Dogs Therapy International offers emotional support to community

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   For the past several weeks Elaine Frantz's resource class at Indian Trail Middle School, Johnson City, has been learning about dogs. Friday morning the students were able gain firsthand knowledge of their recent subject matter when a local sect of Therapy Dogs International (TDI) visited their classroom.
   Frantz has been educating her students on the proper way to treat animals because she believes it impacts other areas of their life. "We know that sometimes the way you treat your dog parallels the way you treat other humans, so we have been talking about compassion and how to care for dogs," Frantz said.
   Frantz and her Golden Retriever, Angel, joined six other friends from TDI to visit three special education classrooms at Indian Trail. TDI is a is a non-profit organization founded in 1976 that is strictly volunteer. Dogs must pass a 14 point adaptation of the American Kennel Association Canine Good Citizen test in order to become a TDI certified animal. The dogs have to be comfortable around medical equipment, other dogs, and people.
   Many of the TDI animals have been rescued from animal shelters or poor living conditions. Bartlett's owner, Anita DeAngelis, rescued him from the animal shelter where he was placed after he was retired from the dog racing circuit. Bartlett is a Greyhound that can reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour.
   The variety of dogs in the TDI program allows it to meet the personal preferences at each of the places the group visits. The animals range in variety from a 300 pound Bull Mastif named Ruby to a 10 pound Italian Greyhound named Thea.
   TDI dogs and their owners visit several local hospitals and nursing homes in addition to their work with school children. "TDI is not like guide dogs for the blind or hearing dogs for the deaf. It is strictly emotional support," TDI certified evaluator Melissa Hensley said. "Lots of times in nursing homes the patients have had to leave their animals behind and it is great for the dogs to go in because it brings back good memories and the dogs get them talking." TDI dogs have been extremely successful in working with autistic children and those who do not verbalize well.
   Those interested in joining TDI should contact their local certified evaluator for more information. Any dog with a mild temperament could be a valuable part of the program.