If you'd rather do some good for others instead of compete with your dog, maybe you'd like to try your hand (and paws) at pet therapy. Clean, well-mannered dogs accompany their humans to such places as convalescent hospitals, senior care facilities, and pediatric wards to bring some canine cheer to patients or residents. Other programs take dogs to schools and have children read to them.
Tami Grinstead and her Yorkie, Cleo, made monthly visits to both a nursing home and an Alzheimer's facility, bringing cheer to all they visited. Cleo has partially retired due to her own health problems, but she still checks in with the staff of the facilities from time to time.
For liability reasons, you and your dog should be registered with one of the several organizations formed for this purpose. The Delta Society's Pet Partners program is the most stringent, but you'll also learn the most about what to expect and how to behave. Therapy Dogs, Inc., and Therapy Dogs International both use the CGC (described in Chapter 14) or something very close to it to test the dog, and they provide no instruction to the human. What all the organizations do provide their members is group liability insurance in case an incident ever arises while you are visiting.
Organizations can also put you in touch with other members in your area. There may even be an official group that goes on visits together.
What to Expect on a Visit
You can visit in several ways. Some go to large common areas and put on demonstrations with their dogs, doing tricks, obedience exercises, or even agility. Others go person-to-person, allowing people to pet their dogs. Be a little cautious with your Yorkie the first time you visit individuals. You don't want anyone pounding on him or pulling his hair. People probably don't mean to hurt him, but some may have impaired mobility or functionality.
You're likely to hear a lot of stories about people's own pets. If you visit regularly, you'll probably hear the same stories over and over. Some people relating their memories may cry. Others will smile and laugh. You should be prepared for either. Pet therapy can be an emotional hobby, but your small contribution can make a huge difference in people's lives.
Doing pet-therapy work can be tiring for your dog. Some facilities can also be a bit warm or not as well ventilated as your dog is used to. Watch your Yorkie for panting of signs of stress. And be sure to end a visit early if necessary. To be effective at therapy work, dogs must be relaxed, healthy, and in a good frame of mind.