Vickie Poteat always knew she wanted to be in a role to help people, and serving as a nurse for many years has allowed her to do just that. But Poteat also seeks out other opportunities to serve, specifically through volunteering. Recently, Poteat was presented with a new opportunity when she was gifted with a 2-year-old Labradoodle, named Declan.
Poteat was unsure of the name at first, as she was more familiar with dogs having one-syllable names. But after learning the meaning of the name “Declan,” she knew she couldn’t change it as it was perfect for the purpose she knew Declan would come to fulfill.
“Declan is an Irish name and means ‘full of goodness,’” Poteat said. “And knowing that I wanted to make him into a therapy dog, I couldn’t change it — it just fit.”
Through Vicki’s years of nursing experience in a variety of settings, she has seen the impact therapy dogs can make in a person’s life.
“Therapy dogs are not to be confused with service dogs. They each serve different purposes. For instance, a service dog may be trained to assist the blind or be able to tell when a diabetic’s sugar is low. A therapy dog gives its presence and love to people,” Poteat said. “Therapy dogs can help the elderly reminisce and talk about their life stories. They are comfortable around children without being nervous and are easy for children to pet or hug.”
While Declan is a purebred labradoodle, according to the organization Pawsibilities Unleashed, therapy dogs can be any breed, any size and any age.
Pawsibilities said it is best to start a dog in a therapy training program at a young age, but a dog’s temperament with people is the most important aspect of being an appropriate candidate for therapy training.
Declan has completed the first three requirements of the four-step process to become a certified therapy dog. He was screened and approved to begin training by his vet. He completed obedience training at Liberty Dog Camp, and he is currently in the six-week therapy-training program. Once Declan completes the therapy training, he will need to complete ten hours of supervised visits with Poteat, then they will be a therapy team and able to visit with people.
Along with the requirements outlined by Pawsibilities Unleashed, therapy dogs also have a set of guidelines they must follow at all times such as being spayed or neutered, refraining from jumping on people, zero food or toy aggression, and must be able to easily adapt to unusual noises, smells, or floor textures. For a complete list of therapy dog guidelines, visit pawsibilitiesunleashed.org.
“Declan understands and abides by most of the guidelines, but he is early in his training and still has a few rules that we need to master,” said Poteat.
Vicki is excited to begin her therapy work with Declan by her side. She plans to reach out to several, local business in Owensboro that serve people, such as Active Day, Wendell Foster Center and the Hartford House, for she and Declan to visit to bring joy and comfort to others.