KC, aka CH Carannaugh's KC of Fallowfield FDJ, is the latest dog in a long line (five generations) of Irish Setters who have been therapy dogs working with me. As the human half of this dog therapy team, I have been heavily involved in dogs—as a breeder (under the Fallowfield prefix), handler, trainer and judge. I am the co-author, with Carolyn Clark, of the Canadian Canine Good Citizen Testä (CCGC Test), which is the basis of the protocol developed with the Queensway-Carleton Hospital allowing animals as volunteer canine therapists in that hospital. The CCGC Test is also the basis for the initial behaviour test for all OTD dogs.
KC is a very special dog. Intelligent and aware of her surroundings, KC is very patient while remaining alert. She is also a good physical representative of the Irish Setter breed. Multifaceted, she has proven herself in the show ring (a Canadian Champion). As well as a holder of FDJ (Field Dog), she does agility and will, this year, be embarking on her obedience title, CD, with the goal of obtaining a CDX in the future. Later this year, we hope to become a part of the R.E.A.D.â program.
All of these attributes are really very useful in a therapy dog in that each of her exploits is a source of conversation. KC also has a cupboard full of tricks which she loves to show off at the drop of a hat. A favourite one is what we call ‘speaking Irish’ — barking silently. This is due to the fact that her bark is loud and not acceptable in any public institution.
The relationship between humans and dogs is somewhat unclear, but the following two examples show clearly that it is good and useful.
One benefit of the canine therapy in the hospital setting is to the staff. For example, a while back while doing our regular rounds at the hospital, one of the doctors asked us to stop into a specific room before leaving the hospital. This we did. In that room we found an extremely angry man. He was angry at his plight: a huge heart problem he had not anticipated. Here he was in hospital and out of personal control, and he took out his anger incessantly on the staff, loudly and volubly. The man brightened up upon seeing KC and he forgot his own situation. He chatted with her, pet her and talked to her and her handler. That's me. We stayed with him for about eight minutes. Upon leaving the room, the nurse in charge said that the past eight minutes were the first that the man had calmed down since he entered the hospital — and the first eight minutes that the staff had had peace since his arrival.
And then there is ‘Roger’ (not his real name), a regular whom we had seen many times over the previous weeks. We came out of his room and met his nurse, who said, “Come along Roger, we're off to physiotherapy.” An aside to us was, “The only time that he is cooperative and benefits from his physio is after he’s just had a session with KC.”