While having a dog can be good therapy for humans, Pat O’Hea’s black lab, Darby, really is good therapy. As in certified good.
Darby is a therapy dog registered with Therapy Dogs International, the New Jersey organization that registers dogs and their handlers. Therapy dogs go to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions where the dogs provide a calming influence on those who come in contact with the animal.
O’Hea said he discovered Darby had the aptitude for therapy work by accident. “My daughter had an appointment in Cedar Rapids and I killed some time in PetSmart. When Darby and I were in there we heard a child scream.” O’Hea said the scream didn’t sound like a child who didn’t get what they wanted, but instead a child who was injured.
“Most dogs would hear that noise and take off in the opposite direction,” he explained. “Darby dragged me to the child and laid down right beside the child. I’d never seen that before.”
O’Hea spoke with Darby’s obedience trainer, Tory Topping, about the incident.
“Tory said it sounded like a therapy dog behavior that is ingrained in some dogs. It’s an innate behavior that you can’t really teach. It’s just there.”
According to O’Hea, only 10% of dogs in the world have the aptitude for therapy work.
After spending a month with Topping for additional training, Darby was certified in July as a therapy dog.
O’Hea plans to offer Darby’s services to area schools. “For children who struggle with reading, dogs are non-judgmental. If you put a reader with a dog like Darby who will snuggle with them and lay by them, it can help the reader relax. Research has shown that dogs can reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure.”
O’Hea said Darby is also available to visit hospitals, nursing homes and civic organization that may want to learn more about Darby and the work of therapy dogs.
When Darby is working, she can be recognized by the red kerchief around her neck. While she loves to be petted, O’Hea asks that people check with him before petting Darby.
“Darby loves to be petted. Dogs are a bit like children who want something and want it right now. So that instant gratification, sometimes I’ll intentionally delay something like getting petted so she knows it’s on my terms and not hers.”
O’Hea never charges a fee for Darby’s services. “Therapy Dogs International does this on a volunteer basis. It’s always completely free,” he said.
For those interested in having Darby visit, they may contact O’Hea at 563-580-6084 or by email at email@example.com.
While O’Hea just thought he was getting a family pet when he got Darby, he knows Darby’s talents are a way to repay Dyersville.
“Dyersville has supported me. I’ve always wanted to give back to this community and this is a way to do that.”