Therapy dog teams set to respond to emergencies

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Fifteen teams each comprised of a dog and their handler are ready to respond to emergencies across the state.

It could be a fire where a family is displaced or a natural disaster, such as the threat of a hurricane that has prompted the evacuation of a neighborhood. Teams would be ready to visit shelters. These are situations where people are under stress and first responders could use the calming of therapy dogs.

Sue Parker of Paws from the Heart knows the effect dogs can have. Paws, which just celebrated its first anniversary, sends teams into nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers and even the ACI. Many of the teams are also members of PVD Pups that visit Green Airport, providing a break in the boredom of waiting for a flight or in the case of those fearing to fly, a friendly diversion from their anxiety.

Parker believes the canine teams could also be of assistance in emergency situations. She is getting out the word to local authorities that they’re ready to assist. Parker said they wouldn’t respond unless called upon and in no way would they want to interfere with any operation.

But Paws isn’t waiting to respond to community needs or, for that matter, having some fun, too.

Parker said the organization has launched a drive to provide food for needy families. Donations can be dropped off at Dynamic Dog Training, which Sue and her husband Harry run at 859 West Shore Road on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday nights or by emailing Sue at dynamic.dog.lady@gmail.com. Dynamic Dog Training also serves as the meeting space for Paws.

As for the fun, that begins Wednesday when the Canine Crusaders and the Raw Hides face off at URI. The teams are made up of therapy dogs that, as Parker explains, compete in impulse control games. Parker doesn’t get into the fine points of what is other than to say each team will get the opportunity to perform certain tasks with points going to those dogs completing them.

Paws’ connection with URI germinated when Parker started bringing therapy dogs on campus as a form of stress release during midterms. She said the Rams coaching staff picked up on what was happening and inquired if Paws might also visit the URI team.

Not just any dog gets to be a therapy dog. Dogs are certified after extensive training. They are insured against any mishap. The Paws teams are made up of a cross section of breeds from golden retrievers and poodles to Teddy. Teddy is a pit bull. In 2007 Parker founded the Little Rhodie Bully Breed Association, a group principally with the mission to dispel the belief that the breed is inherently vicious and to find homes for homeless pit bulls.

It was tedious, and Parker has found her work with therapy dogs more rewarding and a greater community outreach. Parker started working with pet therapy 26 years ago when she brought a dog to visit her mother. The name of the non-profit organization was officially changed to Paws From the Heart last October. She recently completed an online course and is now certified as a trick dog instructor. She said Teddy, who she has taught 15 tricks, qualifies as an NTD, or novice trick dog. The intent is to have more of the therapy dogs trained for tricks enabling them to entertain as well as provide the comfort of their presence whether visiting a nursing home, the airport or being called in during an emergency.

Some wonder how Parker finds time to do it all. Her full-time and paying job is as a medical secretary, a job that often keeps her working until early morning hours.

But, she insists, the Paws teams are ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

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