Therapy surely going to the dogs
4Paws program links seniors with helpful canines
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By Jud Snyder  February 14, 2014 12:00 am

Dogs have been friendly with humans for centuries. Perhaps it all began when a few inquisitive wolves hanging around outside Neanderthal caves in southern France were tossed a few barbecued bones. They found the BBQ bones tasted a lot better than raw meat. They told the rest of the pack and word got around. Next thing you know, wolves were getting friendly with these strange two-legged creatures, hanging around with ‘em and begging for cooked chunks of meat and bones. 

As the old phrase goes: The rest is history.

Nowadays, companion dogs are practically enshrined in our society. The U.S. Congress passed a law years ago saying if you’re living in a residential complex or retirement/rehab center getting federal funds, you can’t be denied a companion dog. If the owners say no dogs allowed, there goes their federal funding.

There have been quite a few dog training organizations since Guide Dogs for the Blind began years ago. The newest one is called “4Paws,” which began work in the Certified Social Therapy Dogs category a few years back. They have a small office inside Paradise Pet Resort at 5800 Commerce Blvd. in Rohnert Park, usually open only on Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The phone number is 206-9000.

Director of 4Paws is Joanne Yates, who lives in Napa. Her phone number is 337-5460. Or call Maryann Laughlin at 696-2897. Another good number is 861-0235. They’re all 707 area calls.

At a Starbucks Coffee table, we had a chance to talk to Laughlin and her associate, Michelle Lua, about their work with 4Paws. They’re both retired, articulate, and volunteering practically full time with training social welfare dogs.

“We have 4Paws teams like ours in several cities in the North Bay and as far south as San Jose,” said Laughlin. “Our dogs are always present at the ‘Read to a Dog’ programs for kids at the RP public library.”

Added Lua, “We can use all sorts of dogs, from Chihuahuas to German shepherds and mixed breeds of many combinations. It all depends on the temperament of the dogs.”

“It’s interesting to watch the social dogs in action,” said Laughlin. “A lot of seniors in the program come from other countries where this sort of a program is unheard of.

“When we go to hospitals the dogs don’t merely sit on the floor next to the bed. They’re allowed up on the beds, if they’re small enough, and nuzzle with patients. This is the kind of action that really pays off for the patient’s health. It’s been medically proven.”

Both women carry a handful of dog biscuits when they bring their dogs to a retirement community, rehab center or hospital. 

“The dog can to tricks, sit up and beg, roll over and the patient or resident rewards them with a biscuit,” said Lua. “This is a big deal for a lonely senior.”

Have they thought about training cats to be social welfare animals?

“No, I’m afraid not. Cats don’t have the same temperament or attitude for this sort of work,” said Laughlin. “I remember Charles Schulz’s words, the guy who created Peanuts, ‘Happiness is a warm puppy.’”

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