of all ages with different needs including handicap adults and people in the psychiatric unit at the Orange Park Medical Center.
Deacon recently became involved in a new program called Read, where he visits the Orange Park Library on the first Wednesday of every month to have story time with children of all ages.
Being around Deacon for storytelling provides younger kids with more of a tactile therapy and the opportunity to be around a dog that is non-threatening and friendly. When older kids read to therapy dogs, it gives them the opportunity to read without being made fun of by their peers.
“You can read to a dog and know they’re not going to correct you, they’re not going to laugh at you for not being able to pronounce a word properly,” Coleman said.
“It gives the kids confidence.”
Registering your dog as a therapy dog isn’t a long process but Coleman explained that it definitely takes a reasonably easy-going dog.
Although therapy and service dogs come in all different sizes and breeds and help people of all ages with a variety of needs, Winkler pointed out that there’s at least is one thing they all have in common:
“The Animal is able to provide the comfort, the healing, and the help that sometimes people can’t or aren’t available to do.”