ITA brings hope and healing through its therapy dogsDec 02, 2022 01:30PM ● By Peri Kinder
By Peri Kinder | [email protected]
Kathy Klotz believes Intermountain Therapy Animals (4050 S. 2700 East) is the best kept secret in Holladay. As the executive director, Klotz has been involved with ITA since its inception in 1993 when it began providing animal-assisted experiences to communities in Utah.
ITA has grown to 300 volunteer teams, visiting more than 100 healthcare and educational facilities, who spend time with individuals going through difficult circumstances.
“The research is just overwhelming about how healthy animals are for people,” Klotz said. “Every place there’s therapy going on, the results happen faster (with therapy animals). People are more engaged and have more fun while they’re trying to do what they need to do. Dogs just enhance the situation.”
There are three categories of working dogs. Service dogs receive extensive training to assist one person. Emotional support animals require no training and help people dealing with issues like anxiety or depression. Therapy animals, like the ones at ITA, participate in a wide range of situations and must be screened and trained before going to any facility.
Holladay resident Maureen Feighan and her dog Quincy have worked as a team with ITA for three years. Quincy is a 5-year-old Wheaten terrier/poodle who was nicknamed Mr. Chill even as a puppy. His temperament made him a perfect candidate for a therapy dog.
“He’s one of those dogs that goes to people rather than dogs. At a dog park, he’ll stand with the owners just watching the dogs,” Feighan said. “He’ll go stand next to someone I don’t know. The person will say I just put my dog down a few weeks ago or I have anxiety depression disorder and I’m having a really bad day. Somehow Quincy just knows.”
It’s that innate knowing that therapy dogs bring to hospitals, schools, rehab facilities and nursing homes. ITA dogs work at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, Primary Children’s Hospital, the University of Utah and dozens of other places in Utah, Idaho and Montana.
Klotz believes dogs are an incredible catalyst for healing. She said stroke victims, who might be afraid to get up and walk around, are more confident with a therapy dog by their side. People with a new prosthetic seem to walk farther and feel more hopeful when working with a dog. Most of all, therapy dogs generate hope.
“More than anything, it’s inspiring to see how quickly you can have a positive impact on an individual and a family going through a situation. It’s quite awe-inspiring,” she said. “Dogs create a sense of normalcy and a lot of fun. They’re incredible motivators to get people up and participating in their essential therapies and they’re great comforters as well.”
In senior facilities, therapy animals help residents feel less isolated. As soon as the dogs cross the threshold, people relax and start smiling and interacting. Klotz said when older adults know the dogs are coming, they’ll get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast and line up in the lobby, waiting with smiles on their faces.
At the University of Utah, therapy animals are invited to campus during stressful times like midterms or finals. Businesses bring in therapy animals if there’s been a busy season or tough circumstances. Parents with children going through treatment at Primary’s invite therapy dogs into their child’s room, especially if there’s a pet at home the child is missing.
“Quincy will go right up to the bed. He jumps up on the bed and snuggles to the child. They just pet him and laugh,” Feighan said. “I’ve had parents tell me it’s the first time they’ve seen their child smile in days. It’s really amazing. It’s been pretty awesome.”
Although many people want to work with their pet as a therapy animal, the selection process is quite extensive and only dogs with certain temperaments are accepted into ITA. Klotz invites people to review the volunteer requirements at TherapyAnimals.org.
ITA also provides Reading Education Assistance Dogs to help a child struggling with literacy. The program started in 1999 and has grown to 7,000 therapy teams in 27 countries. Research shows, as a child reads to a dog, their reading scores improve significantly.“R.E.A.D. was the first formalized literacy support program where the handler is trained in the ways to positively support a child who’s struggling,” Klotz said. “A child’s reading level shoots up and their confidence increases and they get away from the peer pressure of worrying that they’re going to make a mistake. They love that the dog