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Therapaws president Karen OConnor and VP Bobbi o'Hara.


Canine therapists

by Anita LeBlanc

From the August, 2018 issue

Three-legged, nine-year-old Annie receives enthusiastic smiles and cheers from Glacier Hills Manor's elderly residents as she ambles off the elevator with Jerry Nordblom. Annie, an Australian Shepherd mix, makes her way to each resident, receiving pets, coos and praise. "I tell her she's supposed to give therapy, not get it!" Nordblom grins as Annie continues her rounds.

Nordblom, a volunteer with local nonprofit Therapaws, has been making weekly visits to Glacier Hills since 2006. Annie is his second canine colleague; his first, a collie mix named Cori, has since passed. Karen OConnor, Therapaws' president, says the all-volunteer organization began operations as Therapets in 1988 when Sue Fischer received approval from University of Michigan Hospitals (now Michigan Medicine) to visit patients with her golden retriever, Willie. In 2001, Therapets became Therapaws and an official nonprofit, its mission to "promote and provide the therapeutic effects of the human-animal bond by placing qualified therapy dog teams, registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, at hospitals, other health-care facilities, schools, libraries and special events." By request, Therapaws teams even visit local college campuses during exam time to help alleviate student stress.

Therapaws' more-than 130 dog-human teams must undergo testing and observation through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a separate organization that sets the rules for human-dog behavior. All teams must pass background checks. Most importantly, dogs and their humans must have a knack for connecting with people.

Annie clearly has the knack, something Nordblom finds surprising in light of the abuse she suffered nine years ago as a five-month-old puppy. Then known as Brownie, she was savagely beaten by a man who took his rage at his girlfriend out on the dog and left the wounded animal to die in a park. A rescuer found her and took her to the Huron Valley Humane Society where she underwent several surgeries but still lost her left hind leg. Nordblom and his wife, Barbara, adopted her. They lavish much love and care on her at their property in Whitmore Lake. Her assailant was sentenced from two-to-four years in prison.

The visit is drawing to a close, but not before Annie receives treats and final pets from the residents and a few nurses. Glacier Hills Life Enrichment Coordinator Gail Pacurai says the visits from Annie and Nordblom bring positive memories and enthusiasm to the residents. "Just look at those faces, those smiles!" she exclaims.     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2018.]


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