therapy DogTo me, therapy and service dogs are true canine heros! What they do and give and bring to people is just immeasurable.

There are two dog therapy groups in Bucks County, PA that are bring their gifts to two completely different segments of the community, the young and the old.

Puppy-dog eyes can be therapeutic.

Roxy, the Boykin spaniel, uses them to help four fifth graders in Doylestown feel at ease enough to read with confidence. Miles away, a corps of multi-breeds lift spirits at a retirement community in Quakertown.

This group of man’s best friends has more friends than ever. They are part ofTherapy Dog two expanding dog-therapy groups based in Bucks County that offer generous doses of canine goodwill.

Roxy Reading, founded by Diane Smith of Doylestown, visits schools in the Central Bucks School District. Smith’s spaniel Roxy, her fellow volunteer dogs and their owners visit three elementary schools in the district during the school year.

Quakertown is the home base of Paws with Patience, a pet therapy group that has programs at retirement communities, schools, hospices and libraries. Joyce Papciak leads the therapy dogs, who she says will “give comfort when needed and just be there.”

The two groups are part of a pet therapy movement recognized as one that can offer soothing companionship that eases recovery, loneliness and depression.

“Touch, laughter, smiling – it’s all part of wellness,” said Christine Quigg, assistant recreation director of Genesis HealthCare in Quakertown. Paws of Patience volunteers visit there monthly.

The group began 15 years ago when founder Bill Kurtz put an ad in a local newspaper seeking volunteers. Papciak answered the ad, and she wasn’t the only one. Paws with Patience was an equal-opportunity pet therapy organization.

In the early days, one volunteer took his pot-bellied pig to nursing homes. Another brought his mini-horse; another, Angora rabbits.

“Now, we’re only dogs,” Papciak said.

The organization has 45 owners and their dogs who fan out over the Bucks County and Lehigh Valley areas with a series of regularly scheduled visits.

Roxy Reading was founded two years ago. Smith had witnessed her late grandmother’s transformation when a therapy dog group visited. Smith decided her dog Roxy could do that.

She started the training classes and focused on Central Bucks, where her children attended school. The inaugural visits went so well that others began volunteering.

The group now has 17 volunteers whose dogs provide a nonjudgmental audience for children who practice their reading while visiting with Roxy and company.

“Roxy can’t make fun of us or anything,” said 11-year-old Jordan Franco, a student at Gayman Elementary School.

Franco and his classmates’ skills and self-confidence have improved markedly, said teacher Sandi Bergstresser. Children relax, cuddle with and stroke the dog, creating a nonthreatening environment conducive to reading.

Therapy dog owners are required to undergo extensive training and/or testing to qualify for certification and insurance offered by organizations such as Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs of Morris Plains, N.J.

“The first thing is that the dog has to have a sweet disposition,” Smith said.

Roxy Reading dogs must pass the Canine Good Citizenship Test, an obedience test administered by the American Kennel Club. After that, the dog must measure up to the Bright and Beautiful requirements, which include demonstrating that they can be still, friendly and obedient while wheelchairs roll by, trays drop loudly to the floor, and dog ears are pulled. Health records from a veterinarian are also required.

Paws with Patience dogs must undergo similar testing. When the tests are passed, volunteers and their dogs become certified and then insured.

At Genesis HealthCare in Quakertown, the residents wait expectantly for the arrival of Paws with Patience.

“It gives people something to think about other than themselves,” said Beverly McKendrick, who is recovering from a lung ailment at the center.

Resident Florence E. Petrie said she had “dog after dog” before she came to live at Genesis. She keeps her own personal stash of dog biscuits handy when Paws with Patience dogs visit.

“If you’ve had pets and you miss them,” said Petrie, 82, “this is wonderful.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

What a wonderful ‘feel good’ story and what incredible dogs and trainers!

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