Thursday, February 16, 2012

Career Change Therapy Dogs Touch Many Lives

child reads to yellow Lab by Kathy Featherstone, GDB Dog Placement Coordinator

As a Dog Placement Coordinator, I really enjoy the process of matching each career change dog's needs with that of an adopter. Some of our dogs have a great aptitude for another career such as therapy work.

Atlas, Shep, Hope, Arlo and Tansy are five wonderful examples of career change dogs that have created new friendships within their own communities in collaboration with their adopters. As Atlas’s adopter Mary said, ”We strongly believe that Guide Dogs for the Blind breeds their dogs to be of service and that if they can’t guide then they should have another job! We knew that we would be looking into therapy work when we adopted Atlas.”

Atlas (shown above, photo by Ron Webb)

Atlas is a yellow Lab that is the second career change dog adopted by Mary and Tom. He joined his new family while he was still recuperating from surgery and continuing with physical therapy. The family as well as their first career change dog, Tenaya welcomed him into their lives and their therapy volunteer work. Atlas is certified through Therapy Dogs International and is an active member in the local #220 Fresno Chapter. He has volunteered for the past four years and participates in multiple jobs from reading programs with young children to visiting nursing homes and Alzheimer’s patients. Atlas primarily works with young children in the “Tail Waggin Tutor” program, and the Fresno Library Reading program. He lies on his blanket and the children sit around him. One student said, “I like to read to him and he listens. I like to pet him.” Mary added, “Atlas provides a friendly, furry, cuddly and patient, non-judgmental listener with the purpose of encouraging the child to read out loud and gain confidence in his or her reading skills. He is accessible to all to pet and he seems to make it a point to turn so that he spends time with each child! It’s amazing!” Promoting literacy to students is a gift that Atlas and Mary are happy to share with children.

black Lab being petted Shep

Black Lab Shep has been accompanying his adopter Tammie at her place of work, an assisted living community for seniors. Tammie says Shep’s job description includes ”providing comfort to residents, staff and families; providing in-room visits with residents; being the walking group leader, listener, community greeter, welcome committee chairman and foot warmer.” Tammie remembers one resident who spoke little and did not participate in activities. As she passed Tammie’s office, “Shep poked his head out and a large smile spread across the woman's face as she reached out to pet him. Shep moved closer and he promptly sat on her feet. To everyone’s surprise, she spoke up and said, "You can warm my feet every day!" A new friendship was formed. Tammie feels fortunate to share her job with Shep and believes that he is happy to have a job that he can go to daily and form new friendships. “With Shep at my side, I feel like I can accomplish even more for my residents.” yellow Lab Hope beside man in wheelchair


Hope, a yellow Lab, now lives in Nevada and works a few times a month at a long-term care facility. Melinda, Hope’s adopter, describes the purpose of Hope’s visits as: “to promote physical and emotional benefits to residents. Hope participates in meet-and-greet activities with large groups and individual visits with residents at long term care, spending between 5 to 30 minutes with each individual.” One resident loves to hold her leash while being pushed in a wheelchair as they walk around the facility. She loves to whisper to Hope as they share this one-on-one time together. Both are content and happy. Another resident loves seeing Hope and scratching her behind her ears because she reminds him of his dogs back in his cowboy days. Hope has made many friends over the past year, and residents look forward to her visits. As Melinda said,“When the residents smile at Hope, I know she’s made a difference in someone’s life."

black Lab Arlo Arlo

Another dog with a new career is black Lab Arlo, now living in the East Bay (east of San Francisco). His adopter, Denise, said,“Since adopting Arlo, we have been involved with The Friendship Foundation, making 17-18 visits each month to various facilities including skilled nursing facilities, senior homes, adult and adolescent acute psychiatric facilities, and others." Denise spoke of a recent visit to a youth center in which “Arlo was taking treats from the kids, but one young girl was afraid. She was encouraged to try to give Arlo a treat but remained hesitant. After more encouragement from the staff, she was able to give Arlo a treat. The young girl was overjoyed with her achievement!” Denise’s next adventure with Arlo is with K-9s for Care, an outreach program for seniors at a neighborhood church.

Man pets Golden


Tansy is a Golden Retriever now living in Montana and going to work full-time with her adopter Carly to a long term care facility. Carly said,"The first thing that is noticeable when Tansy comes to work is that everyone instantly smiles." Pearl, a former school teacher said, "Tansy is the best dog I ever met! She is just wonderful….so loving.” These words may seem ordinary – but the love on Pearl’s face and the contentment in her eyes when she is petting Tansy is wonderful beyond words or description. Pearl is 102 years young.

Carly also shared a particularly poignant day at work:“One day, Joanie, a resident, had a serious and rapid decline. Tansy went into Joanie’s room on her own and put her head up on Joanie’s hand – for several minutes, and then laid at the side of her bed. Joanie really liked Tansy and Tansy visited her often – but this last visit truly touched each staff member and gave us an appreciation of Tansy’s depth and complexity. Tansy is a tribute to herself and all those who helped her become her best.

Atlas, Shep, Hope, Arlo and Tansy’s adopters are so grateful to the puppy raisers for allowing them the gift of a career change dog with the capacity to enrich their communities.


  1. Wonderful article and a tribute to the work of the puppy raisers and dog placement department at Guide Dogs for the Blind. It's nice to see the career change dogs working out in the community in different venues.

  2. Thanks to all the community members who are doing a wonderful Job.

  3. First time here and i enjoy reading your post.I am fond of dogs, i remember our Pitbull dog that past away last month. She is very loving and she is very close to us especially in my kids.
    I know Labrador is sweet and loving.. wish to have this one.

  4. Nice article! Each story is touching and a tribute to Guide Dogs, the puppy raisers, trainers, the dog placement department, and so much more. Thank you.

  5. What a great job GDB career change dogs do, serving the so many different needs of children and people!