Rescue dogs have special souls and, despite their hard beginnings, some possess a strong compassion to help others and bring joy into their world. Bailey was one of those rare angels and together we expanded our horizons beyond my wildest dreams.
Bailey inspired everyone she met in magical ways, offering unconditional love and a sense of peace when she was near you. Rescued from a shelter by GRRMF when she was only three, Bailey quickly won our hearts with her calm demeanor and relaxed approach to life. Her gentle soul and compassion for others lead us into therapy work.
After earning her AKC Canine Good Citizen certification, we practiced every day to test for Therapy Dogs International (TDI). Our efforts were rewarded and we began our solo therapy partnership at four facilities, special invites to local schools and college campuses. She loved working three times a week as the in-house therapy dog at a school for children with complex disabilities. Bailey and I met other Alliance for Therapy Dogs (ATD) handler teams and formed a lasting friendship with many, but we were eager to expand our horizons even further. Taking all the knowledge Bailey and I learned over the years, plus the pros and cons we encountered with other therapy groups, I proposed guidelines to start a structured therapy dog community program in GRRMF.
In January 2019, our Hearts of Gold therapy program was born. We contacted our GRRMF adoptive families to see if there was an interest in the program and also invited those alums already doing therapy visits to join our team. We began screening potential dog handler candidates in Tampa and Melbourne and finished our first year with 28 therapy teams that performed an average of 35 visits a month to support different assisted living and rehab facilities, library reading programs, elementary schools and college events. Bailey was a great mentor during our GRRMF foster family years and appointed herself the eyes for her special needs fur brother, Rocky, including introducing him to therapy work. Bailey, Rocky and I had the privilege of offering guidance to dog handler teams embarking on their new careers and sharing our experiences. Bailey also was an amazing big sister to our second GRRMF alum, Madison, who learned so much from her gentle ways and is trying to follow in the footsteps of her big sister.
Although Bailey crossed the Rainbow Bridge in October 2019, her beautiful spirit continues to inspire us to reach out into our communities and continue her dream of lifting spirits and making a pawsitive impact on someone’s life. The program continues to grow and today we have ninety-one volunteers supporting the program in different capacities, with therapy teams in The Villages, Melbourne, and Tampa areas.
As our program begins its fourth year, we are excited to see more facilities requesting therapy visits and schools allowing pet therapy back into the classrooms or outside areas. We hope to have the new Orlando Oviedo area up and running by mid-spring 2022.
The program would not be a success without the support of our volunteers behind the scenes who assist with the administrative tasks and the handlers who share their special pups with others. Although Bailey is no longer at my side, our shared passion for therapy work is still strong and Rocky and Madison support my dedication. Bailey’s beautiful soul is at the heart of all we do and her compassion for others continues to inspire us.
Those interested in our Hearts of Gold therapy program can visit our website for upcoming screening event dates and locations or contact us at GRRMFTherapypups@grrmf.org for more information.
By Ginger Vincent