Therapy Dogs Making a Difference for Children

I met my friend Christine Orantes in the children’s reading program at our local library in Phoenix.  It’s a program where kids read aloud to therapy dogs to help improve their reading skills.  Icy and I were one of the Pet Partners therapy dog teams that volunteered at our library along with Christine.  At each visit, Christine would have one of her 3 beautiful therapy dogs with her.

Christine has been a Therapy dog handler, on and off, since the year 2000.  I’d like to share the amazing work she and her therapy dogs have done to help children and give back to the community.   Christine graciously agreed to do an interview for Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them.  Grab a tissue and get ready for your heart to be seriously warmed!

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM: Christine, how many dogs do you have & how many are therapy dogs?

Therapy Dogs helping children and giving back to their communities
Retired therapy dog Bette Davis taking a bite of her birthday Pupcake!
CHRISTINE: I have 3 Golden Retrievers, 2 of them are therapy dogs.   The oldest is Bette Davis who is 14 years old. She used to be a therapy dog but she can no longer do it because she has cancer now (due to an oral growth).   

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM: I had the pleasure of meeting Bette Davis at one of our earlier children’s Reading To Dogs programs.  She was a wonderful therapy dog, she’s definitely one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met.  A very special Golden!

CHRISTINE : Then there’s Polly, who is 8 years old and Higgins who is going on 6 years old.  

Therapy dogs help children improve their reading skills
Sweet therapy dog Polly, dresses up for the kids in the reading to dogs program
DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM:  Christine got all of her dogs as adult rescues except Higgins.  Higgins is goofy and playful, and was born blind.  When I first met Higgins at one of our kids’ reading sessions, I had NO idea he was blind!  I just saw a beautiful, sweet and loving Therapy Dog.  When I found out he was blind I was shocked.  Honestly, you would never know he was blind if someone didn’t tell you! 

CHRISTINE:  Higgins came from a breeder as a puppy.  He was born blind and the breeder was going to put him down!  The dogs I’ve rescued were all "disposable" dogs, and look how they give back to the community as Therapy Dogs!

When people hear you have a blind dog they feel sorry.  No, don’t be sad or feel sorry!   The dogs don’t know they’re blind.  They can be part of a pack and a family.  I never treated my blind dogs (she’s had several) like they were disabled, I always pushed them to their limits and let them feel they were ENABLED not DISABLED.  Don’t baby them and act like they can’t do things, you limit them when you do that.  I treat them normally, no pity parties!

Beautiful therapy dog Higgins is blind, but it doesn't stop him from helping children or enjoying life!
Higgins loves to swim at the dog beach & chase his friends around!  I use heavier balls that make noise to play with so they can find the ball!  Emma, Higgins’ sister, is also blind.  Their entire litter was born blind!  Higgins and all his siblings were born with Juvenile cataracts.   Their eyes weren’t developed properly behind the cataracts.  The Breeder had de-wormed the mom while she was pregnant, and that may have caused all the puppies to be born blind.  Or, the mom & dad could have had this blindness gene, we don’t know for sure.

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM:  It’s incredible that blind dogs can make such great Therapy Dogs!  Can you imagine, a breeder was going to rob Higgins of the chance to live, simply because he is blind!  Higgins has given so much to this world and has made a real difference in the lives of children. 

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM : What made you want to get involved working with therapy dogs?

CHRISTINE : I wanted to give something back.   I felt so blessed to have one of my earlier dogs Maggie, who was amazing.  It inspired me to give back.  

I had gotten a call about a Golden Retriever Rescue who needed help.  The dog’s owner said she had this “horrible dog” she wanted to give up.   At the time, I wanted a female Golden Retriever about  1-2 yrs old with a nice golden color.   I decided to see this “horrible dog”.   

