Rescue Dogs Can Make Great Therapy Dogs. Might Yours?

A scruffy, funny dog named Crash now helps people heal. Does your dog have a healing gift?


A client of mine sent me a note recently that warmed my heart and got me thinking. It involved dog behavior and also occupation. A dog that she rescued from a shelter recently passed all of the necessary training and certifications to be a therapy dog. It made me wonder, how many other rescue dogs who are found at shelters could become excellent therapy dogs?

In the case of my client, she’d gone to the county shelter hoping to find the perfect furry companion for her and her family. She didn’t have any particular breed in mind and hoped to feel a connection with one of the dogs. When she arrived at the shelter she noticed a fun and scruffy terrier mix who quickly warmed up to her. The dog hadn’t come from any pedigree that anyone knew about. He was potty trained and seemed to be friendly. As in most cases with dogs that are adopted from an animal shelter, very little was known about his history. So, based on the connection she felt with the dog, she decided this would be a great dog to bring home.

After having the dog for about five days, she scheduled a brief appointment with me during one of the rescue fairs that I donate my time to as a guest speaker and consultant. As we sat down and I spent time with her and her new furry companion — who she named Crash — I could tell they were hitting it off well. It was evident to me that the dog was gentle and warm, and that he loved people. He would listen to her every word and stayed close by her side. I could feel that this dog had a really calming presence about him, and it made me feel good just to be around him. I mentioned to my client that her new furry friend possessed a really calming and healing nature.

I suggested that he would be a good therapy dog for the elderly and also for children. She was delighted but shocked to hear this. She thought she had found a sweet dog who seemed to like her. She had no indication that he was meant for a higher purpose of helping others. After the consultation, she pondered my comments a little further. She thought that it would be interesting to see what gifts her new shelter dog possessed. Could he have a special gift of healing? Could he be meant for more than just being her family dog? Could he have a special gift that she should nurture? “What the heck,” she figured. “Let’s give it a go.” She enrolled him in some classes and certification programs.

It didn’t take long for her to see that what I said was true. He excelled in every class and passed every test easily. He really seemed to enjoy the tasks that he learned, and everybody quickly took notice of him. He showed everyone that he did have a higher purpose, and his human companion was thrilled.

Now, both of them visit nursing homes several times a week. Crash loves to cuddle, give hugs, and show off for the residents at the facilities at which he visits. The residents look forward to his regular visits and line up to spend time with him. A little scruffy shelter dog bringing so much joy and love to so many. Who would have known?

Do you know of a shelter dog who has become a great therapy dog? Or, does your rescue dog exhibit behavior that makes you believe he or she would do well as a therapy dog? Let us know in the comments.

Other stories by Tim Link:

Does Your Dog’s Personality Match Yours?
Did You Choose Your Dog? Or Did Your Dog Choose You?
I Wish My Puppy Had Come With an Instruction Manual

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