Pawsitive impact: Therapy dog Holly nears milestone in service


There are many types of therapy available today to help people get better.

Physical therapy can make you stronger. Speech therapy can help you correct a speech impediment. Behavioral therapy can improve mental illness. Occupational therapy can help you regain the skills needed to accomplish everyday activities after suffering an illness or injury.

Then there’s the type of therapy Holly provides. It’s simple and might not sound like much, but her presence has made a profound impact on hundreds of people in Seymour.

When she lumbers into a hospital room or walks the halls of a nursing home, she brings a smile to patients and their families. Young and old reach out to touch Holly, receiving comfort and experiencing the calming effect she has.

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She can assess a situation immediately and know how to respond to have the desired outcome, whether it’s getting an elderly dementia patient to open up and talk or a young child to try to walk or calming the nerves of a cancer patient.

Holly is a full-blooded 6-year-old Saint Bernard owned by David Neuman of Seymour. She is a certified therapy dog registered through Therapy Dogs International Inc. It’s a title she has had since June 2012.

Late this month, she is expected to accomplish what few therapy dogs ever do in their lifetimes: 1,000 therapy visits.

Holly keeps a regular schedule, visiting Schneck Medical Center and the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center along with Covered Bridge Health Campus, Lutheran Community Home and Seymour Crossing three times a week. She stays for 45 minutes to an hour at each stop.

She also has taken part in Schneck health fairs and the annual Kids Fest event and has visited day cares and schools.

Bret Daugherty of Seymour said getting a visit from Holly at the cancer center makes his time spent there undergoing chemotherapy better.

“I love her,” he said. “(She is) therapy at its finest. I’m so very grateful for her visits.”

Weighing 145 pounds, Holly might seem intimidating at first, but it only takes seconds to look into her droopy eyes and realize how gentle and loving she is.

“I run into kids every now and then that are kind of intimidated by her size, so I usually put her down on the ground, and most of them will eventually pet her,” Neuman said. “That’s a pretty good feeling when you break that barrier.”

Bred by Cache Retreat Kennel in Providence, Utah, Holly was born April 30, 2011. Neuman found her online. Her training consists of basic obedience through the American Kennel Club.

“I was not looking for a show dog, but I was looking for a breeder that knew what they were doing,” he said. “I was looking for someone who had some knowledge about the breed.”

In her more than five years of therapy dog certification, she has accumulated quite a list of achievements, including Canine Good Citizenship; AKC Rally Novice and Advanced; AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished, which is the highest award given by AKC to a therapy dog; Therapy Dog International Gold for 500 therapy visits, which is the highest award given by TDI; and Schneck employee of the month.

Neuman said there is a lot of confusion about the differences between therapy dogs, service dogs and comfort or emotional support dogs.

Only service dogs are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and legally can accompany people with disabilities in all areas where the public is allowed to go.

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Even though she is trained and provides a service to people, Holly is not considered a service animal.

Regardless of what kind of dog a person has, Neuman said it’s important for owners to be responsible and have their dog trained and clean up after them.

Holly is actually Neuman’s second therapy dog and fourth Saint Bernard.

“They are such gentle animals, and generally speaking, they love people,” he said. “They love kids. Their personality is A+ as far as I’m concerned.”

Dogs also are smart and intuitive, he said.

“I think we just don’t give them enough credit,” he said.

Neuman said he first got interested in therapy dogs while volunteering at Schneck Medical Center.

“I walked down the hallway one day and saw this little display table sitting there with information about dogs in the hospital,” he said. “I thought it was pretty neat, strange, but pretty neat, because you don’t think of a hospital as a place for dogs.”

The display showcased Schneck employee Janet Myers’ therapy dog, Maggie. Myers went on to have another therapy dog, Bentley.

Neuman went to talk to Myers and asked if she thought it would be OK if he tried to get a therapy dog, too.

“It’s a way to share your animal and provide a benefit to others,” Neuman said.

He got Candy as a puppy in 2006, trained her and started making therapy visits in 2007. But Candy developed cancer and had to be euthanized.

“She wasn’t quite 4 when she died,” he said.

Although he was saddened by the loss of Candy, Neuman said he knew he didn’t want to give up on therapy dogs.

“Part of it was just love of the breed, and I just had a willingness to share my dog with other people,” he said. “It’s a neat thing to do. I really enjoy doing it.”

As much time as Neuman and Holly spend at the hospital, many people think he is employed there, but that isn’t the case.

“It’s fun for both of us,” he said.

But they also are making a difference and improving the health of those they visit.

“It’s a proven fact that (dogs) lower your blood pressure when you pet them,” Neuman said. “There’s been scientific research done on that.”

Debbie Meyers volunteers every week at the cancer center and said she enjoys Holly’s visits, too.

“It is wonderful to see the patients smile, pet and talk to her,” Meyers said. “Most of the patients spend hours in their treatment chair, and Holly is great at helping pass the time. Dave is great, too, because he can sense who is a dog lover.”

Neuman said shortly after he got Holly, he visited one of the local nursing homes and witnessed right away her connection to people.

“There was a lady sitting in a wheelchair up against the wall by herself, and Holly went up to the side of the lady, and she looked at her and finally reached over and pet her,” Neuman said. “She uttered something. I don’t remember what she said or if it was even audible, but the nurse said that’s the first time she had smiled or said anything since she’d been here.”

Since then, Neuman said he has seen people open up to Holly, many of whom were thought to be nonverbal and non responsive.

“You see a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “When we go to physical therapy at Covered Bridge, I get a lot of comments from people that she just makes them feel better. You can see them relax while they are petting her.”

And that is the best kind of medicine, he said.

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