Hard-luck dog trains to help people

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 07:03 PM

A dog that once had a hard life is on his way to becoming an animal that can help others.
Annette Braetzkus, who has been rescuing dogs all her life, rescued Roscoe in February.
“He had been tied to a tree with no food, shelter or water,” she said. “He needed a home to get out of the cold.”
With food and medications, Roscoe recovered fairly quickly.
But the black German Shepherd, now about a year old, was a little different.
“He was so sweet, we thought he could be a therapy dog,” said Braetzkus, a former nurse. “He has been evaluated and has the personality for therapy.”
The next step was training.  Roscoe has finished one round of training with veteran trainer Jim Hodges of Winston-Salem.
“Roscoe’s disposition is wonderful,” Hodges said. “He has a loving and caring nature. Not all rescued dogs make good therapy dogs. He’ll be a great therapy dog, but he is not quite ready yet.”
More and more dogs with loving natures have joined the growing ranks of therapy dogs. They sit with children while they read, visit elders in nursing homes and provide comfort for wounded veterans enduring painful rehabilitations.
Hodges has seen what loving therapy dogs can do in retirement homes and hospitals.
“Many of the old people have not see a pet for a long time,” Hodges said. “Some of these folks talk to a dog after they have not talked to people for sometime.”
Studies have shown that severely ill cardiac patients in intensive care units have experienced significantly lowered measurable levels of stress, and lowered heart and lung pressure during therapy dog visits.
Hodges and Braetzkus agreed Roscoe needs more training. Dogs work the best with people after they learn that they must follow the owner.
“And Annette has some work to do too,” Hodges said. “Roscoe will want to do things his own way. He needs to know that she is the leader.”
It can cost more than $1,000 for professional therapy dog training, but some handlers also offer instruction for little or no cost.
“Roscoe is still a puppy,” Braetzkus said. “He needs to be older to get certified as a therapy dog. I will be taking him to other places to see how he does. Jim has been very positive with his training. I think he knows that Roscoe wants to be with people.”
Once Roscoe is certified, Braetzkus said she will take him to schools and retirement homes for therapy sessions.
“I am his handler and mom,” she said. “This experience is a good example for my children and others too. I want people to know that they can rescue a dog too. Rescue dogs make the best pets. Everybody I have talked to says that.”

Rescued Dogs

It’s easy to find rescue dog owners. Many are listed and veterinarians, trainers and animal shelters can provide references.