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Dog of the Day

Capi and Tara, Therapy Dogs

by Carie Broecker

Dog of Day

Knock Knock. Who’s There? “Doggies.”

Imagine that you are in a nursing home. Imagine that you have been there for close to eight years. Imagine that your family stopped coming to visit you after the first year. And now imagine a knock at the door. Someone says, “Doggies,” and in walks a wiggly, kissy, bundle of fuzzy love. You have been looking forward to this visit all week. Tara, a 12 year old, coal black Cocker Spaniel with long beautiful ears, is gently lifted onto your bed. She crawls up to your face on her belly and gives you puppy kisses like you are her favorite person on the planet. She is beside herself with joy to be with you again. She is as delighted to see you, as you are to see her.

This is the work of a therapy dog. They can transform a lonely person’s day in an instant. There are pet-assisted therapy programs in hospitals and nursing homes all over the country. Tara is one of the fourteen dogs that regularly visit residents at Monterey Pines Skilled Nursing Facility.

Tara loves her volunteer work. Her guardian, Roni Rubinstein, has been involved with pet-assisted therapy programs for the past thirteen years. Tara knows she’s going to work when Roni dresses her in her uniform – a yellow bandana that says “Pet Partners of Monterey Pines, Tara.” When they arrive at the facility, Tara gets so excited she runs through the front door with exuberance and enthusiasm, eager to do her rounds.

Thirteen years ago Roni started the pet-assisted therapy program at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara with her other Cocker Spaniel, Capi. Roni and Capi enjoyed their rounds at the hospital, but it wasn’t until Capi single-handedly (or single paw-edly) brought a teenager out of a coma that Roni fully understood the power of the work she and Capi were doing. Roni enjoys telling and re-telling this story to illustrate the power of a dog’s gentle loving presence. “One time, a nineteen year old boy fell off a balcony. He was flown to the hospital from San Diego and remained in a coma for ten days. The doctors did not know if he would ever come out of his coma. Capi and I went into his room and she got on the bed with him. I put his hand on Capi’s paw and within minutes he slowly started to pet her! They were slight movements, but for someone lying in a coma, they were giant steps. The doctors, nurses and family cited Capi’s presence as what brought the young man out of his coma.”

Roni and Capi moved to the Monterey Peninsula ten years ago, but the program they started at Cottage Hospital is still in place to this day. Since moving to the Monterey Peninsula, Roni spearheaded the effort to start a pet therapy program at Monterey Pines.

Capi, at fifteen years old, is now retired from active volunteer work, but her protégé, Tara, is following in her paw prints; enriching the lives of those in need. Tara was found at Toro Pines 4 years ago in terrible shape. She was blind, thin and had a horrible skin condition. She was taken in by Animal Friends Rescue Project and Roni volunteered to foster her, but ended up adopting her herself. Tara was a natural at being a therapy dog. Capi had extensive training to become a therapy dog and is a certified Canine Good Citizen and a member of Therapy Dogs International. Tara on the other hand, has no credentials, but she knows her ministry intuitively. From the first time Roni took Tara to do therapy work she jumped on a bed, gave kisses, and showed her spiritual love. Her gratitude for life is contagious.

Roni is always looking for more dogs to enter the program at Monterey Pines. Requirements for being a therapy dog are that the dog enjoys people, is outgoing and friendly, and willing to sit on the bed, smile and give lots of kisses. Requirements for the human handlers are about the same minus the kissing part! Roni calls it “smoochkying”. Some volunteers come with their dogs for 45 minutes of smoochkying and others come for two hours. The time commitment is flexible.

There are all sizes, shapes, and breeds of dogs volunteering at Monterey Pines currently. There is a Standard Poodle, Wheaton Terrier, Chihuahua, Cockapoo, Toy Poodle, Lhaso Apso, Bijon, Pekingese, and two Golden Retrievers.

If you and your dog are interested in spreading love and joy to the people at Monterey Pines, you can contact Roni at 831-626-6281 or email her at ronisue@comcast.net.


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