Turns out, the “horrible dog” was the friendliest most beautiful dog!   Maggie had been kept outside alone and was never allowed in.  It's no surprise that she became “destructive”.   Maggie had chewed up the sprinklers and the kids’ stuffed toys.  She wasn’t trying to be bad, she just loved stuffed toys and she loved kids!  She just wanted to come inside and be with the kids.   As soon as I got Maggie, I took her to PetSmart and let her  pick out a toy.  She picked out a stuffed Hippo.  She never wanted any other toys, just that Hippo.

Maggie ended up being an amazing gift for me.  Because of this gift I was given, I wanted to pay back somehow.   I never had a Therapy Dog before, but I always wanted one.   Before Maggie, I never felt I had the right dog for therapy work.   With Maggie, I had the right dog, she fit the profile of a Therapy Dog perfectly.   She loved kids and was the perfect Therapy Dog.

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM: In addition to the kids reading program at the library, what other type of visits do you and your therapy dogs do?

CHRISTINEWe visit the Oncology department at the Children’s hospital.  We also visit the College, where the dogs help ease the stress students feel during exams.    We tried visiting a nursing home, but I realized my dogs liked kids so much, that working with kids was a better fit for them.

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM: Is there a particular therapy visit that stands out with you more than others?

Christine shared these two heartwarming stories with me.  I’m tearing up again writing about it. Grab a tissue, if these stories don’t bring tears to your eyes, better check your pulse!

CHRISTINEMy Therapy Dog Cody, who has since passed, visited the children’s hospital with me.  Cody had this shark toy he loved.  He brought it around with him everywhere we went, even on our therapy visits. 

We were at the children’s hospital making our “rounds” to see who might need a visit, when a nurse came over to us.  She said there was a child who was extremely frightened and needed some attention.  The little boy had a stuffed penguin toy he was clutching in fear.  He would not let go of it and he wouldn’t interact with anyone.

I brought Cody in to see the boy and asked if he would like to meet Cody and pet him.  “NO!” the boy cried and turned away.  I had Cody’s shark toy in my pocket.  I gave Cody his shark and without a word, he went over to the boy.  He leaned in close so he could show the boy his shark toy.  The boy then showed his penguin toy to Cody and started giggling!   The boy’s mother said to me “This is the first time he’s smiled since he got here!”

Therapy dogs can get people to open up in so many ways. Therapy dog Cody brings comfort and smiles to kids in need.
Beautiful Cody with his shark toy, the toy that helped get a frightened boy to open up. 
As we left the room, the boy said “That was fun, Mom!”   No cues, no commands.  I just let Cody do his thing. 

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM:  Another story Christine shared with me was when she and her therapy dog Polly were at the library for the children’s reading program.  Our other good friend Paulette and her Keeshond therapy dog Teebo were on the other side of a partition put up to give the kids and dogs privacy as they read. 

CHRISTINEPolly was reading with a child when a mother, whose daughter was reading to Teebo on the other side of the partition, came over.  She recognized Polly and asked me if I’d ever been at the children’s hospital.  I said yes,  Polly and I had visited the children’s hospital.   Her daughter came running over and hugged Polly.  “Look Mom, she remembers me!”  She then said that Polly “Is so sweet and made me feel better [when she was in the hospital]”.  The mom thanked me for bringing Polly and being there for the kids.  

Beautiful therapy dog Teebo who helps kids improve their reading and also visits people struggling with substance abuse.
This is how Therapy Dogs impact people!   I’m always impressed by the courage and honesty the kids in the oncology unit have.  They are always so upbeat. 

Sometimes a sibling of a child in the hospital is kind of ignored.  All the focus is on the sick child.  I think the siblings need attention too, so I give them a book to read, some fun stickers or a bookmark so they get some attention too. 

DOGS LUV US AND WE LUV THEM:  Christine, what advice would you give to new therapy dog handlers, or others who are interested in becoming therapy dog handlers?

CHRISTINE:   I would tell them to know how to read their dog, know whether or not their dog is right for it [being a therapy dog].  Also, know if a particular therapy dog assignment is right for your dog or not.

