Mary Wilson has been working with Love on a Leash, an organization that trains dogs to work as therapy pets then sends them out into the community with their owners, for a little over six years. She began working with them after her neighbor said that Skye, Mary’s eight-year-old golden retriever, would make a great therapy dog.
Mary got Skye from the Humane Society when he was just six months old. Suffering from severe separation anxiety, Mary worked hard to help Skye overcome his issues and become a well-adjusted dog. Skye was two when he and Mary began their Love on a Leash training.
Training for Love on a Leash consists of classes where qualified professionals prepare dogs for therapy by exposing them to other dogs, people and supportive and medical equipment they may come into contact with. They are also sent on mentoring visits with more seasoned dogs for both dogs and owners to see what visits are like.
Mary’s volunteer schedule consists of five regularly-scheduled visits a month to senior facilities and hospitals with the occasional visit to a college or university. These visits vary from group visits with other dogs to one-on-one sessions. One of the regular one-on-one sessions is with a hospice patient of the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA). This senior patient suffers from both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but Mary and Skye made a positive difference in the patient’s life almost instantly.
“The first time we visited our current patient, we got so excited seeing how happy he was,” says Mary. “It brought a smile to his face, and though he sometimes phases out due to his Alzheimer’s, other times you can see a glimmer that wasn’t there before, and I can’t help but think that Skye is responsible for some of that.”
Not only have these visits touched the patient’s life, but it’s touched Mary’s as well. “It’s really enriched my life,” says Mary. “By giving to others, it makes me feel good. I look forward to the visits, and I know that my dog looks forward to the visits too.”