Walking into the Regional Medical Center's Behavioral Health Center, Sue seemed to “smile.” With the guidance of Sue’s handler, Bonnie Journey, the black and white certified therapy dog greeted clients in the Day Room with a sense of pride and purpose.
An Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, Sue is 9 years old, which is the equivalent of 63 years in people years. Sue performed the pet therapy role calmly as she engaged with clients and enjoyed the attention received and given during this therapeutic interaction. A particular client diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder/bipolar type, smiled.
A similar scene has been repeated every Thursday when Sue has visited and brought smiles, laughter and comfort to inpatient clients. Journey said Sue has the perfect temperament to serve as a therapy dog.
"Sue loves people and becomes excited every time I tell her she is going to work. I think a good therapy dog has to love people. I also think that love has to be tempered with a calm spirit. There are plenty of dogs who love people and show it by jumping on or licking them. I don’t think this is appropriate for a therapy dog," Journey said.
Research has indicated that pet therapy dogs provide mental, emotional and physical benefits for clients including: building trust, enhanced self-esteem, lower blood pressure and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mental health clients, particularly, have benefited from the warmth and affection provided from pet therapy interactions during a difficult time.
Journey said her idea of providing pet therapy evolved while working with children challenged with special needs. However, not every dog can be a pet therapy dog. After passing three critical examinations to evaluate Sue’s behavior in various settings and interactions with people, medical equipment and environment, the canine passed a final examination and was awarded registration with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
Journey described Sue as a "throw out dog."
"Someone tossed Sue and her brother out into the country. A farmer adopted the brother and a woman I worked with adopted Sue. Sue lived on a farm and was a little girl’s pet for three and a half years. The little girl named her Sue and would take her into the field and read to her," she said. "The family started raising sheep, and Sue was chasing the sheep instead of herding them. Because of this, the family had to get rid of (her). That’s when I adopted Sue. She has lived with us for six years."
Sue makes regular weekly rounds at several facilities in Orangeburg in addition to RMC Behavioral Health: the inpatient RMC rehabcentre, Longwood Plantation assisted living facility and Magnolia Place special care unit.
“Sue's job is essentially the same everywhere she goes … to comfort people. Sue speaks to everyone and provides them the opportunity to engage with her, sparking pleasant memories from the recesses to the forefront of some peoples’ minds," Journey said.
Journey believes the most important trait of a pet therapy dog is "a love of people embedded in a calm spirit."
As Sue walks toward each client at the Behavioral Health Center, her gentleness is apparent, and clients respond favorably to her calm manner. She wags her tail, looks up at another client and waits for the client to pet her, and the client does. The client, as most do, smiles and shares stories of their life as they pet the therapy dog.
Sue has once again done a good job.