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Entertaining therapy dogs

May 27, 2012
By KATHRYN SPIRA , For The Leader Herald

This past Monday, I was at physical therapy at the Wells House in Johnstown where I usually go twice a week. During the time my physical therapist was stretching me, a woman walked by with a little black dog called a Shih Tzu. The dog was very well behaved and adorable.

I asked the woman to please come over and at the same time Robin, my therapist, told me he was a therapy dog.

Now, I know how much good having a dog around has done me over the years. My first dog was Moxie, our Dalmatian, who we sadly lost this past February. She was 15 and we had her since the age of three. Although not trained as a therapy dog, she both brought great joy to my life and even assisted me at times by picking up a phone when I dropped it and boosting me upright when I started to wilt in the sunshine from getting overheated. She was just that sensitive and instinctively nurturing to any distress I was feeling.

Article Photos

Kathryn is shown during physical therapy at the Wells House in Johnstown with a Shih Tzu named Jet.
Photo submitted

Actual therapy dogs not only have this nurturing quality, but have been specially trained. And while most people associate therapy dogs with seeing eye dogs, they perform many other helpful functions including emotional support, stress relief, fetching and carrying for those who need the physical assist and cannot do for themselves.

But I can't help but think the main support they give is unwavering companionship and devotion that comes as close to love as I can imagine.

Let me tell you about Jet. He is a 1 and a 1/2 year old Shih Tzu that I met for the first time last week at therapy. He had just passed the qualifications to be a therapy dog the day I met him and was performing beautifully.

When his owner/trainer Sue brought him over to see me, she asked me if it would be OK to put him on the bed with me. I said, "Absolutely! I would love that."

Much to my delight, Jet immediately curled up with me as if he'd known me a long time. He was so calm and he followed Sue's commands perfectly.

Although Moxie was never trained as a therapy dog, we would occasionally bring her with us to therapy where her calmness and loving demeanor brought smiles to the faces of the patients in physical therapy while I was there. I can't help but think the dog's demeanor has as much to do with effective therapy as the training they go through.

I have a new puppy I've told you about, named Oscar, who is too young yet for therapy with strangers, but who is so at home with me that he curls up next to me at night and sleeps without moving. This brings me great comfort and joy to know his companionship and caring are with me.

I wish I had known about the peace and joy a loving dog can give back when I was pursuing my acting career and waiting tables in New York City and Los Angeles. I could have used the calmness and love amid all the chaos and rejection any aspiring actor undergoes.

So, thank you Sue and Jet, thanks for Oscar and my sincere memories of Moxie will always be with me. No one needs to be lonely or feel rejected if they have the love of a dog.

I enclose a picture Sue took of Jet with me at the Wells House.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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