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Hollywood Dog Obedience Club therapy dogs visited La Cañada Thursday Club

Owners of therapy dogs share the experience of helping people.

January 30, 2013|By Peter Day
  • Danica Di Paola, 14, of Glendale, interacts with Essex, a 2-year-old red doberman pinscher. Therapy Dogs International handlers were on hand with their dogs oat The La Cañada Thursday Club's Power of Pets event. They showed the attendees how the pets can relax and lift the spirits of patients in hospitals and other care facilities.
Danica Di Paola, 14, of Glendale, interacts with Essex,… (Photo courtesy…)

When life fails to deliver a miracle, sometimes compassion, love and understanding will walk through the door on four sturdy legs.

Variations of that theme were retold several times Sunday afternoon at the La Cañada Thursday Club when members of the nonprofit Hollywood Dog Obedience Club and their enthusiastic but polite therapy dogs shared the rewards of providing animal-assisted therapy to people in need.

Dog owner Jerry Werk of Santa Clarita told a story of her bushy Briard therapy dog, Liza, who accompanies her on monthly visits to Verdugo Hills Hospital. The dog and her owner were recently making their rounds when Werk poked her head into the hospital room of a man recovering from a leg amputation. The man was uninterested in seeing guests, so Werk began walking away.

“Then Liza stuck her head in, and the man said, ‘Wait a minute, I've got to see this dog,'” Werk said.

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The therapy dog plopped her head onto the man's bed as he slowly sat up to pet her. Disarmed by the attention of a sweet-natured therapy animal, the man began talking about how he missed his own dog and about other recent losses — his marriage, his home and now his leg.

“We probably spent 20 minutes in his room,” Werk remembered.

Then the doctor and physical therapist walked in, both extremely surprised at what they were seeing.

“We haven't been able to get you to sit up,” the doctor said.

“I just had to get up to pet this dog,” the man replied.

Such examples of therapy animals breaking through walls of emotional hurt and isolation are commonplace, according to Saunders. For her, the most rewarding therapy dog moment came during a visit to Hathaway-Sycamores, a Pasadena child and family services facility that helps at-risk boys ages 7 to 17.

Her German shepherd, Baltic, bonded with one quiet boy who began telling the dog about his fears, challenges and how he misses his family.

“The dog will not make judgmental comments,” Saunders said. “The dog just listens.”

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