When people hear of Therapy Dogs, they often think of dogs that visit nursing homes and hospitals. There are also other
realms of the therapy dog world that get overlooked. There are dogs that visit libraries, elementary schools, and even prison.
Yes, that’s right, prison. Magnum and I visit the Wackenhut, Michigan Youth Correctional Facility. It is a level five
maximum-security prison for boys - the only facility of its kind in Michigan.
There was an announcement in the local paper, it stated that there would be a meeting and a presentation for anyone interested
in joining a therapy dog group. So, I went. I’ve always wanted to be able to do something locally with my white shepherds.
The presentation was done in a professional manner. It explained that Therapy Dogs International, Inc. was a national organization
that certifies dogs that complete a standard obedience/temperament test. The local group is called Pawfect Companions. Cynthia
Glazier started the club in the Big Rapids, MI area. The interest in the organization was large enough that Cynthia decided
to hold two different training classes to prepare for the testing. Each class met every Friday or Sunday for about an hour
learning the basic requirements needed in order to pass the test.
Pawfect Companions was founded in 1994 when Cynthia and her dog Mandy were certified as a Therapy Dog team, the first in
our area. As Cynthia and her dog visited several area nursing homes, the local hospital and area schools, interest in the
group began to grow and now in 2004, consists of more than 30 certified therapy dog teams. The group was incorporated in 2003
and received nonprofit status in 2004. Members of Pawfect Companions are required to be certified through Therapy Dogs International,
Inc. TDI - based in New Jersey - was founded in the mid 70s; there are now more than 8,000 certified therapy dogs in the U.S.,
Canada and in Europe. To learn more about TDI, visit www.tdi-dog.org. or call (973) 252-9800.
Therapy Dog certification is not a complicated process. Basically, in order to become a certified Therapy Dog, your dog
must pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test, with a few modifications, including food refusal (which is easier
to train than it sounds) and reaction to medical equipment. Magnum passed the test with flying colors - although if he had
to refuse a tennis ball instead of food, there might have been a problem! When there’s a tennis ball around not much
of anything can distract him.
It only took one visit for Magnum to actually love visiting the prison. We attend the Correctional facility as a small
group, which usually consists of about 4 dog/handler teams. We enter through the front doors and a lot of faces light up.
"Look at the dogs", "how sweet", "here to play again", are just some of the compliments our group gets when we visit. We go
through a security check and a metal detector. Now it’s time to hang on tight cause we are in. Magnum knows exactly
where to go. I have to hang on to the leash with both hands to keep him from pulling me down the hall.
The inmates are ready and waiting in a general visiting room along with at least one corrections officer and a social worker.
We then take the dogs out in the courtyard for them to play. The boys throw the ball as far at they can over and over again
until Magnum lays down with his tongue on the ground, which is generally at the end of the one hour visit. The weather does
have some effect on our visits. The majority of the time, we dress according to the weather. There have been a couple of times
that we cancelled the visit due to extreme weather conditions. When the weather doesn’t permit us to play outside, we
visit inside the general visiting area.
The program has been going strong since about September 2003. The inmates are required to remain on good behavior throughout
the week if they are to continue visiting the dogs. We have 2 inmates that have remained with the program since its beginning.
Visiting the correctional facility remains a trial program for both the correctional facility and the Pawfect Companions Club.
It feels good to be able to put a smile on someone’s face each week when we visit. Not many people are willing to
attend what seems to be like, such a "bad" place. Magnum and I have never felt threatened or endangered in any way during
our visits. It continues to be a joy knowing that my white shepherd can be an inspiration for others who often have had nothing
to look forward to in life.
I encourage you to try taking the Therapy Dog International, Inc. test. You’ll receive a Canine Good Citizen Certificate
from AKC. Even more rewarding than a certificate, you will fill someone’s heart with the unconditional everlasting love
a white shepherd has to share.
Written By : Pam Hovind of *Jazmond's Jems * email : firstname.lastname@example.org