I want to thank Christine for talking with me about her amazing therapy dogs and all the work they do to help people in their community, especially children!  She and her dogs are pretty darn special, aren’t they?!


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I hope you enjoyed this interview.  Please share your thoughts about it in the comments.  We always love hearing from you!!



Lapdog Creations said...

Dogs can do so much good! Thank you for sharing these great tales!

Tenacious Little Terrier said...

That was a lovely story about the frightened boys and sharing of the toys. Even better that these dogs were all "disposable" once!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the link up! I also tweeted it out. Therapy pets are a blessing! My daughter has a therapy pup and some days he is what keeps her going forward. She suffers from depression, cerebral palsy, type 1 diabetes and anxiety. My cats have saved my life on many occasions! I have type 1 diabetes as well - my cats wake me up when my blood sugar gets too low if I am sleeping.
Animals are creations greatest gift!

M. K. Clinton said...

What a wonderful gang of Goldens! I would love to have a therapy dog. Pierre would probably do really well at it. He might need a sedative though! LOL!

DawgBlogger said...

It's amazing how animals can make a difference where people can't.

Impurrfectlife said...

Bless you for all the wonderful work you do to not only help others via therapy but also giving your dogs a chance at a life worth living. It's amazing the things you can make happen with lots of care and love.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

They absolutely can Nichole! They're non-judgmental, kind and gentle, and are great listeners.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed that story! It made me cry. I love that these dogs were all rescues. With Christine's care & love they were able to reach their full potential and help children in need. I love that she saved these dogs and they're now valuable members of the community!

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad you like the link up! The Pet Parade is a fun Friday weekly blog hop. Yes, therapy dogs are a blessing. It sounds like you have some actual Service Pets helping you and your daughter, that is so amazing. You should blog about that if you don't mind sharing, people are always interested in stories like that.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Aren't they!? Christine is wonderful too, she's done amazing things with her rescue dogs, helping them reach their potential to help people and give back. I bet both your dogs would make good therapy dogs, they've got the temperament for it.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Oh absolutely Jana. Some animals can instinctively tell what is needed. If you just let them do their thing, they'll amaze you.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Christine is amazing. I've known her for a couple of years but I had no idea that all her dogs were rescues and all the amazing things she does with them! I was blown away by her dedication & commitment to dogs and children.

M Dawson said...

This is such an inspiration. I know Summer the Therapy Cat is amongst a group of cats who visit hosspitals and train as therapy dogs do. The difference you make is immense - I hated being in hospital for a few days - being there fore a long time means you would be desperate for some trusting love and companionship. Dogs and Cats privide this by the bucket load :-)

Thank you Cathy, and Christine, for putting some tremendous dogs in the spotlight.

Golden Daily Scoop said...

What a wonderful group of Goldens! It's amazing the effects that all dogs and animals have on people and children. I didn't grow up with dogs but as a child who had anxiety, I think having a dog would have helped me tremendously! Thanks for sharing!

FidoseofReality said...

As a dog mom who has done pet therapy with her first Cocker, this makes me so happy. I love reading how people do what they do therapy dog wise and more importantly, why. The pics are so happy, too, Cathy.

Beth said...

I'm so glad you introduced us to Christine and her therapy dogs. I'm so happy to know their stories. What wonderful work they are doing together!

Unknown said...

You know how much I love reading about rescue dogs - especially rescue dogs doing incredible things to help people! Christine's dedication to rescuing dogs and training them to be therapy dogs is truly inspiring.

Unknown said...

therapy dogs, cats ... and in our retirement home down the street they have a live in therapy PIG! Sir Bacon. LOL

Sweet Purrfections said...

I love how Maggy turned out to be the perfect dog and became a therapy dog.

Talent Hounds said...

I love these stories about therapy dogs. I have seen first hand the difference they can make ay hospitals for both patients and staff, and with reluctant readers and anxious students. Thanks to you and Christine for the wonderful work you do.

Robin said...

