Dogs with Therapy Partners comfort people with hope and cheer

MADISON – Dogs with Therapy Partners Inc. profoundly affect people that they meet. Their comforting outcome may be hard to explain yet undeniable to a lonely child or an adult in pain.

Executive Director Lyndsay Coats was introduced to Therapy Partners circa 2006 when she and her family attended a Buddy Walk for individuals with Down syndrome. “We saw how excited children were to interact with the therapy dogs. I researched therapy dogs and saw (how) they could help people in the hospital, assisted living, schools and elsewhere,” Coats said.

Coats was convinced to give back to her community when she had time and the right dog, After several years, she found Bella and they became a Therapy Partners team in 2012.

Therapy Partners does not charge a fee for visits. The non-profit relies on donations and class fees from Kind Hearts Dog Training Center.

Therapy Dog teams visit residents in nursing homes or assisted living who feel isolated or depressed. After a dog’s visit, nurses witness patients smiling for the first time.

In hospitals, therapy dogs “have been proven to reduce the need for pain medication. Patients move around in their beds to reach and pet the dog,” Coats said. “In schools, our dogs are non-judgmental listeners.” When a child reads to the dog but makes a mistake, no fear of being ostracized exists. Children like to read aloud to the dogs, instead of avoiding the task.

During school or retirement homes visit, everyone can pet the animals. “The act of stroking pets provides most health benefits, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate; decreased anxiety, isolation and loneliness; increased cooperation; and increased ‘feel-good’ hormones,” Coats said.

Animals can help occupational therapy (brushing the animal), physical therapy (walking next to the patient to increase balance) and speech therapy. Bella the Beagle assisted with children at St. Jude’s clinic affiliate; children didn’t realize they were ‘working.’

When therapy dogs arrive, typical comments are “I’ve missed you!” “How cute you are,” and “Can I keep him/her?”

Along with dogs, a cat and a miniature horse team help out. A rabbit team formerly visited.

Chico the Cat is a Madison resident, as are mixed breeds Gracie, Bogey and Chunky Mushroom. Gnomeo is the adorable miniature horse. Other dogs include Havanese (Gizmo, Tux, Wheeler, Poppy, Pumpkin, Rumor); Golden Retrievers (Honey, Bella, Newton); and Labrador Retrievers, Wheaten Terriers, Labradoodles, Goldendoodles and many others.

Therapy Partners’ handlers from Madison are teacher Susan Abell, Cheri Cox, Mindy Edge, Lynn Ferrell, Kirk Jones, Tracy Roberts, Judy Winter and intern Sherri Lynn. Handlers give physical and emotional support to the animal as a therapeutic tool.

Donna Milsaps is a Book Buddy, who assists handlers in reading.

When COVID-19 restrictions allow, Therapy Partners visit in Madison at Merrill Gardens, Madison Village Assisted Living, Madison Manor, Valley View Health and Rehabilitation, Morningside of Madison and James Clemens and Bob Jones high schools. Coats plans to add Bradford Health and Madison Crossings.

Therapy Partners also participates in sessions in elementary schools, Scout troops and at Madison Street Festival.

For more information, call 256-881-5700, email executivedirector@therapypartners.org or visit therapypartners.org or Facebook/Therapy Partners Inc.

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