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How Little Therapy Dogs Help Veterans, Children With Special Needs

Sealyham Terrier

Little dogs can do really big work! And Sealyham Terriers are definitely little dogs. Learn how little Therapy Dogs help veterans and children with special needs,

Take for example Jasper. Jasper is a Sealyham Terrier and an Airport Therapy Dog. Tonight, he is snuggling up at an undisclosed location, on the bare floor, with military deployment troops – his head on the chest of a soldier. The young soldier puts his arm around Jasper, then falls back asleep.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy Dogs do a valuable job by providing unconditional love, emotional support and an understanding, listening ear anywhere they’re needed. Many people are familiar with Therapy Dogs visiting hospitals, schools, universities group homes and libraries, but Therapy Dogs also provide a valuable service at funerals, disaster sites or anywhere else emotions, grief, and tension may run high.

Therapy Dogs are typically well-trained, sweet-natured, friendly dogs who are, first and foremost, pets. Their family trains them and often has them certified via a therapy organization, and therapy dog teams are most often volunteers. Unlike Service Dogs which are specifically trained to help a disabled individual with tasks they have difficulty completing, Therapy Dogs do NOT have public access, with or without their handler, and they may only enter buildings (that don’t allow all pets to enter) with a direct invitation to the dog and handler or to the therapy dog organization.

How Do You Train and Certify a Dog for Therapy?

Because Therapy Dogs work with the public — including small children,disabled individuals, senior citizens and others with physical or cognitive limitations — on a very intimate level, many hospitals, nursing homes or other institutions request that any dog brought into their facility is trained, certified or registered with another group, even though it is not required by any federal or local laws. There are dozens of organizations which certify therapy dogs. If you would like your dog to also be recognized by the AKC, here is a list of places to contact.

Airport Confidential Military Deployments

The troops sleep in empty buildings and warehouses awaiting transport to their departure flights that take off from the Reno/Tahoe runway. Jasper has special security clearance along with his handler, Judy Mugrauer, to console the troops before takeoff. “We never know where they’re headed,” says Mugrauer, “we are not allowed to tell when or where we are meeting the troops, the confidentiality always reiterated before we arrive at the holding location.” Participation in troop deployment is by ‘invitation only’ to a very select few certified Therapy Dog teams.

Once the men and women being deployed are awake, Mugrauer visits with the troops. The soldiers want to know all about Jasper, and confide to Mugrauer about their dogs, and how much they will miss them.

Jasper comforts a Vietnam Veteran

Helping soldiers one paw at a time

Not only is Jasper one of the main canines for confidential military deployments that secretly take off from the Reno/Tahoe Airport runway, he also comforts retired military as they depart from and arrive at the Reno/Tahoe airport terminal with the Veteran Honor Flights.

Veteran Honor Flights works in cooperation with Paws4Passengers and is open to the public to meet and greet outgoing and incoming Veteran flights. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor American Veterans for their sacrifices. These heroes are transported to Washington D.C. to visit and reflect upon their service and to visit the memorials of those who lost their lives in service to our country. Top priority is given to Senior Veterans, those who may be terminally ill, or those who have fought in World Wars.

Southwest Airlines is the official sponsor for the Reno-Tahoe Honor Flights.

As a certified and highly trained Airport Therapy Dog, Jasper has clocked many hours of service with Paws4Passengers. He is on his Sixth Honor Flight Mission with the organization.

“Paws4Passengers is organized exclusively for the charitable mission of providing, through it’s members and well-trained, affectionate, obedient and nationally ‘registered’ therapy dogs, therapeutic contact with the Traveling Public, Airport Employees, TSA/Homeland Security Employees and Flight Crews at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Reno, Nevada.”

The program began on Thanksgiving weekend in November 2013.  There were only 6 or 8 teams when P4P first started. Today they have about 40 teams that participate in the Reno-Tahoe P4P program.  When Reno-Tahoe P4P began there were only about six airports in the continental USA that had therapy dog programs.  The first airport therapy dog program began at the San Jose airport shortly after the 9-11 tragedy.  Now there are over 40 airports with therapy dog programs.

Jasper’s favorite service event is with the returning veterans at the Reno/Tahoe Airport. He ‘struts his terrier stuff’ upon entering the lobby of the terminal as The Littlest Canine Mayor – with a very special affection for veterans as a member of the Paws4Passengers Program.

There can be up to 20 Paws4Passenger Teams waiting to greet the returning veterans on the tarmac coming in on their flight from Washington, D.C. Every Airport Handler Team holds a welcome banner for each branch of the service as an honor guard with bagpipes lead the veterans towards the terminal as they exit the plane. The Airport Therapy Dog Handlers form two lines on either side, shaking hands with each veteran as they pass through to welcome them home. Once inside the terminal lobby, The National Anthem is sung, the ceremony concluding with a Welcome Home Speaker.

Jasper gives a very special welcome home greeting by being one of the littlest dogs to hop into the lap of of any veteran arriving by wheelchair.

According to Mugrauer, she and Jasper and do approximately five or six P4P visits each month. This varies depending on the time of year. Thanksgiving through New Years is their busiest  They are now preparing for Hot August Nights and Burning Man. Anything that is going on in the Reno area has a direct impact on airport activity.

Timper comforting a blind child.

Are There Special Considerations For Therapy Dog Handlers Serving Special Groups? Yes!

Wheelchair Etiquette
• Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair, not the chair.
• If conversation lasts more than a minute, sit or kneel to put yourself on the same level as the wheelchair user.
• Don’t Lean on the wheelchair. It is part of their personal space.
• Always ask the person in the wheelchair if they would like assistance before giving it.