Christine and her dogs are so pawsome! I am so happy to see more and more therapy animals getting out there. Personally, I have found animals to be a very helpful form of therapy and I can only imagine the impact they can have on people with bigger issues to overcome. My heart is very warmed by this!
-Purrs from your friends at

Lola The Rescued Cat said...

I absolutely loved this post! It definitely brought tears to my eyes. Pet therapy is such a powerful intervention for people and I'm so glad to see that this week several bloggers are talking about it.

Karen H. said...

Therapy dogs do so much good for so many people, especially children. I think it's a natural match. Dogs have the fun loving spirit kids do, with one big bonus. They won't laugh at or otherwise make fun of a child that's struggling. A dog will hang in with them until they get the work done, so then they can go play with their young friends!

Kitty Cat Chronicles said...

Awww, I love this post so much! So heartwarming. Especially the story of Cody and his shark toy <3 I love what Christine says about not limiting Higgins just because he's blind and not to pity or feel sorry for him. People always pity and feel sorry for Sophie (my CH kitty) when they meet her, but they just have no idea how happy and amazing she is. Like Christine, I let her do her thing and don't baby her or try to limit her. She can do anything! Thanks for sharing about Christine and her therapy dogs. I need to look into therapy work with Sophie - I think she'd be great at it!

Kristin Avery said...

So much to love in this post! Cody and his shark toy comforting the frightened boy in the hospital. Oh my gosh, that is truly amazing and beautiful. I am sure that little boy will always remember that moment as will his mom.

Amazing that Higgins and Emma are both blind. I know someone else who has a blind therapy dog - also a golden. I wonder if like people who are blind, their other senses are heightened so they can really tune into emotions - and thus, make even better therapy dogs! Thanks for sharing Christine and her incredible dogs!

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Thanks Marjorie, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! Therapy animals can make a huge difference for people in hospitals, they're so calming.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Aren't they incredible?! Christine is pretty incredible too, she's done amazing work with her dogs. Yes, they can have such a big impact, I bet a therapy animal would have helped you a lot as a child.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad you liked it Carol, thank you! You must have been a great therapy dog handler. I love these pics, courtesy of Christine. Her dogs are all so amazing, she's been doing it for so many years too.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Thank you Beth, I'm really glad you enjoyed it! They do such amazing work, I'm in awe of Christine & her dogs.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Yes, I do know! Her story is so inspiring, I'm amazed that nearly all her dogs are rescues and that Higgins is a blind therapy dog - and a fabulous one at that. I'm so glad you liked the article Alison!

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Oh how cool is that, a therapy Pig! I love that name too, Sir Bacon, LOL! It's perfect. Therapy animals are so special, they make a big difference.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I know, isn't her story just terrific! I love that she was called a "horrible dog" by her thoughtless owner, but she turned out to be a fabulous pet and therapy dog! it just goes to show you, a pet can be great with the right owner.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I love stories about therapy dogs too. They really can make a difference in peoples' lives. I love the work Icy and I do together, and I love sharing the work of others like Christine as well!

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad it warmed your heart, Robin thanks for saying that! Christine and her dogs really are something special, they do so much for people in the community.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad you loved it thank you! I teared up when I interviewed Christine and I teared up again as I was writing this. It's just so incredible how therapy animals can help people.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Oh, I totally agree Karen! Kids and pets are the perfect match. The non-judgmental quality of therapy animals is the biggest benefit of the kids reading program. Reading to a dog is a safe environment for the kids, it's a no judgement zone! No grades either.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this post Emily! I loved Cody's story, it's just so heartwarming. I think Sophie would be a great therapy cat, I hope you do look into that. Please let me know if you do!

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

I'm so glad you love Christine's stories! Cody and the boy in the hospital really touched me, what an incredible dog he was. He really made a difference in a child's life, what could be more purposeful? I agree, blind therapy dogs probably do have heightened senses. Higgins is a fabulous therapy dog, and sweet as anything!

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