Caring Paws program participants delight with visits

Jay Chenkin said he likes to tell people his dog Cody, a bearded collie, has two degrees.

One of the degrees is from the American Kennel Club and certifies that Cody has passed a canine good citizen test. The other, Chenkin says, is an aPHD.

“That’s ‘a Pretty Hairy Dog,’ degree,” Chenkin said Saturday when he and a group of dog owners with the Caring Paws program visited Summerville at Prince William, an assisted-living community.

Cody, Chenkin and other volunteer members from the therapy dog visitation organization visit Summerville once a month, Chenkin said.

Kevin Edwards, Summerville food service director, said the residents look forward to the visits from Sourdough and Abbygaylecq, two blue tick hounds, a Weimeraner named Gravel, a cocker spaniel named Maye, Centacq the Welsh corgi, Kinsley Dean, a yellow lab, and Sandy, a golden retriever.

“Most of the people come down twenty minutes early waiting for the dogs to come down,” Edwards said.

Summerville resident Janie Edwards said she waits outside for the dogs to arrive. “They’re all so good. They’re just as friendly as they can be. They love to come here and everybody loves them,” she said as she got dog kisses from Gravel, who was prone to licking people on the chops.

Kim Kirilenko,cq a dog trainer at All About Dogs in Lake Ridge, which sponsors the Caring Paws program, said she thinks everyone profits from canine visitations. “I get a tremendous feeling of inner happiness. I think the dogs really do reach out to the residents here,” Kirilenko said as her dog Kinsley Dean made the rounds among the 30 or so residents of Summerville who waited in the lobby to visit with the dogs.

Kirilenko said she thinks the dogs benefit from the visits, too. “They get lots of pets and lots of treats,” she said.

“A lot of dogs like human contact and human touch,” Kirilenko added. “I think a lot of therapy dogs fit that description.”

Kirilenko said 10 dogs and their owners participate in the program and visit the Woodbridge Nursing Home as well as the Prince William County Juvenile Detention Center, but more volunteers and their dogs are needed. To be qualified, dogs must know how to sit and stay, walk quietly on a leash in a crowd, react calmly to sudden loud noises, approach strangers kindly and be nice, among other things.

The test that Cody and the other dogs passed is available to the public at All About Dogs for $10, Kirilenko said.

Training for dogs who don’t quite meet the standards is also available at additional cost, Kirilenko said.

Caring Paws is especially interested in recruiting smaller breeds, Kirilenko said. “We’re really in need of smaller dogs that people can put in their laps.”

The visits usually last about an hour, Kirilenko said. “The dogs usually tolerate 45 to 60 minutes. It’s a warm environment and they start to get sleepy.”

For information about certification and volunteering, call (703) 497-7878 or e-mail therapydog

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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