Doug the Pug Finds His Niche as a Therapy Dog: An Interview with Cate Archer
Doug the Pug, the therapy dog, is a little dog who makes a big impact. With his gentle demeanor and loving nature, Doug can often be found bringing smiles to the faces of children, cuddling with isolated senior citizens, and, most recently, starring in a children’s book that highlights the human-animal bond.
Cate Archer, Doug’s owner and handler, was apprehensive when she first got Doug from a breeder in The Midlands, UK as a 12-week-old puppy. She had never owned a small dog before and, coming from a family of farmers, she knew that pugs weren’t exactly regarded as proper working dogs. However, Doug now does a special kind of work, serving as a therapy dog several times a week.
A Therapy Dog at Heart
Doug’s first experience doing therapeutic work was when he provided companionship to one of Archer’s relatives who had a long-term illness.
“Doug had been such a big part in preventing feelings of isolation and loneliness that we knew he would make a great therapy dog for others,” said Archer.
For the past four years, Doug and Archer have been doing therapy visits as a certified team for Pets as Therapy, a UK-based therapy animal charity. In order to join Pets as Therapy, the dog must be at least nine months old, and the handler must have owned the dog for a minimum of six months. Additionally, the dog must be able to pass a temperament assessment by a certified Pets as Therapy veterinarian to ensure that he is totally predictable, has a suitable demeanor, and doesn’t react negatively to any unexpected noises or sounds. When Doug was two years old, he completed all of the Pets as Therapy assessments and began to work as a therapy dog.
As Doug’s owner and handler, Archer had to have several references to ensure that she was suitable for therapy work and a proper ambassador for Pets as Therapy. She also underwent background checks to make sure that people would feel safe interacting with her during therapy visits.
A Friend to Young Learners
Doug and Archer keep quite busy visiting a variety of people each week. As part of Pets as Therapy’s READ2DOGS program, Doug visits an infant school (for children between the ages of 4 and 7) and a junior school (for children between the ages of 8 and 12) every week. Some of these students have lost their love of learning, so Doug serves as a motivator and incentive for good work. Many of the students are uncomfortable reading or speaking aloud in front of others and fear being corrected or interrupted. Doug sits patiently as the students read to him, knowing that he is nonjudgmental and will love them no matter what.
“They re-learn a love of learning in a totally non-threatening environment,” said Archer. “These children become more vocal and chatty and participate more in the classroom. They leave Doug with a spring in their step.”
Some of the children get to spend time with Doug as a reward for their good work in the classroom. Other students who come to Doug are isolated, have few friends, or rarely think of others, so they feel special when they get to be with Doug and learn to become more aware of those around them. Doug and Archer have also met children who have received very little positive physical contact in their lives and hope that by having safe, rewarding physical contact with Doug the children will learn to form and sustain physical relationships later in life.
Along with doing therapy visits to the infant and junior schools, Doug and Archer recently started visiting a Pupil Referral Unit, a place for children who are either too sick to attend school or have emotional or behavioral difficulties that make it hard to function in a traditional classroom setting. Here they will work with small groups of four students in different age groups each week. The students will have the opportunity to be empowered as they work with Doug and learn about treating others kindly, gently, and respectfully.
Bringing Love to the Lonely
Doug and Archer also attend a weekly community lunch group for isolated adults. The people enjoy cuddling with Doug and hearing what he has been up to that week.
“Some of these adults are never held or cuddled and so miss the physical contact that is so good for our well-being,” said Archer.
Archer brings along photographs of Doug to share and also sometimes takes pictures of the people with Doug which they always enjoy adding to their photo albums.
Additionally, he spends time with care home residents a few times each month. The residents love to talk about their own dogs that they miss dearly and enjoy having a chance to be around an animal. If any residents are in the hospital, Doug and Archer will also make a trip there to visit them.
“With older people, I have seen them scoop Doug up into their arms and literally weep because they could not remember when they were last embraced,” said Archer.
The residents have often lost their loved ones, homes, and pets in order to move into the care home. They often feel isolated, heartbroken, and ignored. By talking about their losses and emotions with Archer while holding Doug, the residents feel a sense of psychological relief. They also enjoy talking to Doug without feeling judged or ignored as they may feel when talking to other people.
“I don’t feel Doug has a great understanding of the effect he has on others in his good work, but it has surprised me how empathetic and intuitive he often appears in his behavior to those going through such challenging times,” said Archer.
Along with being a beloved therapy dog, Doug is now also the star of the children’s book “Doug the Pug- A Working Dog’s Tale” written by Archer. The story is based on Doug’s genuine working life through Pets as Therapy and highlights the joys of the human-animal bond.
Initially, Archer wrote a very short piece about Doug to read to children who did not want to read on their own. The piece helped the students engage with Doug and feel as though they were a part of his life. Through some of Archer’s connections, Sarah Hulbert, the commissioning editor of 5m Publishing in the UK, got the chance to read Archer’s short piece on Doug and thought an extended version would make a great children’s book. As Archer developed a full-length story, she decided to also include a further learning section at the back of the book to add to the social and emotional benefits of the story and allow readers to learn more about the significance of the human-animal bond.
The book is written for junior school-aged children, independent readers, and people who enjoy reading with them. Anyone who is a pug lover or is interested in the relationship between people and companion animals will also enjoy the book. It is illustrated with color photographs of Doug taken by Archer and background drawings and illustrations by graphic designer Alice Palace.
“The book’s aim is to encourage us to be happy with who and what we are, celebrate each individual’s differences and recognize that we all have something quite wonderful to offer,” said Archer.
“Doug the Pug- A Working Dog’s Tale” can be purchased through Amazon or the Pets as Therapy website. All Royalties from the sale of the book will go to Pets as Therapy.
“I hope that, through reading Doug’s book, a greater understanding of companion animal therapy will be gained and funds raised may enable Pets as Therapy to further their good work,” said Archer.
To learn more about Doug the Pug, the therapy dog, visit his website.