Giving, Not Giving Up and Giving Back: Interview With A Therapy Dog

What does it mean to generous? Ask a therapy dog.

One recent  Saturday afternoon, The Daily Junior Blog staff caught up with  therapy dog Junior, a formerly homeless red golden retriever. Junior sat on a blanket at a Dallas library waiting to listen to children read to him. He works as a registered therapy dog and Reading Education  Assistance dog.

Junior tells  us that sharing a good book with a dog helps kids enjoy reading. But It does more than that.

Junior’s story and example inspires young readers and shows what it means to be generous.

Junior and his handler also share Junior’s story of second chances and giving back. A few years ago, Junior was homeless, in a shelter. After he was adopted , he went on to give back as a community volunteer and a registered therapy dog.

As he took a break on this particular Saturday, we had a chance to interview the therapy dog with a few questions about teaching generosity and the work of therapy dogs.

Q: Junior, what can a therapy dog teach us about generosity?

A: When adults want to help their children understand the joy of giving, they often discover that generosity is an abstract concept that can be difficult to describe. Discussing or seeing the work of therapy animals like me is a way to make generosity come to life and become real and tangible. Seeing animals serve people, children learn lessons in generosity through the up close and personal work of the therapy dog team. People, especially children, really relate to animals. They can reach out and touch a generous animal.

Q: What are some examples of your generosity lessons?

A: Because I don’t use words, I show, rather than tell the kids that:

1) Anyone can be generous-even a dog.

2) Giving to others is fun and feels good.

3) Giving your time to someone is a good gift.

4) Little things mean lot to people-like shaking hands and a smile.

5) You can give back to others to show you are grateful for what you have, to say thanks.

6) Volunteering is even better with a friend. It’s fun to have a good partner when you are helping others.(therapy dogs always work with a partner)

7) You don’t always have to  use words  to say thank you. Body language works too.

8) It feels really good when someone listens to you, and asks what you need.

9) Don’t give up on your goals,even if you are not successful the first time you try.

10) Study,focus,work hard at something you love. You can do it. Ask for and get help if you need it.

I hear that these lessons work for adult humans too.

Q: What is a therapy dog? And what do you do?

A: Therapy animals, like me, provide affection and comfort to various members of the public, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, libraries, community centers and schools. We live with our handlers and are their companion animals. Any breed dog can be a therapy dog. Many therapy dogs,like me, are dogs that were rescued and give back in a life of service.

We do three types of activity and therapy. A therapy dog might do Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapy and some dogs,like me, have additional credentials and do  Reading Education Assistance (R.E.A.D.)

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is goal-directed work ,the therapy animal is  part of a healthcare treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider. The animal and handler team work closely with the professional .

Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) provide therapy animal contact for motivation, education, and recreation to enhance a person’s quality of life. AAA are delivered by a professional, para-professional or volunteers. Examples are our social visits and meet and greet activity.

R.E.A.D. dogs help kids enjoy reading and books by listening to them read. We never judge, and we are great listeners. We do this in schools,libraries and book stores. I have heard some great stories. I even give Pawtographed books as incentives for frequent readers.

Q: What special training does a therapy dog need?

A: I belong to the Pet Partners organization (, which trains human volunteers and screens and evaluates person-pet teams . Training for volunteers Occurs through hands-on workshops taught by Pet Partners licensed instructors or through online Pet Partners Therapy Animal Handler course. Volunteers and their pets are then evaluated for skills and aptitude by Pet Partners licensed team evaluators.Several national organizations for therapy dog registration exist and requirements for testing vary by organization.

Q: Can any breed dog be a therapy dog?

A:Yes, if the dog is controllable, reliable, and predictable. The animal should also have good manners in public places, and have the social skills to seek out and visit with strangers. Both ends of the leash have to train and qualify. The human partner must have the skills to work well with your animal and with clients and facilities that they will serve. To check out if it might be a good fit for a team,a human partner can take a self assessment and see what is on the evaluation . These are on the pet partners organization website at

Q: Junior, Did I hear that you did not pass the test the first time?

A: Actually, no. I did not. I don’t mind sharing that. It’s part of my story about second chances and how important they are to get and give.

