Therapy dog, handler bring joy to many
There is something special about dogs. Their panting smile, appreciation for affection and simple excitement about life can have a profound effect on someone's day.
The ability to bring a smile to a stranger's face is the reason 10-year-old Kasey Schlack, of Salisbury, gains great pleasure from being a certified Therapy Dogs International handler.
"My grandmother does it and I've always liked dogs," Schlack said about how she got involved with TDI. Her grandmother, Ivy Pychinka, takes 4-year-old English mastiff and therapy dog Jazz into St. Luke's University Health Network once a week to visit the residents and patients at the hospital.
The sixth grader became active with TDI last year after seeing Jazz visiting with patients. Pychinka, who works as a nurse in the hospital, became interested in becoming a handler when she would see therapy dogs bring great joy to patients at work.
Schlack became certified as an official handler last year with Jazz.
In order to pass the certification, Schlack had to show she could command the dog to sit, stay, lie down and walk past distractors. The dog must be able to be left alone for three minutes without their owner, walk past food, wheelchairs, dogs and people without distraction in order to qualify as a therapy dog. Dogs become involved with the program when they are one year old.
A therapy dog differs from a service dog. Service dogs help to serve the handicapped; therapy dogs help to provide comfort and enjoyment while making visits.
Schlack now takes Jazz to local nursing homes, child care organizations and schools. Jazz wears her official red scarf to alert people she is working. Jazz also has a necklace of pearls she wears so visitors remember she is a girl.
Last year, Schlack took Jazz, to Harry S Truman Elementary School to visit with some of the classes.
"It makes them happy," Schlack said about how her work affects those who visit with Jazz, ranging from students to seniors. "When people visit with [Jazz], they smile a lot," Schlack said. She takes Jazz to work as a therapy dog two to three times a month.
Schlack's favorite experience so far with the therapy dogs was when she and her grandmother took Jazz to visit The Growing Tree, where around 60 students got to visit with Jazz.
"Everyone wanted to get certified to take their own dogs around," Schlack mentioned about her experience.
When Jazz is not working, she loves to play with a tennis ball. Jazz also has an appetite for apples.
"Kasey loves it," Pychinka said, who is hoping to increase the number of places she visits with Jazz and Schlack.
"I plan to do it forever because it makes people happy," Schlack said, who truly enjoys seeing a smile spark on someone's face from a visit with Jazz.
For more information or to become involved with Therapy Dogs International, visit their website at www.tdi-dog.org.