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The Impact Therapy Pets Make

Photos by Hillary Ehlen

We talked with Tina Erickson and Norman, her five-year old Yorkshire Terrier, about some of the stories she’s experienced while volunteering as a service dog. For the last four years, Norman has worked in local schools and hospitals making other people feel better.

In her words…

“There was one boy named John. John called Norman his best friend. Norman loved to go in there and they played and played. I had to learn with John that we had to go in there last because Norman would do his thing and then he’d want to go back and visit John. John passed away a couple weeks ago but this was Norman’s first best friend. They had little iPads so they’d do little pictures and if John’s mom wasn’t there, Norman and John would play and play. It was a good experience for Norman. He had so much fun. Now, the room that we saw John in, Norman keeps wanting to go in that room but John has passed away. Dogs grieve just like people do so he doesn’t understand that John is gone.

“There was another child that had some sort of wound and he had to learn to walk again. They like to take Norman for walks in the hallway so we started out in a wagon and then the child would scoot on the scooter, as long as Norman was with. Pretty soon, they said that he had to walk. If Norman was there, the child would walk. That was pretty fun to have Norman there to help the child walk again.”

Norman the therapy dog

About Therapy Dogs

Norman had to go through a strict training program to become a certified therapy dog. The certification came through Pet Partners, a national organization dedicated to training and certifying therapy animals. Erickson and Norman did their basic obedience training at Lucky Dog in Detroit Lakes before passing her canine good citizen test and finally passing the test to become a therapy animal when Norman was 1.

Terms To Know

There are a couple of terms about therapy pets you should (and one that every pet owner should know about.)

  • Pet Partners: National organization that certifies therapy pets.
  • Therapy Pets of the Red River Valley: The local chapter of Pet Partners.
  • Canine Good Citizen Test: A test you have to pass before becoming a therapy dog. In this test, the dog must pass a number of tests, including you leaving the room and the dog staying put.
  • American Kennel Club: The American Kennel Club is dedicated to upholding the integrity of its registry, promoting the sport of purebred dogs and breeding for type and function. They advocate for the purebred dog as a family companion, advance canine health and well-being, work to protect the rights of all dog owners and promote responsible dog ownership. They put on the Canine Good Citizen Test.
  • READ Dog: This stands for Reading Education Assistant Dogs. Norman volunteers at local schools and libraries where he acts as a READ dog. Kids will pick out a book and read to the dogs.
  • Pup cup at Dairy Queen: A small cup of ice cream at Dairy Queen in Moorhead that Norman LOVES. (He prefers to eat it with a spoon though.)

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Written by Andrew Jason

Andrew Jason is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media. He oversees the production and the wonderful team behind Fargo Monthly, Fargo INC!, Bison Illustrated and Design and Living magazines. In his free time, he enjoys running marathons and pretending he's a much better piano player than he actually is.

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