By Patricia H. Wheeler, PhD
Published by AuthorHouse, 2012
I have been a therapy dog handler since 2002, when my dog, Lawrence, the Livermore Lab, started going to an Alzheimer’s facility each week. In 2004, he began going to the VA in Livermore, California, at least once or twice a week. The following year, my other dog, Albert, started going to the VA and then to Shepherd’s Gate (a shelter for battered and homeless women and children). And both of them began visiting the five Easy Living Care Home assisted living sites. They also have been going to community events, schools, and elsewhere. In 2010, they started going to Welcome Home Celebrations for our troops returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other tours of duty.
In 2005, I realized what a difference my dogs were making for the people they served. I could not attribute what they were doing to any training we had been through. So I started collecting stories. Then I got the idea of doing a publication about their work and the impact they were having on those they served. Quickly, this grew into a book and the inclusion of other therapy dogs and of other sites and programs in addition to the VA.
This has been a seven-year project. But now I have testimonials from over 200 people—staff, residents, patients, students, family members, and others—and over 350 stories about the successful work of over 50 therapy dogs. Their work covers a variety of sites, programs, and events—nursing homes and assisted living facilities, schools, libraries, a police department, a shelter, camps for children with challenges, retirement homes, a senior day care program, community events (parades, concerts, ceremonies), and Welcome Home Celebrations for our military. The book also contains 18 poems, most of them written by veterans at the VA in Livermore about what the therapy dogs mean to them, and many photos of the dogs at work. In addition, the book has short bios for the 51 therapy dogs and the 46 handlers featured in the book.
The dogs include purebreds and mixed breeds, ranging in size from under 10 pounds to over 130 pounds. Some were obtained from breeders, others rescued from terrible circumstances. They range in age from two to seventeen years. Several have passed away, but their service is not forgotten. And they serve all kinds of people, infants to centenarians, many with physical, emotional, social, and cognitive challenges.
The testimonials and stories run the gamut of emotions. Some will make you laugh or smile, while other will bring tears to your eyes. They are very touching. Congressman Jerry McNerney, who wrote the Foreword for the book, writes, “The stories and testimonials contained in these pages will open your eyes to the world of therapy dogs and how beneficial they can be for people.” Susy Flory, co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, writes, “Successful Tails is a heartwarming collection of stories and photos of therapy dogs at work. I predict you will enjoy getting to know these extraordinary dogs and the people who love them and, perhaps, even fall in love with them. I know I did.”
This book isn’t just for people who want to become therapy dog handlers or staff at sites and programs that would like to have therapy dogs for those they serve, though both of these groups will find it useful. This book is for everyone. It is a wonderful book to read when you are waiting, whether at the doctor’s office, the train station, or the airport. You can read as little or as much as you want at one time. It makes good bedtime reading, and hopefully you will fall asleep and have beautiful dreams about dogs and the people they serve. I am sure you will enjoy it, and, if you are not already a dog lover, you will
probably become one.