By Nicole Cherie Jones
Three years ago, Steve Booth visited his father-in-law in a rehabilitation facility, where he was recovering from a stroke.
Booth, who had an 8-week-old golden retriever named Henry at home, watched as a therapy dog delighted several other patients: "It was amazing to see the smiles and tears of happiness," Booth recalls. In that moment, he decided to train Henry to be a therapy dog.
Most people are familiar with service dogs. But a therapy dog's main job is to bring comfort to everyone from hospital patients and the elderly to stressed-out students (research shows
that just five minutes with one can reduce stress hormones).
After 35 years as a sergeant with the Orange County, California, Sheriff's Department, Booth is now retired-and spends most of his free time taking Henry on therapy visits. "I wanted to give back to the community by sharing my dog with those who needed him the most," he says.
Over the last year and a half, they've made more than 125 therapy visits in Southern California. Henry started obedience classes with Booth at about 6 months old, then moved on to specialized training centered around socialization, as well as dealing with noises, busy places and distractions that he might face while working in public places. Henry passed the Pet Partners
therapy dog evaluation, which is required to visit patients in hospitals, in May 2015 after 18 months of preparation.
Now 3 years old, Henry regularly brings joy to children undergoing chemotherapy at the Kaiser pediatric oncology unit in Anaheim, California, and patients at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County. On a recent visit to the Behavioral Health unit at St. Joseph, one woman said she hadn't smiled in weeks until this sweet, huggable pup showed up. (Find out more about how dogs help us heal here
.) Henry averages two to three therapy visits per week.
Henry usually does his work from the floor, where he lies or stands nearby the people he's visiting so they can stroke his soft fur, but he is also trained to gently get up onto patients' beds with permission. At high school and college events, his main job is to help students feel less stressed about applying for financial aid or passing upcoming tests.
What does Henry do on days off? He plays with anything he can squeak or swing around! "Once he finds the squeaker, he feels it's his job to perform an immediate squeakectomy," jokes Booth.
Read more: Man's Best Friend: How Dogs Help Us Heal
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Photo credit: Broken Star Photography