Therapy Dogs Eligible for New AKC Title

September 6, 2011  

Therapy dogs, including pit bulls, are now being recognized for their outstanding contributions

Courtesy of the American Kennel Club

Chemotherapy treatments left the boy with little energy and even less appetite.

A visiting dog did her best but she could not raise the youngster’s spirits.

“He looked at Kacey and was just lying there and petting her head a bit while she had her head on the bedside,” Kacey’s owner John Smead recalled.

Then the boy’s mother began reading Kacey’s “bio” card that shows her picture and tells a bit about her, and the visit turned to an amazing connection.

“She said, ‘Well look Michael, Kacey is like you. She is a very picky eater!’ He just perked right up and said, ‘You are like me? You don’t feel like eating sometimes either huh?’ Then he got out of bed and got on the floor beside her and shook her hand saying, ‘I am glad to meet you Kacey.’ He gave her a few hugs and in return Kacey just leaned over and rubbed her head against his skinny, worn-down, little body.

“The nurse and his mom had a few tears. She said they can never get him out of the bed,” Smead said. “I guess that is what it’s all about.”

Kacey (photo above) may have never soared over an agility jump or taken home an obedience trial ribbon. But every week, the 3-year-old American Staffordshire mix wins hearts as a therapy dog in Southern California.

The American Kennel Club is now rewarding the incredible contributions of therapy dog teams with a new title. The new AKC Therapy Dog program, which launched June 27, recognizes dogs and their owners who have given their time and helped people by volunteering as a therapy dog and owner team.

The AKC Therapy Dog title (THD) can be earned by dogs that have been certified by AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations and have performed 50 or more community visits. The title is available to all dogs meeting the criteria, including mixed-breeds and rare breeds, as long as they are registered or listed with AKC.

AKC does not certify therapy dogs; the certification and training is done by qualified therapy dog organizations.

Kacey is certified by the Delta Society – one of the AKC-recognized organizations – and listed with the AKC Canine Partners program. A former stray, turned into a shelter after found wandering in a parking lot, now gives back by brightening the lives of patients at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Calif.

“She is quite a dog. I guess she just has an instinct for it,” Smead said. “After she is done shaking hands, she does her beg thing … sits on her back legs and just leans back … no treats or anything.”

Another AKC Canine Partners-listed dog who helps children and others through therapy dog visits is Chloe. The pit mix recently turned 6 years old, but she almost did not make it through puppy hood, said her owner Alesia Cork of Alabama.

“I was working at a veterinarian’s office at the time, and she was brought in as a puppy from some people who were supposedly raising purebred pit bulls. She was very ill – 8 weeks old and weighed 1.5 pounds,” Cork said. “The people wanted to use her as a breeding dog but could not afford to pay her bill. I paid off the medical bills and rescued her.”

Chloe (photo right) flourished with Cork’s love and care and soon was at the normal weight for her age. Cork began formal training when Chloe was about 9 months old. The pup was such an outgoing pupil that a friend encouraged Cork to start therapy work with Chloe.

“Chloe loves people, and she is a happy dog,” Cork said. “She enjoys meeting all kinds of people.”

Now a certified therapy dog by the Delta Society, Chloe works in a reading program through the Tuscaloosa Alabama Public Libraries called Tail Tellers.

“Children come to the library on designated days and read to the dogs to practice their reading skills or simply come in and interact with the animals,” Cork said.

She also has visited patients at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Administration Hospital. Cork, an independent insurance adjustor, is currently on assignment in the Florida panhandle, but that will not stop Chloe and her from their mission. “We are currently in the process of setting up therapy dog visits at Pensacola Naval Hospital,” she said.

The AKC started the therapy dog titling program after receiving frequent, ongoing requests from owners who participate in therapy work to “acknowledge the great work our dogs are doing.” Earning an AKC Therapy Dog title builds on the skills taught in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy and Canine Good Citizen programs, which create a sound and friendly temperament needed by a successful therapy dog. Many therapy dog organizations require the CGC award as a pre-requisite to certification.

It was an AKC dog show that actually gave Smead the idea to start volunteering with Kacey in therapy dog work.

“I was watching the Westminster (Kennel Club) dog show on TV. There was a story about one of the dogs being a therapy dog and what the dog did,” he said. “I looked it up on the Internet and read about the requirements to be certified and thought that Kacey had the temperament and the attitude to be a good one. … She just loves kids and she loves to please.”

For more information on obtaining the new AKC Therapy Dog title and how to apply, visit AKC Therapy Dog Program

If you, a friend or family member have a therapy dog that does not yet have its AKC number, then AKC is extending a special offer to list with AKC Canine Partners for $19.

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One Response to “Therapy Dogs Eligible for New AKC Title”
  1. skreidle says:

    That’s awesome! (Technically, though, there are no “pit bulls” in the AKC, and thus none with AKC THD titles..)