Profile: Therapy Dogs in Action
Karen Moessner is a retired elementary school teacher who lives in Fort Wayne, IN. She has two beautiful shelties, Dinah and Allie. Both her dogs are trained therapy dogs and certified by Three Rivers Visiting Dogs.
Karen got started with therapy dogs after her daughter, Christen, worked with a hospice center. Karen saw therapy dogs brought into the center and decided to give it a try herself. She wanted to share the support and comfort she felt from her own dogs. That was six years ago and Karen is still visiting hospitals with her shelties in tow.
A typical visit will involve at least two handlers and their dogs. At a hospital the teams will go from room to room and ask people if they would like to see the dogs. Sometimes the dogs can go on the bed to sit with the patients. Some of the dogs do tricks to start conversations.
When asked how people generally react to a therapy dog visit, Karen replied, “They’re really happy to see a dog.Other people just want some company and to talk to the handler as well as the dog. It’s good for the visitors, staff, and children.” Sometimes the hospital staff will have treats waiting for the visiting dogs.
Dinah is especially popular. She resembles a little fluff ball, even by sheltie standards. At home Dinah is generally wary of strangers. She was a shy dog when she was a puppy. But when Dinah is working she approaches people without hesitation.
Karen spoke about memorable experiences she witnessed while working with her dogs. One story will be familiar to those who study the physiological effects of the presence of animals. While visiting outpatient recovery, Karen and Dinah visited a woman who was feeling very tense. As a result, her blood pressure was very high. They visited with the woman, chatted, and left; a routine visit. The next week a nurse caught Karen and told her that the woman they had visited last week could not be released because her blood pressure was too high. After Dinah’s visit her blood pressure dropped and she could go home.
Another story Karen told was about a teenage girl in pediatrics. When the handlers and their dogs entered the room she was lying very still with her mother nearby. Karen had Allie with her this time and asked the mother if she would like the dogs to visit. While talking to the mother, Allie went to the girl’s bed and stuck her long nose through the bars toward the girl’s face. The girl smiled and reached out to pet Karen’s dog. She asked some questions about Allie. Karen looked over to the mother and noticed she was crying.
Outside the room the mother told Karen “she’s been here three days and that’s the first time she’s spoken, and that’s the first she’s smiled.”
Those familiar with the research side of the human-animal bond know the benefits of therapy dogs are well documented. Many research studies note how people are often more relaxed with an animal present. Children in therapy are more willing to speak when petting a therapy dog. Karen has been able to witness events like these firsthand.
Karen is still involved with Three Rivers Therapy Dogs and visits hospitals with Dinah and Allie.