BRATTLEBORO—There’s a new therapist in town, but she doesn’t take your insurance and you might not want her on the furniture.
But she does do house calls.
Her name is Frankie and she’s a three-year-old standard poodle recently certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
Frankie’s owner, Janet Goldstein, is the executive director of the Brattleboro Pastoral Counseling Center, a nonprofit organization that offers low-cost, non-sectarian counseling from licensed providers.
They serve individuals 14 and up, families, and couples who need assistance with a variety of mental health challenges, including addiction issues.
The Center recently added the Wet Nose Therapy Dog Program to its roster of services, and Frankie is the Center’s first therapy dog.
A therapy dog, Goldstein explained, is different from a service animal or emotional support animal. Those are paired with one individual and typically have one specific task: to assist someone who is visually-impaired or to bring calm to a person with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Therapy dogs aren’t matched with just one person, Goldstein said. Instead, they “provide happiness and distraction to make different people feel better.”
The only “match” is with the therapy dog’s owner, who is trained and certified and accompanies the dog on visits.
When Goldstein adopted Frankie in July, 2016, she thought she would make an excellent therapy dog. “Frankie is so smart and so sweet,” she said.
To receive Alliance of Therapy Dogs certification, Goldstein and Frankie went through 32 weeks of classes and a four-hour exam, which included an instructor observing the pair in the community. The Alliance provides liability insurance to certified human-dog teams for their visits.
Goldstein pointed out Frankie also received “Canine Good Citizen” certification from the American Kennel Club in August. This program ensures an owner is responsible and their dog is well-mannered.
“Therapy dogs are good for hospice work,” Goldstein said. Sometimes it’s not appropriate for the dog to interact with the person in bed, “but for the family, especially younger people, to have the dog there in a time of crisis can lighten the mood and give you something else to think about for a few minutes,” she said.
Other places the Pastoral Counseling Center’s therapy dogs can visit include elder-care facilities, cancer centers, and other community organizations where clients might benefit from “a sense of security and normalcy, a diminished sense of isolation, and an increased level of positive interconnectedness,” says the Center’s website, www.bpccvt.com.
In mid-November, Frankie visited the Oak Grove Elementary School, “and she let 15 little kids give her a hug, one after the other. It was so much fun,” Goldstein said. “Then, as a reward, we went to the dog park.”
Goldstein would like to bring Frankie to other schools, “especially to high schools or colleges during stressful orientation or exam weeks."
“We offer therapy dog services to the community free of charge,” Goldstein said. “Donations are welcome, but not necessary."
The Center pays for Goldstein’s administration fees for the Wet Nose program, but she donates her and Frankie’s time while on visits. “It’s my mitzvah. My contribution to the community,” she said.
Goldstein said the Brattleboro Pastoral Counseling Center seeks more teams of people and their therapy dogs, and interested parties can contact the Center to sign up. “[The dogs] have to be certified by the Alliance or Therapy Dogs of Vermont,” she noted.
Although Frankie is Goldstein’s — and the Center’s — first certified therapy dog, she isn’t Goldstein’s first friendly, helpful pooch.
“I’ve been taking my dogs to work with me for 35 years,” Goldstein said. “I’ve taken them to nursing homes, group homes, and other places where people are vulnerable and need a kind paw.”