California’s beautiful Sonoma County is home to award-winning wineries, luxury spas, scenic coastlines, amazing restaurants, and the world’s largest Social Therapy Dog Program ‘Creating Wellness.’
Founded over 17 years ago by Roz Morris and her cocker Spaniel named Sabrina, the Creating Wellness program was created to brighten the lives of people in need. Made up of volunteers and their dogs, they bring comfort and joy to patients in Hospitals and Assisted Retirement Living Facilities.
Over 107 dogs work at 25 various care facilities in Marin and Sonoma County. The leader of the Therapy Dog pack is Roz’s own eight year old Golden Retriever named Ally. A graduate of the Bergin University of Canine Studies Social Therapy program, Ally is a sweet and loving dog who is eager to work at the Hospitals.
Ally works in five care facilities during the week, sporting a Therapy Dog vest which reads “I Love Working for Hugs & Kisses,” and a K9 Drivers License for identification. Ally and Roz visit each facility for about an hour a day, asking if anyone would like a dog visit. They always check if anyone is allergic to dogs. “You don’t want sneezing for the rest of the day, they have enough stuff to deal with,” says Roz.
Weighing only 48 pounds, Ally is light enough for patients who would like her to sit on their beds, there she treats them with her special nursing skills. She prepares by having Roz thoroughly clean her feet with disinfecting wipes, and by adorning her fashionable K9 nurse’s cap. Once prepped she takes out her nursing bag containing various medical instruments: a stethoscope to hear a patients love for her, a reflex hammer to test a patients potential ball kicking skill, a hypodermic needle for injections of happiness, a cell phone incase she is paged, a band-aid cuff for children’s boo boos, and a rectal thermometer for – what else – show and tell! Even though all of her instruments are only toys she takes her work very seriously.
“The goal of a Therapy Dog is to make you feel better while you are getting better,” says Roz while working with her beloved canine, who she claims is even qualified to take a patients blood pressure. Their visits help facilitate healing, using all the unconditional love that a dog has to give.
There is definitely something special about this Golden Retriever who is adored by patients young and old. Ally is so gentle that even dog shy children love having her around. “Sometimes kids are afraid of dogs, but they’re very receptive of Ally,” says Roz.
During our visit with Roz and Ally at an assisted living facility, the residents were gathered around Ally like children awaiting story time by the campfire. While Roz entertained them with stories and jokes, Ally sat calmly on the couch. A resident was contently stroking her neck as Ally drifted in and out of sleep, and as others mooned over her. Pat, a Dementia affected resident never misses an opportunity to visit with Ally. “We should put a sign up that says everybody loves Ally!” says Pat, Ally responding by gently placing her head on Pat’s lap.
After a busy day at work Ally likes to return home and spend quality time with her two canine sisters, Sabrina and Justice. Sabrina, named after Roz’s original Therapy Dog, is a five year old cocker spaniel who also works as a Therapy Dog. Justice, a five month old Golden Doodle, is a Therapy Dog in training! Strict vegetarians, Ally and her sisters enjoy carrot treats, long walks, and naturally – sleeping.
The Creating Wellness program is always ready to train new Therapy Dogs. It begins with a simple orientation at the Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa, CA. Roz meets the future Therapy Dog and owner, then visits nurses stations to see how the dog reacts to the staff. If it has been determined that the dog would be a good match for the program the training process begins, and new Therapy Dogs are matched with teams. Dogs must be at least one year old to be in the Creating Wellness program, which contains many different breeds. Creating Wellness hopes to have over 200 volunteers by early next year.
“The greatest gift you can give another human being is yourself and a dog, there is nothing better than that,” says Roz. “This is the best job I’ve ever had in my life.” With all of her experience as a therapy trained Golden Retriever, one can truly say Ally has the golden touch when it comes to her patients.
To learn more about Creating Wellness or to qualify your dog to be a Therapy Dog please visit the Creating Wellness site at www.creating-wellness.net