Zeke makes for good therapy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 6, 2007

FRANKLIN—Making people feel better has literally gone to the dogs — therapy dogs, that is.

Zeke, a 17-month-old black Lab mix, is one of two therapy dogs in the area registered with Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization that regulates, tests and registers therapy dogs so they can visit nursing homes and other facilities.

The canine and his owner/handler, Sue Hunter of Franklin, have been volunteering at Southside Physical Therapy off Armory Drive since March.

&uot;He visits all the patients and makes them feel better by relieving their stress,&uot; Hunter said. &uot;Therapy sometimes is not fun and patients can even be a bit on the depressed side. When you add a dog (to the situation), a patient’s blood pressure goes down, the atmosphere becomes lighter and the patient is more relaxed.

&uot;It also helps the therapists and gives everyone an opportunity to talk about their pets.&uot;

Hunter recalled one of Zeke’s first sessions at Southside, where a young lady was receiving therapy for an injured knee.

&uot;She hated certain parts of the therapy because it hurt,&uot; said Hunter. &uot;She was petting Zeke and asked the therapist when they were going to do the part she hated.

&uot;The therapist told her that it was already over.&uot;

Hunter, a speech therapist at Riverview Elementary in Murfreesboro, N.C., who also has a private practice out of her home, found Zeke on the playground at school.

&uot;He’s a rescue dog,&uot; she said. &uot;He had been playing with some of the autistic kids there. The teacher decided that I should take (the puppy) home. He was about eight weeks old then.

&uot;I had always wanted to have a therapy dog, but you have to find the right one,&uot; Hunter said. &uot;They have to have the right temperament.

&uot;As soon as I met Zeke, I knew he’d be a good therapy dog. He worked so well with the autistic children — and there’s not too many dogs that can do that.&uot;

According to Hunter, Zeke visits Southside once a week. Working him too many days can cause the canine to be stressed.

&uot;(Lately) he has been going on Wednesdays to visit some children who are in therapy,&uot; she said. &uot;He’s a caring dog. I think he is empathetic because he has been through so many surgeries himself.&uot;

Zeke has had hip pain and knee trouble.

&uot;He even calmed the nervous dogs while he was at the vet,&uot; she said.

Hunter also utilizes Zeke’s caring nature in her private practice. A visit with the dog serves as a reward during speech therapy.

&uot;He has an interview in September at Obici Hospital to potentially become a Canine Striper,&uot; said Hunter. Zeke would be able to visit the patients after learning how to handle himself in a hospital setting.

Hunter has also been working with the Ruth Camp Campbell Memorial Library to begin a program called Reading With Zeke.

According to Youth Services Coordinator for the library Diana Devore, the program will be beneficial to children who are disinclined to read.

&uot;Kids who are reluctant readers have been shown to relax and read better when reading to a dog,&uot; she said.

&uot;We will have an art activity available so the kids can take turns reading to Zeke and still have something to do when it is not their turn.&uot;

Hunter said, &uot;It is motivational to the children. It helps them with their confidence.

&uot;Anyone can come. It is a great reinforcer.&uot;

The program will be held Saturday, Sept. 29 from 10 to 11 a.m.

&uot;I would love to see more dogs become therapy dogs,&uot; said Hunter, &uot;so we can start more programs in the area.&uot;

Anyone interested may contact Hunter, 653-8197. For more information on Therapy Dogs International, log onto www.tdi-dog.org.