Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Friendly Little Visitors Canines Help Cheer Up Nursing Home Residents

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Friendly Little Visitors Canines Help Cheer Up Nursing Home Residents

Article excerpt

BRUNSWICK -- Melva Miller sat watching TV in her room at Fairhaven Assisted Living Center when administrator Mike Battle came to her door.

"Would you like some visitors?" he asked.

Miller graciously invited the visitors, two women with their dogs, inside. She patted Adela, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, on the head and Adela raised onto her hind legs and licked Miller on her nose.

"She's a kisser," said Sheri Fahl, Adela's owner.

Miller reckoned that was all right and she enjoyed the visit but added, "It's too bad I don't care for dogs."

But many people do care for them and that's why Fahl and Cindy Couturier make visits to Fairhaven and to other places where people could use a sloppy kiss from their friendly little dogs.

Fahl and her four dogs and Couturier and her two are members of Coastal Therapy Dogs, an all-volunteer organization of dog owners who make comforting and therapeutic visits to nursing homes, hospitals and similar facilities. Coastal Therapy Dogs is an arm of Therapy Dogs International and covers an area from Hilton Head Island, S.C., to Brunswick.

All dogs in the umbrella organizations must be fully trained and tested. The dogs must show the ability to follow commands sit, stay, down and come and must allow a stranger to brush, handle and hug them without showing any resentment.

The organizations also provide insurance, which, Fahl says, is important.

"Let's face it," she said. "This country is a little sue happy."

Even those who volunteer their time and want only to do good can be targeted if their dog accidentally hurts someone, she said.

Fahl has given more than time and money to the program. She lost a dog.

An acquaintance told Fahl that one of her dogs, Misty, might be able to break through to a woman in Baltimore who suffered from severe clinical depression. The woman hadn't been out of her house in years until Misty arrived.

"Within four months the woman was going to visit her mother in Florida and her sister in Wisconsin," Fahl said. "Misty is her dog."

The dogs touch people and draw them away from their troubles. Therapy Dogs International doesn't tout any miracles in its literature. …

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