At Fur and Feather Works, we are proud to support students with an interest in Therapy Dog work in pursuing this noble goal. Our Therapy Dog and Handler class helps dogs take the leap from well-trained pets to registered therapy dogs.
Is therapy work for you and your dog? Therapy Dog & Handler Spotlights will help you decide. In this Spotlight, get to know Fur and Feather Works trainer, Joan Bohmann, and her Chihuahua, Tango.
Joan, how long have you and Tango been doing therapy dog work? Tango and I have been an active therapy dog and handler team since December 2017. He’s a 12.5 year old Chihuahua certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and we are members of Paws 4 Love Reno.
You are more than a member of Paws 4 Love, aren’t you? At my very first meeting with Paws 4 Love, I was asked if I was willing to take on the Vice Presidency and my girlfriend was asked to take on the Paws 2 Read Coordinator job. The current president of Paws 4 Love had unexpectedly passed away and the Board of Directors were shuffling positions and coping with a sudden loss and grief. How do you say “Not yet” in those circumstances? I didn’t and quickly learned the role and responsibility of the Vice President, who is the point of contact for almost all Paws 4 Love Programs (Paws 2 Read, Paws on Campus, Justice Dogs and Crisis Team). I was elected President of Paws 4 Love in January 2022.
What do you enjoy about doing therapy dog work? I have two special joys in being a therapy dog team with Tango. The first is seeing faces light up in surprised smiles when people see him. I recently was at a local high school with Tango and the clerk told me she didn’t see a dog. Well, he’s only about 8 inches high so I lifted him to the counter and the surprised look was priceless. Being so small I can place him on student desks so they can pet him easily. The second joy is teaching people that Chihuahuas can be therapy dogs! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “that’s the nicest Chihuahua I’ve ever met” or variations on the mean Chi theme. There are two Chihuahuas and a chiweenie in Paws 4 Love.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone new to therapy dog work? An important component of therapy dog work is advocating for your dog. New therapy dog teams are hesitant to speak up if they are concerned about something. I was too. One of our first outings was Paws 2 Read which takes place once a month in every Washoe County Library. The children were so entranced by Tango, they surrounded him and he must have had 5 pairs of little hands petting him at one time. While he was a perfect gentleman, I could tell by his body language he wasn’t having a good time. So, we took a break from Paws 2 Read for a while. Now that he and I are more experienced, I am comfortable asking children to take turns or to pet more gently when needed. It is important to find your dog’s niche. Not every dog is suited for every assignment and that is okay. Give yourself time to discover what fits and find the settings that bring joy to you, your dog and the people you visit!
Therapy Dog and Handler class is only available a few times per year, and it can fill quickly. Get on the wait list for the next offering of this class by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest!