Therapy Dogs Make The Grade

Thirteen Canines Pass Certification Test

Posted: April 30, 2014

Cyndi Smith, 55, of Bridgewater, stands with her 7-year-old golden retriever, Buddy, at a therapy dog certification test at Weyers Cave Community Center on Sunday. Thirteen dogs were approved at the event for use in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. (Photo by Caleb Soptelean / DN-R)

WEYERS CAVE — A dog is a man’s best friend — and, as it turns out, a best friend to the ill and infirm, too.

Helping dogs become therapy dogs is one of Jessica Troop’s passions.

Troop, 39, and some of her assistants approved 13 dogs for use in hospitals, nursing homes and schools after a test Sunday afternoon at Weyers Cave Community Center.

“It’s really rewarding to help people get better and feel better,” Troop said. “It’s a fun thing to do with your dog.”

Troop, a dog behaviorist, volunteered to administer the therapy dog certification test for Therapy Dogs International last year. Only four dogs were brought to the first test, so she was pleased with Sunday’s turnout, which was her second. The tests are held periodically on an as-needed basis. “It’s really exciting to have this many dogs because the community is really in need,” she said.

Troop said a lot of folks don’t know what therapy dogs do, so she hopes to increase awareness about them. Therapy dogs go into places such as assisted-living facilities, libraries, schools, hospitals and hospice situations. Their job is to give emotional support to those that need it.

In the case of the library, the dogs lie down next to a child who is learning to read, and the child reads to the dog.

“This is a low-stress situation for the child, since the dog does not judge or correct them while they are reading,” Troop said. “I have had kids read to my dog, Kayla, and the parents tell me that this is one of the first times that the child seemed to have fun doing it.”

“Dogs that go into nursing facilities give emotional support to the elderly and disabled, and often those residents smile for the first time all day when they see our dogs,” Troop said.

The type of dog that generally makes a good therapy dog is one that really likes to meet strangers, she said. They also have to have a good working relationship with their handler and know basic obedience skills.

They have to be confident and recover quickly when strange or loud situations occur. Nervous, fearful, extremely high energy or aggressive dogs are not good candidates for this type of work.

Bridgewater resident Cyndi Smith, 55, brought Buddy, a 7-year-old golden retriever, to Sunday’s test.

“It gives the patients something to look forward to and gives us time together,” Smith said.

She plans on taking Buddy to a hospital to comfort patients or to North River Library to be with students while they read.

“He’s just the right height for bedridden or wheelchair-[bound] patients,” Smith said.

Training a therapy dog is personal for Christine Hill, 49.

Hill came all the way from Blacksburg for the test with her dog, Rudy, a year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel.

She started training Rudy when he was 12 weeks old, and the training hasn’t stopped. Rudy had been through puppy, intermediate and advanced training before being certified as a therapy dog Sunday.

Hill plans on taking Rudy to visit patients at Blue Ridge Cancer Clinic in Blacksburg. She chose that business because her 20-year-old son is a cancer survivor.

She also plans to take Rudy to a nursing home to visit the elderly.

Ann Baker, one of Troop’s helpers on Sunday, said she had the first registered therapy dog in Harrisonburg, which she took to schools to visit students.

Baker said she did it to make a difference in kids’ lives.

For more information, call Troop at 516-639-7398 or email .

Contact Caleb M. Soptelean at 574-6293 or email

NDN Video News