Therapy Dogs are helping people across the Tri-Cities


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Therapy dogs are making a difference in the lives of Johnson City Residents, helping the youngest and oldest members of the community.

Our furry companions give us relief when we walk into out front doors after a long day at work, but what happens when we put out dogs to work?

Studies by the University of California Los Angeles have found that therapy dogs can increase physical and mental health in patients. This includes reducing anxiety and helping to lower blood pressure.

Not every dog is suited to be a therapy dog. Trainers say not only does your dog have to pass a test, but so does the owner.

It can be an awarding hobby, but therapy dog owners told News Channel 11’s Kristen Gallant that its a full-time job.

From the youngest members of the community to the oldest, therapy dogs are helping those in need.

Willie the poodle has been a therapy dog that goes to nursing homes around Johnson City. His owner, Kristy Jones says that Willie seems to enjoy his work as much as the people that he visits.

“We go to a nursing home and we may be the only people that they get to see. I think it’s more therapy sometimes for him than it is for them. It brings such joy when you go and see people,”  said Jones.

Therapy dogs, not to be confused with service dogs, are not a part of the American Disability Act.

Fran Hutchens, a trainer at PetSmart, says that therapy dogs tasks are completely different than service dogs.

“A therapy dog is for comfort. They comfort other people. They welcome being petted. A service dog performs a task or a specific task for its owner. To be a therapy dog, you can’t make a dog a therapy dog. You have to know your dog,” said Hutchens.

There are several programs that certify therapy dogs. The program that PetSmart Offers is a six-week program.

“I’ve been an evaluator for a national organization for eight years,” explains Hutchens. “To be in the therapy dog class they have to complete the other levels of training here. We have some that don’t quite make it. Usually, because they’re still young.”

The American Kennel Club has a full list of AKC Recognized Therapy dog Organizations. You can find that list here.

In Johnson City, some of the trained therapy dogs go to the library to help children with reading skills.

The Johnson City Public Library offers a Tale to Tail program.

“Our Tale to Tail program we started about 10 years ago. We had a therapy dog owner come to us and was very excited to share their dogs’ skills with our children. At first, I thought, you know this sounds a little gimmicky, but we’ll give it a shot,” said Youth Services Manager of the Johnson City Public Library, Betty Cobb.

“The children really enjoy reading to the dog, and it’s great for their oral skills in reading. It gives them great confidence. We really advertised it for those parents with those children that were really struggling with reading. You know when they’re in a classroom and they’re having to read out loud and all the other children are listening, and the teacher is listening it’s a little bit more intimidating,” said Cobb.

Michele Giarrusso is the owner of Samson. Both of them volunteer at the library for the program and other programs across the Tri-Cities.

“He kind of looks like a bear or a wolf and I thought he looks cool and tough, and boys really had a strong and positive reaction to him. He understands the difference between coming here, going to the school, going to the ballet or the theater and all these different projects that he’s been involved in and then going to the park. Because when we go to the park, he knows it’s time for the ball, it’s time for friends,” says Giarrusso.

Carrie Wickline takes her son to the library for the Tale to tail program. She says that his favorite dog is Samson.

“I decided to get involved with the program just because my son needed a little extra push. It has been a little something he struggles with, but we have made progress, and this is not intimidating for him. He loves animals and to read to an animal is calming. A dog is not going to judge you if you mess up and you’re trying to learn,” said Wickline.

From the Tale to Tails program at the Johnson City Library to The Waters of Johnson City, a rehabilitation and Nursing Center, therapy dogs are helping all members in the community.

Marie Cope and her therapy dog Lucy visits The Waters frequently.

“I heard that they needed a therapy dog. I started coming and then my friend started coming and now there are three therapy dogs here. We’re busy about every day. They probably don’t know my name, but they know lucy’s name,”  said Cope.

Activities assistant of The Waters, Cari Davis, says that residents always enjoy when Lucy comes to visit and that it helps them with their memory.

“Every time they see Lucy, they either bring up memories they have of their animals they have at home and how they miss them and wish they could come visit. So, Lucy helps. She helps a lot with that. They get very excited when they hear that Lucy is coming. I’ll be like, ‘oh we’re going to have pet therapy today and Lucy’s coming’ and they’re like, ‘oh Lucy’s coming she gives me kisses all the time,” said Davis.

There are several organizations that offer therapy dog certification programs. Be careful though. We have the full list of AKC Recognized Therapy Dog Organizations here. Your dog does not have to be AKC Registered to be a part of some of these programs.

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