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Helping Paws 

From therapy dogs to service animals, special pups help people in more ways than one

Hobie, a 150-pound brindle English Mastiff, lumbers slowly down the hallway of Aspen Ridge Memory Care as Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" drifts from an entertainment room filled with a dozen or so elderly residents suffering from Alzheimer's disease, dementia or other memory loss. Hobie's handler, Jennifer Horsman, leads him by leash, keeping him close. There on official business, they both wear laminated badges.

Jennifer Horsman and her therapy dog, Hobie, greet Aspen Ridge Memory Care resident Joan Wray on Friday, march1, 2019. - KEELY DAMARA
  • Keely Damara
  • Jennifer Horsman and her therapy dog, Hobie, greet Aspen Ridge Memory Care resident Joan Wray on Friday, march1, 2019.

As a therapy dog team certified through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Hobie and Horsman go to Aspen Ridge facilities twice a week to visit residents. Wandering the halls, Horsman looks for signs in a resident's face, signaling they're happy to see the dog or want to interact. Then, Horsman guides Hobie to an outreached hand or smiling face and instructs him to do his signature—and only—trick: "Hobie — sit."

To earn the title of therapy dog team, Hobie and Horsman went through testing together on three separate occasions at medical facilities, to ensure both dog and handler worked well together in those environments.

Sue Dozeal, a tester/observer for ATD for the past 12 years, says she tests to make sure the dog is calm, knows basic commands, knows how to walk on a leash and how to stand and patiently sit by their handler.

"I'm looking for somebody who has a good relationship with their dog, that they have a dog that is obedient," says Dozeal. "Honestly, I've had more handlers stressed going to a nursing home or to a transitional facility than I have ever had dogs. The dogs seemed to adapt, but then they'll pick up on their handler's stress."

Horsman is the volunteer coordinator for Compassionate Canines of Central Oregon, an all-volunteer organization that connects therapy dog teams with various programs and individuals throughout the area. In addition to visiting Aspen Ridge Retirement Community and its Memory Care facility twice a week with her dogs Hobie and Conguita, Horsman also volunteers in the Partners In Care HosPet program, as well as being a reading partner team at Elk Meadows Elementary School for the past 14 years.

Compassionate Canines connects volunteers with St. Charles Therapy Dog Teams, the Partners in Care HosPet Program, stress relief visits to area high schools, OSU-Cascades Pause-4-Paws Stress Relief Day and more.

The benefits from the simple act of petting an animal are well documented. Animal-assisted therapy findings from a University of California-Los Angeles study found petting an animal promoted the release of serotonin and other hormones that elevate moods, lower anxiety, increase mental stimulation in Alzheimer's patients, can lower blood pressure and can engage children with autism during therapy sessions.

Therapy dogs vs. service dogs

While therapy dogs can be certified through organizations such as Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International, they're not considered service animals under the law. The legal definition of a service dog, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, is any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. While the dogs that volunteer through Compassionate Canines don't meet that requirement, another organization called Battle Buddies of Central Oregon connects veterans with training for their dogs to learn to be emotional support animals, or ESAs, and offer support and training to eventually become service animals.

Jennifer Horsman and her therapy dog, Hobie, greet Apen Ridge Memory Care residents Done Gile and Anne Jackson. - KEELY DAMARA
  • Keely Damara
  • Jennifer Horsman and her therapy dog, Hobie, greet Apen Ridge Memory Care residents Done Gile and Anne Jackson.

"All animals start out as ESAs and then hopefully they work their way up in a curriculum that we provide for them," says Kristina Olson, executive director of BBCO. "And we mentor them on their paths to service dog team status."

Olson says the nonprofit provides services to 10 to 12 veterans every year. They're currently looking for a home base facility to coordinate some of their training.

Whether a dog is a bona fide service animal, is a member of a therapy dog team or is an emotional support animal, the services they provide can be life changing.

"I can't even tell you how much difference it can make in somebody's life. It makes a big difference. We love seeing the dogs and new handlers coming into our group," says Dozeal. "Once they get their registration, once they've gone through the whole process, then we really need to help our community by getting out there and doing the work."

LOCAL LAWS PERTAINING TO SERVICE ANIMALS

Renters' rights

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, trained service animals, untrained emotional support animals, certified therapy animals and other assistance animals are not individually defined, and thus all mean the same thing. As a result, no type of support animal can be barred from a rental property or held to standard pet rules — such as restrictions on breeds or requiring a pet deposit or fee.

Landlords' rights

Landlords have the right to ask for proof that a support animal is necessary for a disability, such as written verification from a medical professional, as well as asking about licensing.

Assistance animals in public spaces

Oregon law defines an "assistance animal" as an animal individually trained to work or perform a task for an individual — the same definition of a service animal. Since emotional support animals do not require training, they don't fall under this umbrella.

Assistance animals are allowed in public places, even privately owned businesses like restaurants that serve the public, to accommodate those with disabilities. Under the same law, a place of public accommodation cannot ask to see proof of an assistance animal's certification.

In recent years, airports have adopted their own policies regarding service and emotional support animals. Redmond Municipal Airport's website states that only ADA animals and police dogs are allowed in the airport on a leash. Emotional support animals must be kept in a kennel, just like other pets traveling with their owners.

Jennifer Horsman and her therapy dog, Hobie, greet Aspen Ridge Memory Care resident Joan Wray on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Photo by Keely Damara)

Jennifer Horsman and her therapy dog, Hobie, greet Aspen Ridge Memory Care residents Done Gile and Anne Jackson on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Photo by Keely Damara)

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