TALES
Sky is a little 7 year old Spaniel with a heart the size of Texas. He has motivated more patients to participate in Occupational and Physical Therapy than we can count.
They call us in for Animal Assisted Therapy when the patient is discouraged, in pain, and/or afraid. Sky helps them overcome their discouragement, helps reduce their pain and accompanies them in their struggle; to relearn to walk, learn how to use a wheelchair, relearn how to use their arm.
Working with Sky helps them forget their troubles and pain. Their movements become more natural. They show up enthusiastic for their next session, when they used to refuse to go to therapy.
He does this with patience, enthusiasm and  affection. Despite the fact he has the painful condition hip dysplasia on top of the very painful condition Syringomyelia. I always give him the choice to work or not work and he never turns down the opportunity to help patients. He takes his little breaks when his back legs get weak, but he's a champ, he's been a hero to so many.
Write to us:

If you have a story about how your dog or pet has touched your life and helped you therapeutically, the Top Dog Team would love to hear from you.  Please share your story with us by e-mailing it to Angie on  topdogs@iafrica.com
The Healing Power of Dogs: Canines bring comfort to Newtown survivors and others in crisis

Please  click here to view this article on National Geographic's website
 
My experiences...

I’ve often read on the internet, or have been sent details of the difference Therapy Dogs have made in peoples lives. So I thought I would share some of my own experiences, although we often aren’t aware of the benefits people experience when our dogs visit them.

Sometimes we’re told by staff or family members, other times people post on our face book page, or maybe we bump into them later when they’re out and about - especially in the case of hospital patients.

We do what we do because we love our dogs and couldn’t imagine life without them, so we enjoy sharing them with people who have been parted from their animals due to frailty, illness or circumstance.

Here are just a few of my own experiences,

In the early days Winston and I were visiting an Alzheimer’s Facility. We walked into a room; where there was a patient was restrained in bed for his own safety. As we walked in he said “ooooh dogs”. We didn’t think anything of this until a member of staff, who just happened to be putting something into a cupboard at the time, said - “that’s amazing” - of course we didn’t know what she meant, until she went on to tell us, they were the first the words the patient had uttered in over 6 months.

Maybe only a small break through, but it’s something we’ve noticed time and time again, that the dogs somehow connect with dementia patients in a way we can’t. Sometimes it’s just a glimmer of recognition in their eye, or a smile on their face, or a hand reaching out to touch the dog. Other times it goes much further…..

….On another occasion I wasn’t personally involved, but other members of our team were - we were visiting a frail care facility, and in the lounge they met a man in a wheelchair. He told them he’d broken his leg and was only there until his leg healed, and he was able to return home. He went on to tell them about a poodle he used to have, and all the tricks he’d taught her. After a while the team visiting him moved on to visit other residents. On their way back up the corridor they met a lady who asked if they had visited her husband as he loved dogs. She pointed him out to our handlers, so they told her of the conversation they’d had with him. Her jaw dropped open, and then when she could speak again she confirmed they indeed had owned a poodle, and everything her husband had told them was true, BUT, her husband was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease and he hadn’t been able to hold a conversation for months……

Another experience I had in my early days of working, but I still find gives me goose bumps - We were visiting terminally ill patients, and as we usually do we split into small groups, and each group visit different patients, but there was one particular man who requested all the dogs visit him, a request we were happy to grant.

On our next visit the sister asked us if we remembered that particular patient, so of course we said we did. She then said “you made his last day on earth a happy one” she said he’d died that night, but all day he’d been telling everyone about his visit from the dogs, and how happy they had made him……

We’ve had many reports from patients in hospital telling us what a difference the dogs made to them, taking their mind off their fears or their pain for a while, and how the dynamics of the day was changed by the sight, sound or touch of the dogs.

For those of us who love dogs, and share our lives with them, we cannot imagine a life without them, but there are many children, and adults alike, who don’t know that love because they are terrified of even going near a dog.

I was giving a talk to a ladies group one day, and a lady in the audience said her 7 year old granddaughter was terrified of dogs, and could I help? We often find this with children in the schools we visit with our pet education programme, and so far we’ve had 100% success with allaying those fears, but one on one Animal Assisted Therapy wasn’t something I had ever attempted. I said I was willing to try, but obviously with no guarantees!!!

I went to ‘Suzie’s’ house and took Thandi in her travel crate. I said she had to stay in there until Suzie said it was ok for her to come out. I had taken our scrap-book with me so I was showing Suzie pictures of Thandi working, and telling her all about what Therapy Dogs do, and how they are chosen because they are friendly and would never hurt anyone. After a while Suzie said I could open the top of Thandi’s crate, so of course she popped her head out. Thandi will ‘talk’ on command so I got her to bark and I told Suzie that Thandi was telling her not to be frightened as she wouldn’t hurt her.

Suzie had seen pictures of the reading programme and children reading to the dogs, and said could she show Thandi one of her books? She was showing Thandi the pictures and then asked if she could now come out of the crate, but stay on her lead. Once Suzie was comfortable with Thandi I suggested we take her for a walk. I held one lead and Suzie held another. We walked all round the complex and had to go say ‘Hi’ to all Suzie’s friends. When it was time to go I asked if she would like Thandi to visit again and she said yes, but could Miya come too [she’d seen pictures of Thandi’s sister Miya in the scrap book] So next visit another handler came with me and we took both dogs.

Suzie was a little late coming home but she soon arrived and in the car with her was her friend Lucy. They both got out of the car and came running over to both dogs and stroked and cuddled them - Lucy’s mom got out of the car and was shocked to see  Lucy, who she said was also frightened of dogs, and had even been to see a psychologist without success. The only difference was what Suzie had told her about Thandi and Miya. That was enough to make the difference. 

