SCHOOLS

Therapy dogs spread love at EBS

Local Love on a Leash volunteers who take their therapy dogs to visit Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School are (from left) Sharon Eastman and her dog Puzzle; Linda Roth and her dog Happy; and Martha Wilcox and her dog Sedona. (courtesy photo)

Therapy dogs spread love at EBS

Love on a Leash is proof positive that dogs are the best medicine on four legs. A wag of the tail and the nudge of a friendly nose can turn a frown into a smile and brighten up the darkest of days. Students at Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School tend to agree as many look forward to visits by the friendly canines from the Love on a Leash program.

In the early 1980s a group of pet therapy enthusiasts from San Diego founded Love on a Leash, an organization in which certified therapy dogs visit hospitals, homes and schools offering people-in-need some tender loving care as only a pet can offer.

“What started as a local program with a handful of helpers now has more than 2,000 volunteers nationwide,” said Linda Roth of the San Diego North County chapter. “Here in Scripps Ranch we have about 280 members and we each have a dog or a cat and even a bunny that has been certified as a therapy animal.”

In 2015, Roth, already a seven-year volunteer, and her canine pal Happy teamed up with Martha Wilcox and her dog Sedona along with Sharon Eastman and her pooch Puzzle to introduce Love on a Leash to Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School.

Gayle Shinn, district counselor for the San Diego Unified School District, recalls that meeting.

“Our association began three years ago when I wanted to do an assembly with dogs to teach children about all the wonderful things animals do for us and to respect animals,” Shinn said. “I met Linda and her dog Happy and thought it was a great idea to have the Love on a Leash dogs come to the assembly. The dogs had a very calming impact on our students as well as our staff. Things went so well that we made it an every-other-week event.”

Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School Principal Liz Sloan also endorsed the program.

“The dogs are great motivators for students that are very shy and reluctant readers,” Sloan said. “We have the children read to the dogs and it brings them out of their shell, and they love the dogs.”

Roth, the leader of this unique pack, is on the go constantly traversing the community with her gal pals and their handsome hounds doing what they love best: spreading love one tail wag at a time.

“We go into the classroom, put down our quilts and blankets and the children sit down with the dogs and love on ’em, brush them, read a story to them. Some will just talk to the dogs with amazing results,” Roth said. “Once, the nurse brought in a little girl who couldn’t stop crying. She sat down with Happy, put her arms around him in less than a minute she stopped crying and talked to Happy for 15 minutes. … One reason dogs are so effective with children is because dogs are not judgmental. They just want to share the love.”

The success stories are vast and wide-ranging depending on the child’s specific needs. The breed of the animal is irrelevant. The love a dog shares is like a pair of stretch pants – one size fits all.

“Not all dogs are suited to be therapy dogs so we take the owner and their dog to at least 10 one-hour visits to see how they react in social situations before they can be certified as a therapy pet,” Roth said. “A therapy dog is at first a service dog that is trained to help an individual that requires assistance in opening a door, or maybe they’re in a wheelchair. The service dog helps them do a variety of daily tasks that most people take for granted. For us at Love on a Leash, dogs are just love covered in fur. They’re comfort dogs.”

To find out if your dog, cat or rabbit has what it takes to become a therapy Love on a Leash participant, visit loveonaleash.org.

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