The most accepted terms for this field are Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT involves
working with someone when a specific goal has been identified. If you do this as a
volunteer, you will work with a professional who will assist you in selecting goals for
different individuals. AAA are those activities designed to strengthen someone's quality
of life. Usually performed by volunteers, they are generally "meet and greet"
Meet Golden C.J.
By Stephanie Antonian Rutherford, The Enquirer, May 7, 2006
doctors offer their young patients lollipops to ease the
sting of a shot. At the Family Health Center of Battle
Creek, doctors have something much sweeter — in the form of
a big, cuddly ball of fur named C.J.
C.J. is a therapy dog at FHC, where he has lived since he
was a puppy. The 7-year-old golden retriever works five days
a week roaming through FHC providing comfort and joy — which
is what his initials stand for — to patients of all ages.
Battle Creek resident Cindy Davis-Jackson and her family go
to FHC for dental and medical treatments. She said seeing
C.J. is a huge treat for her granddaughter, Areonna Davis,
2. "I think having C.J. here is wonderful. It's therapeutic
and calming," Davis-Jackson said. "Especially during dental
appointments because you can get apprehensive and he kind of
eases the tension."
While wrapping C.J. in a bear hug, Areonna said that she
likes C.J. because he is "pretty" and likes to pet and hug
him because he is "soft and nice."
C.J.'s duties range from sitting with small children — like
Areonna — and letting them pet him while they are examined,
to cheering up elderly patients with his arsenal of funny
tricks. "There are many times where a child is getting a
shot and they are hugging C.J. while they are getting it,"
said Janan Dunn, an administrative secretary at the center.
"He is just so comforting and gentle with patients that it
helps put people at ease."
works closely with C.J. and has taught him most of his
tricks. Some patient favorites are when he "says his name"
by barking twice, making it sound like "C! J!," and
"praying" for patients by bowing his head and placing his
paws together. On an average day, C.J. arrives at work
around 8 a.m. with Chief Operating Officer Janis Dillard,
who he lives with when not at work. He settles in on his
doggie bed in the administrative offices and waits to be
called for duty.
"He actually gets paged over the loudspeaker, like a doctor
does," said A.J. Jones, president and chief executive
officer of FHC. "He recognizes his name and jumps up and is
ready to go help patients."
Jones and Dillard first had the idea to bring a therapy dog
to FHC nearly a decade ago, after a pediatrician showed
Jones a news article about pet therapy. Dillard and Jones
did some research on the benefits of pet therapy and decided
to try it at the center.
"A lot of patients we see here are emotionally challenged
and a therapy dog can provide comfort and ease the stress of
being at the doctor or dentist," said Becky Storey, the
center's chief financial officer. "But he works with all
types of patients, from the elderly to children."
Jones said most dogs used in medical therapy are golden
retrievers and Labrador retrievers because these breeds are
generally mild-mannered, do well with children and like to
be touched.Jones and Dillard began looking for golden
retriever puppies to be tested as a therapy dog and they
found a promising young puppy in Hastings. Specific tests
for temperament, tolerance and gentleness were done on the
pup, now C.J., and he passed with flying colors and a
Janan Dunn of the Family Health
Center has C.J. say his prayers for
people at the center. Kevin
Hare/the Enquirer Photo.
something special about him. He was so smart and
friendly and he fit in right away," Jones said. "He's a
natural in medicine."
Unlike a seeing eye dog or companion animal, C.J. is not
used to provide assistance or care for patients, but
provides therapy by being himself. He greets patients,
plays with them and sits with patients who are not
feeling well. "He knows if people are scared or don't
feel well and will come up to you and put his head on
your lap," Jones said. "He has a great sense of how
people are feeling."
That sense includes knowing when to step back. Staff at
FHC said that almost every patient loves C.J., but some
are scared of dogs. C.J. is never pushy and allows
people to come to him, staff members said. Even though
C.J. lives with Dillard, the entire staff — and most of
the patients — feel that C.J. is "their" dog.
"We all take our turns taking him on walks," Storey
said. "He helps the staff because he adds so much life
and fun here. It helps us de-stress, too."
Aside from comforting patients, C.J. acts as a mascot
for FHC. He dresses up for every holiday and poses for
postcards that are sent to parents reminding kids of
check-ups. C.J. also makes public appearances with FHC.
Though C.J. provides therapy to patients of all ages, he
seems to have the most effect on children. "Sometimes I
will take him with me in the car and he'll have his head
out the window and kids will see him and call to him,"
Jones said. "He's a bit of a local celebrity to kids. He
even gets kids writing him letters."
Dunn said it makes her smile to see kids' eyes light up
when they see C.J. "It's so funny to see kids run up to
him in a waiting room and he'll have 30 little hands on
him," Dunn said. "But he loves it. He just loves to be
Two-year-old Areonna's grandmother said her
granddaughter doesn't really think about going to a
doctor's office when she goes to FHC — she thinks about
playing with C.J. "That's very common," Storey said.
"Most parents don't tell their kids they are going to
the doctor's. They say, 'We're going to see C.J.'
Stephanie Antonian Rutherford is a general assignment
reporter. She can be reached at 966-0665 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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