Helping paws: Service dogs provide emotional as well as physical assistance
BY KARA YORIO Pete is walking nicely beside me as I loosely hold his leash. We are off to put my recent dog training into action. His tail wags, but his ears are down and back. He's stressed, says his owner, Sean McCarthy, clinical manager and a therapist at Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange, where Pete works as a facility dog.
Stressed? Don't be stressed, Pete. I love dogs. I just got a rundown of commands from McCarthy. I'm ready to go.
When we reach our destination, I position Pete to my left with "Pete, heel." Then right — "Pete, side." And, finally, in front of me, "Pete, front." I am on a roll, and Pete begrudgingly responds because he is nothing if not a professional.
"He's just one of the staff," says McCarthy, who created the facility dog program at Kessler after going to a conference and seeing a therapist with a dog trained by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). He got Pete from CCI five years ago.
There are now three facility dogs at Kessler in West Orange. Pete works predominantly with people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. An English black Labrador named Rex does his job with brain injury patients. And Sherman, like Pete a yellow lab/golden retriever mix, mainly helps those recovering from strokes.