On August 9th, the children’s room of the Windham Public Library welcomed therapy dog, Maggie, an eight-year-old Shetland Sheepdog, and her two Havanese friends, Rosie and Izzy. This was their third visit to the library this summer.
Owners David and Liset Higgs of Raymond, and Maggie have been volunteering their time for the last seven years, providing therapy at local libraries, nursing homes and hospice centers. Izzy and Rosie recently joined to make three. The group provides therapy in Maine from June through September and in Florida during the winter months.
The dogs are registered through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dog, Inc.), a national therapy dog registry of over 14,000 members, established in 1990. According to their website, it is the goal of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs to “form a network of caring individuals who are willing to share their special animals in order to bring happiness and cheer to people, young and old alike.” These dogs are trained to provide kids and adults, of all ages, unconditional affection and comfort during difficult emotional and physical periods, or at the end of life. Registered therapy dogs can be found in hospitals, special needs centers, schools, hospice houses and nursing homes.
To become a registered therapy dog with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a dog must take a Good Citizenship class and pass certain tests designed to measure their manners and temperament. Such tests include, but are not limited to, the dog’s acceptance of a stranger’s touch, the ability to sit politely for petting, and the capacity to walk calmly in a crowd. The physical and emotional benefits that a therapy dog can provide are many and wide ranging.
According to the American Kennel Club, “Science has shown us how beneficial therapy dogs can be. Visits from a therapy dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce patient anxiety, and increase levels of endorphins and oxytocin.”
During this visit to the Windham Public Library two things were very clear. First, it was obvious that Maggie was very familiar with her role, and was more than ready to get down to business. As soon as David placed her blanket down on the library floor, she quietly and calmly laid down and awaited her first reader. At first, only a couple of children were at the library, but it quickly filled up.
Soon the room became alive with energy and excitement and, as the commotion grew, Maggie’s demeanor did not change. More and more, children and parents approached the dogs, and, although Rosie and Izzy got a bit more excited by the attention, Maggie stayed the course. Steady and composed, and ever the professional, she attentively listened to her first reader, and happily accepted petting and hugging from the rambunctious toddlers and preschoolers. And never once left her post: The yellow and white blanket.
Secondly, it was immediately evident that the presence of this trio provided a positive and uplifting reaction to each and every child (and adult) who entered the children’s room. Some of the children rushed right up to the dogs, while others stayed back waiting for the courage to approach. Yet, by the end of the half hour, most, if not all, interacted, in one way or another, with at least one of the three furry friends, and walked (or toddled) away with bright and cheerful smiles.
“They bring a smile to your face. No matter how their day is going, they bring a smile” said Liset Higgs.
Maggie and her friends will be returning to the library in September. Contact the library for details on this event and the many others offered by the Windham Public Library.
Pictures: Landon & Calleigh Laszczak age 5
Aubrey Grindel age 3
Samantha Hutchinson age 10