I was a little immature on my first test day. I missed one skill and was given a “not ready” score. I passed 100 percent on my second  attempt, and every two years since then. I have been a working therapy dog  ever since.

I encourage teams who don’t pass the first time to try again. Sometimes a dog,or anyone  really, can just have a bad day. Sometimes good dogs just need a little more obedience training.
For example, a young golden rescued retriever might be thinking about chasing rabbits , jumping up to say hello to a friend, or trying to sniff the blonde poodle he saw on his way through the testing room . Hey, it happens. Whatever the reason, teams are welcome to practice and try the evaluation again.

I passed after my handler and I stepped up our training, practiced more,and we both learned to focus better. I had to keep my mind off rabbits and poodles, just like I do when I  am working. When I have on that therapy vest,I  must be totally professional.

By the way, I always share my story of my unsuccessful first try with the kids because it helps them know not everyone succeeds at everything the first time in life. It is so important not to give up if they don’t succeed at a goal the first time. They seem to get the message.

Q: Is any particular breed of dog better than another at being a therapy dog?

A:No, both mixed breeds and purebreds can be good at  this work. What matters most is the individual animal’s personality – that he or she likes people and has confidence in visiting strange places. Animals must be at least one year old and lived in the owner home at least six months. Animals must be healthy to participate and have a current rabies vaccination. For more information you can visit the Pet Partners team website.

Q: Can a therapy dog go in restaurants and airplanes?

A: No, because I am a therapy dog, not a service animal.

A therapy animal has no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed. They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of airplanes regardless of their therapy animal designation.

Q: What is the difference between service and therapy animals ?

A: I am so glad you asked this. It’s an important difference. Here’s a description of service animals and therapy animals and some of the differences. We all have important, but somewhat different training, roles,access,and responsibilities.

Service Animals
Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, and reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications. Service dogs also employ specific skills to provide mobility assistance, support individuals with PTSD, communicate seizure alerts and perform other duties. Service dogs are considered working animals, not pets.

Service dogs are permitted, in accordance with the ADA, to accompany a person with a disability almost anywhere the general public is allowed. This includes restaurants, businesses and on airplanes.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
An emotional support animal, sometimes also referred to as a comfort animal, is a pet that provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental illness.

To be designated as an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional for a person with a mental illness who has an impairment and the presence of the animal is necessary for the individual’s mental health.

Emotional support animals do not have the same rights to public access as individuals with a service dog. ESAs may only accompany their owners in public areas with the express permission of each individual venue and/or facility management. ESAs may travel with their owner on an airplane and may live with their owner in locations covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act regardless of a ‘no pets’ policy.

On the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs-I like to think of it this way. I am a part timer and a pet in my personal life. I only am at work when  I am vested and on assignment. I have my non-work life and other pursuits when not on duty. Service dogs are on duty, 24hours ,seven days a week and their handler depends on them all the time.

Q: What do you do in your time off?

A: Blog, snack, listen to Jimmy Buffett music.
Swimming, squirrel surveillance, reading, watching blonde poodles, scamming cheezits.

Q: I know you read quite a bit, so you have a Favorite book?

A: Oh my, So many good books. I guess some of my favorites are:
Call of the Wild
The Velveteen Rabbit
Go Dog Go (I love the dog party)
Anything by Stephen King ( Except Cujo)

Junior, Therapy Dog
Junior, Therapy Dog

Q: Is there any down side to being a therapy dog?

A: Well, Every time I go to work,I have to take a bath, get my ears cleaned and brush my teeth. My handler claims she has to do this too, but sometimes I wonder….just sayin.

Q:Any last advice you have for us on giving back, teaching generosity and service to others?

A: Generosity and service can have many faces. Sometimes it has four legs and a tail.Sit. Stay. Serve! Paws Up.

Thank You Junior, I see your next reader is ready with a book.

As we finished our interview, and said goodbye, Junior wanted me to tell his readers that his source for his material on therapy dogs was the Pet Partners web site at and to encourage his readers to visit that website for more information about therapy dogs and their work.

Or Bark Back to us at The Daily Junior.

Juniors source: www. Pet

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