Andrew Yori, right, and his dog, Hector, socialize with Stevi Hallisy and her dog, Jonah, at Leashes And Leads. Hector is a pit bull terrier rescued from Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring and has now passed testing to be a certified therapy dog.
3/7/2009 6:05:01 PM
By Karen Rorie
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
Therapy dogs and their handlers offer a calming presence and a break from routine, social interaction. For patients in a nursing home or hospital, they can make the day a little bit brighter.
According to Therapy Dogs International, a group that evaluates and certifies therapy dogs, any breed is eligible to be certified. What matters most is the dog's training and temperament.
No dog is a better example of this statement than Hector.
Hector, who is owned by Andrew Yori of Rochester, was recently certified as a therapy dog by TDI. He is a 4-year-old pit bull who spent the first part of his life as part of Michael Vick's dog-fighting operation in Virginia. Rescued in 2007, Hector moved to Rochester in June of last year.
Hector still bears scars from his fights, but he has settled happily into his new peaceful life.
"He's a big goofy dog," Yori said.
Pit bulls are a very resilient breed.
"Not a lot of dogs could go through what he did and still come out OK," Yori said.
Hector's attitude seems to be, "It's behind me, let's go forward and have a good time."
Hector's journey to becoming a therapy dog began with simple obedience training -- learning to sit, stay and show other good manners -- and passing the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Working to become a therapy dog seemed like a natural next step for Hector.
"He really enjoys anybody who will give him some attention," Yori said. "Nothing seems to phase him too much, so it seemed like a really good fit. And because of where he came from, it would really shatter a lot of stereotypes."
In order to be certified, each dog and handler team must pass a rigorous, 15-part exam.
"We try to mimic what some of the encounters might be like," said Marcia Fritzmeier, a TDI evaluator who administered Hector and Yori's test. TDI's exam tests each dog's manners, obedience, ease around people and reactions to situations such as loud noises and meeting other dogs.
Fritzmeier was aware of Hector's background before his test and paid special attention to his temperament, extending some of the tests to be sure Hector would be a good therapy dog.
"I could not believe the degree of excellence he passed this test with," she said. "He never stopped wagging his tail. He just enjoyed every second of it."
Once the paperwork is processed in a few weeks, Hector and Yori will begin making visits to nursing homes. Yori says bringing a bit of joy to another dog lover is the best part of the job.
"You really see the people who had dogs and love dogs, their eyes just light up," he said.
Karen Rorie is a Rochester freelance writer.
Therapy Dogs International
American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program
FYI: Roo & his Rescued Pit bull Wallace won the 2007 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge Freestyle Flying Disc National Champions! Incredible event, and the National Championship was aired on ABC, ESPN2 and Animal Planet. Thousands cheered Wallace on as we proved once again what a Pit Bull is capable of in responsible hands.