December, 16 2017

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Man's best friend more than just a companion

A small dog might merely provoke laughter from the TROUBLED TEENS at Louisville's Caritas Peace Center. But Laurie MoQuin wanted their attention, not their chuckles.

"I wanted a dog that gave me a 'shock and awe' or a 'wow' factor," said MoQuin, leader of the Louisville chapter of Love On a Leash, a nationwide program that uses dogs in therapy.

In March 2004, MoQuin found the dog she was looking for - Solomon, a 150-pound Newfoundland, bred by Campbellsville residents Paul and Betty Dameron.

"You walk in with a 150-pound Newfie and they think, 'Wow!' MoQuin said.

The Damerons have been showing dogs for eight years. At their home on Roachville Road, the couple has 10 Newfoundlands and five Great Pyrenees. Mr. Dameron is director of institutional research for Campbellsville University. Mrs. Dameron is the manager of Shoe Show in Green River Plaza.

The Damerons began placing their dogs in therapy dog work when a Louisville-based special education teacher approached them at a dog show.

"She asked us if we had a retired show dog," Mr. Dameron said. "We told her about Hannah."

A Great Pyrenees, Hannah came to the Damerons from a breeder in Cleveland, Ohio when she was just a puppy. She went on to finish her AKC championship and retired at the age of 5.

It takes 15 points, including two "majors" (wins of three, four or five points) awarded by at least three different judges, to become an American Kennel Club "Champion of Record."

The teacher explained to the Damerons that she needed a dog, not just as a companion, but as a sort of teacher's aide.

"She said it is amazing how much help a dog is in the classroom," Mr. Dameron said. "These are 9- and 10-year-old special needs children. Their attention spans are not too long, but those kids love Hannah. They behave much better when she is in the room."

Retired show dogs are especially suited to being therapy dogs, Mrs. Dameron said, because they are well trained, highly obedient and accustomed to being around large groups of people.

"They are a shoe-in for this kind of work," Mrs. Dameron said.

In order to go into therapy work, a dog must receive a Canine Good Citizenship Certificate and a Therapy Dog Certificate.

Founded in 1989, Canine Good Citizenship is a certification program that is designed to reward dogs that have good manners at home and in the community. Therapy dog certification further evaluates the dog's temperament, behavior and health, freedom from parasites and contagious disease, and immunization status for human transmittable disease.

Solomon is the second of the Damerons' dogs to go into therapy work.

"Laurie place retired show dogs in homes with special needs children," Mrs. Dameron said. "She also takes them to children's hospitals and does special programs with them in schools."

Solomon's first visit to Caritas Peace Center, one of the largest private, non-profit psychiatric hospitals in the country, was an emotional experience for MoQuin.

The visit was nearly cancelled because several fights had broken out earlier in the day.

"We entered the ward through locked doors and a calm silence," MoQuin wrote in a recent Love On a Leash newsletter. "As we turned the corner to the activity room, I watched jaws drop and eyes widen as Solomon with his enormous 146-pound coal black furry frame strut like a king into the circle of seated kids centered in the middle of the room.

"With his tail wagging, 'ooos' and 'ahhhs' were quietly expressed. Whispers of disbelief in a dog of his enormity was soon given away to his unbelievable calmness, mild presence and charm."

MoQuin said Solomon walked around the room, turning the resistant children into "smiling, laughing teenagers." She was so pleased with how the day went that she cried on the way home.

Working with the dogs, MoQuin said, gives her "a wonderful sense of satisfaction."

And the people she and her dogs visit seem to feel the same way.

"You can actually see the difference with these kids when the dogs come in," she said.

The dogs are especially suited for working with autistic children and children undergoing physical therapy, MoQuin said.

Autistic children may have difficulty interacting with other humans, but they are quick to begin playing with the dogs, MoQuin said.

Having dogs around gives children undergoing physical therapy extra incentive to use their hands or move around, she said.

Therapy dogs are effective, MoQuin said, simply because of the unconditional love they provide.

"It's a known fact that when people pet a dog, it lowers their blood pressure and makes them feel relaxed," she said. "It's hard to describe, but it's like somebody wants to be there with you regardless of [the health or personal problems you have]."

Though giving the dogs away for therapy work is "an emotional rollercoaster," according to Mr. Dameron, it's worth it.

"It warms the heart, knowing our dogs are helping these people."

It's a feeling, Mrs. Dameron said, that not even nine AKC championships can eclipse.

"It's better than winning any dog show."

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