Vato and his human David Ochoa. Photo courtesy Lori Fricker.
Last Saturday afternoon, Vato and Skeeter joined the ranks of therapy dogs. Vato, a German Shepherd, and Skeeter, an Welsh Springer Spaniel, successfully passed a series of tests at the St. Petersburg Dog Club.
Vato lives in Gulfport’s Ward Four; Skeeter lives on St. Pete Beach. Vato has worked as a rescue dog, whereas Skeeter’s lineage includes his father Tucker, the former reading dog at the St. Pete Beach library. Tucker died last year and his human companion, Kathleen Johnson, told library staff she hoped to have his son Skeeter continue Tucker’s reading tradition.
Saturday, Skeeter passed the test with flying colors, as did Vato.
“He [Skeeter] will start as soon as he gets his official paperwork,” St. Pete Beach Librarian Maryjane Hyatt said. “It can take four to six weeks.”
Therapy dogs, certified by Therapy Dogs International (TDI), are similar but not the same as service dogs. Service dogs work for one person while therapy dogs can work for different groups of people while handled by one person.
“The amount of work needed to own a therapy dog is not much more than the usual family dog,” Lori Fricker, the TDI evaluator who evaluated both Skeeter and Vato, says. “The only thing that may be extra is a bit more brushing as they need to always be clean and well groomed for a visit.”
When not working as a therapy dog, therapy dogs remain pets who play with fellow pets and humans. A therapy dog can work as much or as little as the dog will tolerate in venues ranging from hospitals to schools.
“A therapy dog is such a huge benefit to the community in so many ways,” Ms. Fricker says. “From the unconditional acceptance of listening to a child read, the spark of a memory long forgotten in a nursing home patient, the safety and love of a court dog, and the easing of the passing of a hospice patient, therapy dogs provide love, support and a gentle nudge of encouragement and comfort to all they encounter.”