By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
BREVARD -- Pets play a highly significant role in the lives of Americans. Whether you are dog, cat or exotic animal lover, the bond that people share with their pet surpasses, sometimes, many relationships in their lifetime.
There is one incredible bond that dog owners may share with their pooch, and that is the relationship of a therapy dog team.
Sharon Crockett has worked as part of a therapy dog team for 13 years. She is also the president of Space Coast Therapy Dogs, a position she has held for the past four years.
"Space Coast Therapy Dogs is a local organization, but we are all members of Therapy Dogs, Inc., which is a national therapy dog organization that registers our dogs and carries our liability insurance," Ms. Crockett said.
Registered therapy dogs, Ms. Crockett explained, are special dogs, serving special people. She said that these dogs can belong to anyone, and that the dog must love being around people, have a sweet demeanor and get along with other dogs.
"They also need to be good with young children," Ms. Crockett added.
Any breed of dog can be eligible to become a therapy dog, as long as they meet the criteria and pass the tests and observations set forth by Space Coast Therapy Dogs and Therapy Dogs, Inc.
"The process to becoming a therapy dog team is fairly easy," Ms. Crockett said. "The dog must be at least 1 year old and have been with the owner for at least three months. Also, the dog's health records must be current."
Once the owner and dog are registered as a therapy dog team, they are able to visit places, like nursing homes and hospitals.
"As a side note, therapy dogs are not service dogs," Ms. Crockett said. "We can only take our therapy dogs where we are invited. Service or companion dogs perform some kind of service for an individual, with either a physical or mental disability, and are allowed to go wherever that person goes."
Space Coast Therapy Dogs participate in many special events throughout our community.
"We participate in events such as the annual Down Syndrome fundraiser and Autism Awareness," Ms. Crockett added. "We started the 'Read to a Dog' program in the local libraries a few years ago."
Therapy dogs not only play a special role in the lives of those with disabilities, but they can also provide relief for people looking to de-stress.
"This year, we were invited to both Florida Tech and Keiser University to do a 'De-Stress Day' for the college students, as they prepare for their final exams," Ms. Crockett said. "It was the 'paw that refreshes,' so to speak, and was meant to give the students a sense of calm for a little while -- it worked!"
Over the past 13 years of being a part of a therapy dog team, Ms. Crockett has seen the effect she and her dog have on others, as well as the effect her dog has on her.
"It has been the most rewarding 13 years of my life," she said. "My first therapy dog was a chocolate lab. I never knew you could have such a bond with a dog, but once we started doing therapy work, it was amazing how much more connected we became."
Ms. Crockett now works with her Australian Shepherd-Lab mix, "Josie," who Mrs. Crockett described as a natural therapy dog from the start.
"The benefits of being a therapy dog team are many. You experience so many emotions when you see a patient's face light up, as you bring your therapy dog into their room, or when the dog walks up to a wheelchair and puts their face on a patient's lap," Ms. Crockett said. "These dogs just know what to do and who needs their love the most."
For more information about Space Coast Therapy Dogs, or if you wish to become part of a therapy dog team, visit www.spacecoasttherapydogs.org.