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“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Charles Shultz

When you look at the Fracture beliefs and values, you won’t find dogs explicitly listed. But if you’ve been around us for a while, you’ll find that we believe in dogs. It falls somewhere between treading lightly on the planet and the power of the printed image.

Rarely has there been a time in our history that we didn’t have at least one dog at our offices. So naturally, when the chance came to do our part to support the Therapy Animal Coalition, it was a no-brainer for us. They recently held a charity photo contest and we donated Fracture prints to the winners.

Meeting a need

We had the chance to follow Beau, an amazing therapy dog here in North Florida, as he made an appearance at Santa Fe College. We also chatted a little bit with Kristi Leonard, co-founder of the Therapy Animal Coalition and Terry Biehl, Beau’s owner and handler.

(from left) Terry Biehl, Beau the Therapy Dog, and Kristi Leonard.

After owning two therapy dogs herself, Kristi saw a need. There was no one managing the organization and information for therapy dogs and their owners, people thinking of registering their dog to do therapy, or public organizations with animal therapy needs.

“We’ve got all these people who are registered, a bunch of people who want to get registered, and then we have all these programs but nobody knows how to communicate with each other… I think there really needs to be an organization.”

So she, along with seven other women in Jacksonville, started the Therapy Animal Coalition. They had a singular mission: to help grow the number of therapy animal teams volunteering and working in therapeutic, educational, and other special environments.

Why is animal therapy important?

Kristi says, “Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.”

Many places use animal therapy in helpful ways: from courtrooms or hospitals to schools or hospices. “We have many stories of seniors who are new to a facility and are depressed about having to be there. When the animals visit, it’s a way to break a barrier with these folks and get them talking and provide comfort for them. We also have a wonderful program at the courthouse where therapy dogs sit with victims while they give their testimony. It allows them to get the words out and gives them comfort while they recount a horrific event.”

Terry Biehl, Beau’s owner, has seen firsthand the impact that pet therapy can have. “In the hospital, you meet a lot of lonely, lonely people,” she says, “and just the mere presence of the dog being there and petting him…that little bit of interaction means a lot to them.”

A Very Impactful Pup

One example, in particular, requires tissues to read but showcases the beauty of pet therapy. A newborn child was actively dying at the local hospital, and the family just wanted the baby to experience something outside of the sterile hospital room, so they called for animal therapy.

“It was a newborn,” Terry said. “They wanted him to touch an animal. Every time I talk about it I get, I get really choked up.”

This particular situation was a new one for Terry and for Beau, and Terry didn’t really know how to approach it.

“The Mom was sitting there with a little newborn infant in her arms, covered in tubes and things like that. And I’m sitting there going, how do I approach this? What do I do? And Bo took over, he knew exactly what to do. He just, he walked in that room, he kind of looked around and he walked right up to the lady sitting in the rocking chair with the baby. The baby was lying on her lap with his little hand out and Bo went up and he put his nose under the baby’s hand. He sat there for like seven minutes.

The baby just sat there, gently squeezing on Bo’s nose and Bo never moved. Then the nurse said it was time for us to go and we left. That evening the baby passed away. It was a very spiritual moment in that room when that happened and it brought so much comfort so that was very, very special to me.”

Get involved

Told you. What an incredible moment. You may be reading this story and considering becoming a pet therapy team with your furry friend. Well, you totally should. If you’re in North Florida, you can start with the Therapy Animal Coalition. But if you’re not, you should check this link and look for a pet therapy organization in your area.

“It’s the best volunteer job you’ll ever have,” says Kristi, “because you get to be on the other end of little miracles that happen.”

Do you have a Very Important Pup? Show it off in the comments below.

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The Author

Drew Allen

Drew Allen

Besides being the managing editor of this blog, I'm also a drummer, a husband, and a father, not necessarily in that order. I love good stories, and great design, and I probably quote the Office more than I should but less than I could.