August Pelliccio – News Writer
Not every four year old has such an effect on stressed-out college students, but Sophie the labra-doodle tugs on her leash to see her favorite friends every week at Pet Therapy Thursdays.
Robin River, North Haven High School teacher said she decided to research therapy animal training about five years ago. River said it was then that she adopted two dogs, Sophie and her sister Lilly, and quickly found out that not every dog is cut out for the job.
“You can tell right away which dogs are going to be right,” River said. “[Sophie’s] sister was not born a therapy animal.”
The two dogs started classes at Pet Partners. According its website, Pet Partners has 15,000 therapy animals currently in service.
After this training, River said the two dogs were tested on their skills as therapy animals. Lilly failed, said River, because she “couldn’t be quiet and calm herself like [Sophie].”
At this point, River said Sophie has had her share of experience in her field. Although SCSU is Sophie’s only “employment” at the moment, River said they have also worked together for the residents at an assisted living facility in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
“It was a little harder because people were in wheelchairs,” said River. “She couldn’t lie on the floor; she had to stand up for an hour straight.”
River said it was quite hard work for Sophie, but that she enjoyed it and continues to enjoy the work she does.
“She’s loves it,” said River. “She gets so excited when I take out my visit bag and get her work collar on, she flies into the car.”
River said Sophie’s work, as a therapy dog, is good for pet and owner alike, as well as for the students she visits. Two students, Dakota Summer, and Peter Murray shared their experience with the labra-doodle.
According to River, Sophie remembers her friends, and recalled a fall semester evening when the dog wouldn’t stop tugging to run, through a thick fog, toward Schwartz Hall.
“She was pulling and pulling on her leash to run and come see me,” said Murray.
Murray and Summer said they regularly attend Pet Therapy Thursdays. Murray said last year, that he only missed one visit.
Summer said she has a special bond with Sophie, and that they understand each other.
“One time I was having a lot of issues with health insurance, and it’s like Sophie knew,” Summer said. “She came right up to me and put her head on my shoulder so I could hug her.”
River said despite the connection Sophie shares with people, she has to continually train for the job she does. Pet Partners certification is renewed every two years, said River.
Both when she was at Coachman Square assisted living facility, and now that she’s at Southern, every time Sophie goes to work she trains for about five minutes. This, River said, is to keep her well trained every day between the re-certification tests, but also to put her into the right mood to calm people’s nerves.
Despite this calm and disciplined nature, River said it’s not exactly the same way when Sophie is “off the clock.”
“When she gets home and I take off her work collar,” River said, “she’s just a dog again.”
River said she barks, rolls around on the floor and goes crazy like any other dog when she’s not being a therapy animal.
Explaining Sophie’s story, River said: “Her father was a gray standard poodle who had been abandoned at the shelter. One day a woman brought in a female black lab and said, ‘I need to tend to my very sick mother and I just need you to hold on to her for two weeks’ She promised the lab was spayed, but that nor the two week ‘deal’ ended up to be true.”
The shelter let the two out to get some exercise and they “found each other,” according to River. It wasn’t until a litter of five was born that they even knew that the lab had been pregnant.
Now 5 years old, Sophie continues to form connections with the students she meets, according to River.
Summer said to Sophie during a Pet Therapy Thursday meeting, “If I had a tail, I’d be wagging it as well, Sophie.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio