Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kids' Best Friend Provides Them with Pet Therapy

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kids' Best Friend Provides Them with Pet Therapy

Article excerpt

Byline: LINDA McDONALD, County Line correspondent

Anita had already put in a hard day, but there were more children and parents for the yellow Labrador to help put at ease.

So when her co-worker, Joy Hardaker, took her to see more families and expected Anita to be happy about it, well, she was.

That's Anita's job, after all. The perky pooch is a service dog, padding around the Ronald McDonald House in San Marco and providing "pet therapy" to children with illnesses and their families who stay at the facility.

"On a recent hospital stay, we returned to the Ronald McDonald House of Jacksonville after procedures that left Nicole feeling very bad," said Nicole Windolf's mom, Delores. "Anita, the house dog, knew just what to do to comfort her. She lay right next to Nicole all afternoon until she felt better."

Nicole, 7, is from Port Saint Joe. A chronic illness means she frequently stays at the house.

Anita is a graduate of NEADS -- National Education for Assistance Dog Services -- in Massachusetts. Her 1 1/2 years of professional training began when she was a puppy and she wore a blue coat. Now, like other fully trained assistance dogs, Anita wears a red coat when on duty.

It's best to ask before petting a service dog. The coat signals that the dog is under command and shouldn't be distracted from the command, said Hardaker, executive director at the house.

Anita the dog is named for a woman whose husband purchased the puppy for NEADS as an anniversary gift to his wife. The couple's gift to NEADS included the understanding that the puppy would be named Anita.

The popular name for Anita's job is "pet therapy." Studies have shown that pets help relieve stress and help dilute painful memories about traumatic experiences, said Hardaker. Locally funded and operated, Ronald McDonald Houses provide a homey environment for families of ill or injured children while the children undergo medical treatment. …

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