- Your News
By KALI BOLLE
A year ago, 12-year-old Kate Hart of Tullahoma made a very adult decision to take on the responsibility of having a dog. The dog she chose was a rescue from the Tullahoma Animal Shelter, three-month-old “Kipper.”
Naming him after a favorite cartoon character, Hart not only wanted the terrier mix puppy for a pet but for a bigger purpose.
Today “Kipper” is a Pet Partners therapy dog and spends his days visiting nursing homes, schools, and other local spots where he can brighten someone’s day.
Pet Partners, formerly Delta Society, is an international 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives.
Hart first made her decision to acquire a pet after several hospital stays of her own. She said that while in the hospital, she began to notice dogs visiting the other patients. She also saw how much joy it brought the patients to see the four-legged greeters.
After discussing it with her parents, she was given the consent to get a dog as long as she understood the dog was to be her responsibility. With much eagerness and anticipation, Hart took on the young rescue “Kipper” and has never looked back.
Now a proud dog owner, Hart then made the decision to train “Kipper” as a therapy dog.
A therapy dog is defined as a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, and to those with learning difficulties and in stressful situations such as disasters.
To begin her training with Kipper, Hart went with the Franklin-based non-profit organization, Therapy Arc. A Pet Partners affiliate, Therapy Arc holds regular workshops that are taught by Delta Society licensed instructors. Workshops conclude with evaluations, conducted by Delta Society licensed evaluators, which determine the skills and aptitude of an animal-handler team.
To become a certified therapy dog, “Kipper” and Hart underwent a five-step process that included CGC (canine good citizen) testing, Pet Partner team training screening, Pet Partner team training course, evaluation, and submitted the final paper for becoming a certified Pet Partners team.
Through this process the animals are evaluated on their skills and aptitude level in different settings, their interaction with classmates, and then their readiness to become a certified therapy dog is determined.
Hart said for most dogs that go through the training it can be tough; however, “Kipper” took the training well and excelled through all the courses.
Now as a certified therapy dog, Hart says “Kipper’s” primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with him and to enjoy that contact. Therapy dogs like “Kipper” are able to be around both adults and children.
According to the Pet Partners website, children, in particular, enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual’s lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there.
Many dogs contribute the visiting experience by performing small tricks for their audience or by playing carefully structured games.
Along with visiting with individuals, Hart said “Kipper” can do a number of tricks and loves the attention he gets from those he visits.
At just 13 years old, Hart said she is enjoying her experience as a therapy dog trainer and hopes to train her family’s two other dogs.
Hart is a student at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School and is currently volunteering at the Tullahoma Animal Shelter. She hopes to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
As Hart and Kipper continue on their journey, you can follow their adventures on Facebook at “Kipper the Therapy Dog.”