I contacted Suzie’s mom a little while later to see how she was doing. They now have their own dog, and Suzie is happy with dogs of family and friends they visit. They’d previously have had to be fastened away. 

These are just a few of my experiences, and give examples of why I do what I do, and how so much satisfaction I get from seeing so many faces light up with a smile when they see my dog. I am just so thankful that I can share my life with my dogs, and I will continue to share them with others when-ever I can.

Some people say they couldn’t do this as they would get too upset to see people sick, frail or homeless, but as I tell them - “you can’t change their situation, but you can brighten their day”

Written by Angie Thornton - President of TOP Dogs
Our October visit to the Linmed Hospital:
This girl - Erin - just arrived at the Linmed, totally traumatised from being involved in a high-jacking. She was sobbing, but after spending time with Frank and Georgie (pictured) and Danny Boy this was the result. Later Zack and Gaia, went to see her, to keep her spirits up.
Therapy Dogs are perfectly 'normal' when they aren't working - left is a picture of Cloud enjoying the mud which just proves this!
I have always been a dog lover, and in April 2015 I started looking for a furchild again. I found the Maltese SA rescue page and there saw the future love of my life - GREMLIN!
We went to meet her on a Friday evening and the lady basically told us that Gremlin does not get along with her Yorkies and therefore she needed to lock her in a cage 24/7. Gremlin (according to her) was dangerous and aggressive, and if we did not take her she was going to be put to sleep.

There was no way I was leaving Gremlin there. So she came home with us, where for the first time she met chickens, geese and horses.  She did not even try to chase them. She greeted them as if she had known them all her life.

We took ‘Grems’ to Mutters Day in May, and who did we bump into there? Her previous owner, who told me I was crazy to bring her to the event as she is a crazy dog. Anyway Grems was just fine. She did not even look at the other dogs (except keeping an occasional eye on the Yorkies that she had learned to hate so much!)

Then I decided I would love to pursue Therapy work with her - maybe it could in some way help her as well. So we found TOP Dogs and signed up for next JHB North Evaluation in Sandton.
When we got to the Evaluation, Grems parked off on my lap and watched everything rather sceptically. She snapped a little at a big Golden Retriever ... and I thought my dream of doing therapy work with her was gone.

BUT - she soon settled in the unfamiliar, dog-filled environment. She regained her confidence and did everything I asked of her - and we passed!

Now came time for our Probationary visits. I prepared by taking Grems EVERYWHERE with me to get her confidently used to new people, different places, and whatever ordinary life threw at us. All this work certainly paid off! At our first Probation visit, Gremlin was still a little nervous but to my delight she found a friend in Jinx, Conor's beautiful Australian Shepherd and that was Grems set up to succeed.

From there she has just grown happier, friendlier, and more sociable. She can't wait for her visits. From the reports on her Probationer schedule, she has got the nickname "friendly and steady". It is so beautiful to see how Therapy work not only helped her grow in herself, but how much joy it brings to our clients when she sits on her hind legs and asks for treats from total strangers at our visits.

Gremlin qualified as a TOP Dog Therapy dog on 11 November 2015 and is doing her Canine Good Citizen test on 5 December 2015.

Thank you TOP Dogs for bringing out the best in Grems and helping her be the best Therapy Dog she can be!

Stephanie Stoltz le Roux & Gremlin
The picture right is of Meabh (CH Swordstone Juno of Mukonry) on her very last therapy visit for Top Dogs in October last year.
The little boy in the picture was severely injured in a car accident. At the beginning of the visit he had no movement in his arms and legs and they were pulled up tightly in spasm. My Meabh, on her own initiative, lowered herself next to the therapist and cuddled around and put her head in the boys lap. The boy then relaxed his arms and legs and for the first time since the accident, they were spasm free.
Meabh died a few weeks later playing in a park.
Today we went to the same rehab centre and the little boy is now controlling the movement of his arms, raises his head, is responsive to commands from family and therapists and is a 1000% better than when we last saw him.
But all of that, still does not cover the immensity of this for me.
My son Jarryd landed up in a similar physical state in 1993 after contracting Meningitis at 8 months old. I was told by the medical staff, not to talk to him, nor touch him, as any physical contact or verbal stimulation started all the machines around him screaming alarms off. He died 4 days later. I prayed so much for healing and it didn’t happen.
Today I have seen that Madcap Mayhem Meabh was used in the initial healing of this boy. He has so far to go. It will be a long road for him, but he has started down the road.
Today as a handler, my heart is breaking for the loss of my beloved Meabh, breaking with pride for knowing how she finished her race, and breaking afresh for the loss of Jarryd. My head questions God on healing, and children dying, my heart knows and accepts that these issues I have put on a list of things I will discuss with God when I get to Heaven.
For anyone who thinks that Therapy Dogs are just a dog walk in a hospital, old age home, or somewhere to relieve boredom, think again. We are touched each and every time we go to a meeting, the foundations of our faiths, whatever they be, are strengthened, tested and tried. We leave parts of ourselves at each visit, we grow at each visit, we are restored, rejuvenated and revived, and pushed to new depths of experience as we allow ourselves to see others in need and offer compassion and care, even if it is only for a short time.
- Clare Ernstzen (February 2016)
Dogs used to help children testify in court

Johannesburg, 14 May 2017 - Trained dogs are helping to prepare abused children to testify in court.The Teddy Bear Foundation is pioneering the country's first canine-assisted therapy.
Click here to view the video