Bind and Visually Impaired Etiquette
• Don’t shout. They’re NOT deaf.
• Enter the room and say something immediately, introducing the dog; name, type, and size.
• Use touch to communicate if both are comfortable with it. Do not assume they want to touch the dog. Always Ask!
• Narrate clearly what is going on when engaging in games and tricks.

Fearful Children
• Don’t talk down to them or become patronizing. Speak in a normal tone of voice.
• Allow their responses to dictate your questions. Be honest. Never lie.
• Listen to their whole body responses; their non-verbal cues.
• Don’t Correct – Redirect. Respect their beliefs.

Jasper Stealing a Kiss on Lap In a Wheelchair Honor Flight

What Makes A Great Therapy Dog?

Well-trained and obedient are a given, but ‘affectionate’ must definitely be a part of the mix. For this reason, the Sealyham Terrier makes an exceptional therapy dog. Originally bred in Wales to hunt badger and alongside hounds to hunt fox, is a brave, tenacious, spunky, height-challenged ‘clownish’ breed – with a very soft and compassionate side – and smart as a whip with a willingness to please. Many dog fanciers and dog lovers may have never imagined these qualities to be a part of this terrier’s demeanor. A trait that once realized and uncovered, by a lucky few – makes the Sealyham an ideal candidate for therapy work.

“P4P therapy dogs must be excellent. Calm, calm, calm is a requirement,” says Mugrauer, Jasper’s handler, “absolutely no variances from therapy dog rules are tolerated.” She goes on to say that there are unusual circumstances that are more frequent and unexpected at airports than other therapy venues. “People traveling with poorly trained ‘service’ dogs are the biggest annoyance,” Mugrauer asserts, “we give these dogs a wide berth for their lunging and jumping.” Mugrauer confirms that the poorly behaved dogs ‘illicit stares and rigid stances’ from the P4P dogs, but nothing more. “Barking, growling, and lunging are strictly prohibited,” she says. P4P must remain well-mannered and well-behaved ‘at all times’ to stay in the program. There is a waiting list of approximately two years to get into the P4P Program.

Dogs must be at least one-year old to be certified as a therapy dog. Mugrauer goes into detail about Jasper’s capabilities, “Jasper passed his therapy dog test through Alliance of Therapy Dogs on his first birthday. While not unheard of, this is unusual,” she says with great admiration, “most 1-year-old puppies are still too rambunctious to meet this requirement.” It comes as no surprise to learn that Jasper completed his AKC Canine Good Citizen, (CGC) and AKC Canine Good Citizen Advanced, (CGCA) before he was a year old.

There is no therapy work Jasper cannot do. If there is a fire, a flood, or a local crisis? Jasper is on the scene. Jasper is a member of the local Crisis Response Team. A couple of years back he was called to a local grammar school when one of the students shot and killed a teacher. Mugrauer and Jasper spent almost every day for a month – consoling and comforting the staff and students. One will also find Jasper in Judicial and Justice Court with traumatized children who must testify, sharing their tears with Jasper and giving him lots of hugs. Jasper helps to reduce and relieve their stress and tension when in front of a jury, or while waiting in a private room.  It has been well-documented that therapy dogs can actually increase pheromones – the feel good hormones.

“The scope of therapy dog work is only as limited as your imagination and available time,” Mugrauer says, from her experience,“sadly Jasper and I have to turn down many requests simply because we do not have enough time.” She is also careful that Jasper does not get “burned out.” It is vital that he continues to enjoy therapy work.

What does Jasper do for fun? The Reno Rodeo Parade. His favorite event, of course, is no surprise. The Veteran’s Day Parade!

What is the Scope of Therapy Dog Work? Sealyham Terriers (since departed) have served The Blind and The Relinquished

It takes a very rare and special breed to bond with the blind and visually impaired. Timper, the Sealyham Terrier, is that exceptional therapy dog. Always moving and interacting – slowly and lovingly – among the blind with his handler, Natalia Nikolaeva. Children with a visual loss, or those who are legally blind, cannot adjust as quickly to abrupt and unwarranted movements and don’t always know where the other person exists in space.

Timper would ‘wait’ for their physical advances first, then interact calmly and quietly to their gestures, sometimes with a kiss for connection, or a touch with an outstretched hand, at The School for The Blind.

Another Sealyham Terrier who did extraordinary therapy work was Mollie Mae, whose special connection was with adopted and foster children at Camp Clio outside of Lyme, Connecticut.

Relinquished children who are adopted or in foster care can be mistrustful of adults, and reluctant to show their feelings. They immediately warmed to Mollie Mae, and she to them. One child who rarely spoke or gave eye-contact, reached out directly with a treat; another gave a command to go through an agility tunnel or over a jump. For a group photo of a cross-generational Adopted 7 – Mollie Mae joined in as the welcomed ringer with her handler, Bev Thompson, who is also adopted – bringing smiles to the faces of everyone.

Learn more about Therapy Dogs and other types of working dogs.


Learn more about voluntary, community-defined training and behavior standards for handlers and their Service Dogs at




Bev Thompson is a Feature Writer covering stories about Service and Working Dogs for online and magazine publications and is the recipient of Excellence in Writing Nominations from The Dog Writer’s Association of America (DWAA). She lives in New York City with her Sealyham Terrier, Pip, who is Full of The Dickens, stirring the pot competing and titling in companion and performance events and currently ‘getting nosey’ in her Scent Work Classes.

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