While most dogs serve as a family canine companion, Cider, a four-year-old Collie, serves a much bigger purpose. Cider, who has worked as a therapy dog for nearly three years, assists people on the Palouse through hospital, nursing home and university visits.
Cider is just one of the many therapy dogs who spent time with students at the University of Idaho Wednesday afternoon as a part of Fresh Check Day, a mental health check-in.
“Seeing the joy on the young people’s faces is great,” Cider’s handler, Susie Hardy Gormsen said. “It just makes such a huge difference. Students’ faces just change and beam when they see the dogs.”
For some, the four-legged friends are a fun pit stop between classes. For others, they are a calming and much-needed therapeutic presence during midterms.
The use of dogs for therapeutic purposes is nothing new.
Over 40 years ago, Pet Partners, a national animal therapy organization was created, spotlighting the importance of the human-animal bond. According to the Pet Partners website, animal exposure leads to a decrease in blood pressure, stress and anxiety levels.
Through Pet Partners came the first registered organization close to home — Palouse Paws.
Founded in May 2014, Palouse Paws is an affiliate of Pet Partners and focuses on the therapeutic benefits of animals, according to Palouse Paws’ official Facebook page.
As a non-profit organization, Palouse Paws offers comfort therapy through animals to communities and organizations across the Palouse.
Palouse Paws was originally established by Renee Piper and now has more than 40 active teams who assist in therapeutic duties.
“(Renee) recognized a need for animal therapy visits through the community,” said Gormsen, who has been a dog handler on the Palouse for three years.
Following the establishment of Palouse Paws, Gormsen said Piper partnered with Pullman Regional Hospital, UI, local nursing homes and senior living centers.
These are common places therapy dogs visit across the nation.
Gormsen said teams also visit the Moscow Farmers’ Market once a month from May through October.
However, not every dog can register to become a therapy dog.
A team, which includes a dog and it’s handler, must meet certain requirements to serve as a therapy dog and complete a certified Pet Partner training, said Palouse Paws handler Molly Hallock, who joined the organization with her 11-year-old dog, Houdini.
Training begins with a two-day workshop, Hallock said.
“This is where we learn about policies and procedures and learn about animal behavior,” Gormsen said.
Next, the team completes a day of hands-on work together.
The animal must meet the right criteria to assist in therapeutic opportunities. According to Pet Partner standards, the animal must have good temperament, be people-friendly and comfortable around other dogs, in addition to several other requirements, Gormsen said.
Although UI only brings therapy dogs to campus, Pet Partners also allows volunteers with cats, horses, birds, and five other species, Hallock said.
As therapy dogs have increased in popularity, Gormsen said there are more requests for dog teams than there are existing teams, which is why they are always searching for more volunteers.
“It’s really rewarding,” Gormsen said. “I love animals and I know what it means for people to have a comfort visit with an animal. We’re very happy to do this and we know we’re serving a need.”
Savannah Cardon can be reached at email@example.com