Molly, a golden retriever trained as a therapy dog, was so eager to get into the hospital to visit people that she used to jump out of the car and carry her own leash inside, says Niki Weaver, Molly’s owner and trainer. The dog would move from wheelchair to bed, making her rounds, then move on to the nurses’ station to accept a little treat.
Most people were happy to visit with Molly, says Weaver. But then there was Marjorie. The elderly wheelchair-bound patient seemed like an ideal candidate for a visit from a therapy dog – except for one thing: Marjorie was terrified by dogs. She had apparently been bitten by one when she was very young, and never quite gotten over it.
“When I attempted to introduce Molly,” says Weaver, “Marjorie said, ‘Oh no, no, I’m afraid of dogs.’” Molly, who had been ready to approach, slowed down and came to a halt about six feet away from Marjorie, sensing her discomfort. But within weeks of regular visits, Weaver says, Molly was sitting in Marjorie’s lap. “And this was a 75-pound dog!”
A friendship blossomed between the dog and her patient. A few years later, Marjorie fell down and broke her hip. “One of the doctors called me, and we came down to the hospital,” says Weaver. “Molly stayed with Marjorie until her surgery, and was there when she woke up and asked for Molly. This is the kind of relationship that people have with these animals.”
Molly was the first therapy dog sponsored by the Rotary Club of Red Hook’s Therapy Dogs program. She was even voted into the Club as an honorary member and given the official badge for her contributions to the community, says Weaver. Sadly, Molly passed away last year, but the program continues. Weaver, who is now training Molly’s sister Sheba as a therapy dog, says that she welcomes inquiries from anyone who would like to train his or her dog to participate in the Rotary Club’s program.
The group has dogs of all different breeds, she says, with the dog’s temperament being the most important thing to consider. “They have to like people, and they have to be able to sit on command. Therapy dogs have to start training while young, before they’re age 2, and their handler has to stay with them at all times.”