It is Thursday morning. Dylan and I love Thursday mornings, I get to sleep in and Dylan gets to go to work. Sound funny? Not really, Dylan is a therapy dog and Thursdays are his visiting days. Thursday mornings Dylan gets very excited, he knows that he is going to go and see all of his friends at the retirement home. When it is time to leave, Dylan gets to put on his special collar and leash and his St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog bandana, now he is all dressed up and ready to work!

Dylan wearing his therapy bandanaDylan seems to have a special knack for knowing how long each individual wants to spend with us. Some people like a short visit and others appreciate an extra few minutes – he obliges either way! Dylan is normally an exuberant greeter and licker, but, he knows that when he is at the retirement home he needs to tone down his affection, and he does so with amazing accuracy. He also seems to know that some of the residents don’t mind a little bit of zest and others merely want to pat his big black head.

I must admit that Dylan never ceases to amaze me when I take him to the home. The way he can read people is truly awesome. Dylan has the ability to conduct his visits according to the individuals’ needs and desires on any given day. We have many regulars who look forward to his visits as much as we do. Dylan seems to be able to motivate people to spend time with him even when they didn’t want to get out of bed that day! It is amazing when you see someone who is feeling depressed suddenly light up and get out of bed to spend some time with the friend that comes to visit every week. We have a few regulars who laugh and giggle when they tell us how shocked their families were when they told them that they have a Rottweiler who comes to visit every Thursday! All of our friends at the home tell us that they can’t believe that anyone could ever think a bad thought about Dylan! I guess you do get smarter with age!

I would like to share my most pleasant therapy experience with you. I had the pleasure of taking Dylan to my grandfather’s nursing home in Toronto. This is a nursing home for seniors who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. When we first walked in the nurses rejoiced as they said that this was a terrific experience for Alzheimer’s patients as it helps to trigger some of their memories. Within ten minutes all of the residents had gathered in the recreation room to “see the dog”. Dylan was more exceptional than ever. He seemed to realize that the residents here took a little more time and love to get through to and he was willing to do whatever it took to make this a wonderful visit for everyone. Dylan made sure that every resident got a visit. There was one gentleman who did not want to touch Dylan at first, he just sat and watched the other residents interact with the dog. When I spoke to him he did not respond and I was not even sure he was aware of our presence. After a few minutes he reached out to Dylan and said “I used to have a dog”. Dylan placed his head on the armrest of the gentleman’s chair and the man stroked Dylan as tears rolled down his cheeks. I must admit that I was floored by my dog’s ability to touch someone so deeply.

Dylan seems to know how important his visits are to the residents as he never rushes a visit when somebody wants to see him and he never leaves anyone out. Dylan also seems to know how to reach everyone according to what they need. He seems to recognize who wants to be licked and who would like to just look at him. I think that what Dylan does with people is truly amazing.

When I first considered doing therapy work with Dylan, I must admit that Kevin and I thought that he would be too rambunctious. Boy were we wrong!! Dylan knows exactly how to behave in any given situation. As an example we have neighbours at our cottage who are both in their sixties and Dylan holds nothing back when he loves them. They laugh and tease him for being such a wild clown and they say that they can’t imagine him ever being calm enough to go into a nursing home! With our friends and family Dylan loves so enthusiastically that you have to brace yourself against his affection! Dylan is equally gentle and loving with children. Kevin and I always knew that our boy was people-oriented but we never realized how tremendous his gift for loving people was.

I don’t believe that there is anything more satisfying and rewarding than sharing your dog with others who love him as much as you do. If anyone else is interested in doing therapy work with your dog, contact the St. John Ambulance in your area and ask them about the tests and requirements for therapy work in your neighbourhood.

And an update on what Cassie and Dylan are doing…

Most recently Dylan has started visiting a Senior Development classroom, which is a classroom for special needs adolescents. The students in this class are all affected by different physical and mental challenges and thus are usually confronted with many obstacles in their day-to-day life. Communication is a common obstacle for these adolescents and their teacher is always looking for new and exciting ways to stimulate the interests of these students. Enter Dylan.

When Dylan and I first started going to the Senior Development classroom the students did not seem interested or to even notice us at all. The teacher swore that our presence alone had a huge calming effect on the students and then she and the nurse took turns taking each of the students’ hands and helping them stroke the dog. Many of the students did not want to make eye contact with me; they only seemed to want the contact with the dog. As our visits have continued I have noticed huge changes in the dispositions of the students. When we enter the classroom now the students are smiling and laughing, I have even noticed that one of the boys will now make eye contact with me to express his desire to be with the dog. This same student is also reaching out on his own to pat the dog and stroke him. The teacher in this classroom is thrilled with the changes that Dylan has stimulated in her students. Therapy dogs offer a non-judgmental and thus non-threatening stimulus for individuals of all mental and physical capacities. In turn, the dogs know that they are doing something special and they feel loved and important.

Dylan is an exceptional therapy dog because he is able to read the individual wants and needs of people he meets and he gives them exactly the type of attention they are seeking. He seems to know whether kisses are in order or if the person just wants to give him a quick pat on the head and a chat.

Although therapy work is not often the first thing one thinks when they think of Rottweilers, Rottweilers are indeed, fabulous in this capacity when they are raised with love and consistency. Their brawny bodies and inherent patience are perfect for being bumped by wheelchairs and for being leaned on when getting hugged. Their size is perfect for being patted from walkers or wheelchairs and their hearts are big enough to love all the people that they’ll ever meet.

If you have a Rottweiler with a gift like Dylan, consider the joys of therapy work. Your dog and the people whose lives he enriches will thank you for it.

Submitted By: Cassandra Levy

Printed in 2001 Special Edition – Rottweilers in Canada

Pictured above is Cassie with Dylan (V-Rated Ch. Jowett’s Blazing Fire CD, TT, CGC, Working Therapy Dog)