Snuggling Corvallis therapy dog honored for service

Snuggling Corvallis therapy dog honored for service
Lily the dog makes a little music with her owner, Marcia Solomon, right, as Kinder Club students Quinn Sissel, background left, and Beatrice Bartholomew, background center, watch with teacher Gavin Lorens Thursday afternoon March 21, 2013 at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis, Ore. The Lakeland terrier was inducted into the Oregon Animal Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Corvallis Gazette-Times, Amanda Cowan)

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — A blond Lakeland terrier sat with 5-year-old Chloe Buford as she read aloud a story about two dogs.

When prompted, Lily looked up at the pages, although the diminutive canine was more interested in closing her eyes and cuddling with its reader.

As a member of the Welcome Waggers therapy dog group, Lily regularly visits kindergartners at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis to encourage them to read. She offers a calming presence and doesn't judge if they make mistakes.

"It's fun 'cause the dog listens to us read," Buford said. "We get to pet her and feed her treats and let her touch the book."

At nearly 13 years of age and suffering from a bad back, Lily can't perform all of the tricks she did in her youth, but she keeps a busy schedule of evoking smiles on her trips to assisted living facilities, schools, hospitals and the homes of hospice patients.

"She has never met a dog or person she didn't like," said her owner, Marcia Solomon. "She's just very happy to interact."

Lily's work was recognized by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association and the Oregon Animal Health Foundation this month when she was inducted into the 2013 Oregon Animal Hall of Fame. Nominated by her veterinarian at the West Hills Animal Hospital, Lily received the companion award, which recognizes animals that have provided a benefit to their human companions or their community.

Solomon, who has a background in psychology and special education, decided she wanted to train a therapy dog years ago after she saw firsthand the power of a trusting canine companion. She recalled a 7-year-old boy who was reluctant to speak to her, but had no problem visiting with his Yorkshire terrier. Before too long, Solomon was having conversations with him through the dog.

"That is how we worked that therapy," Solomon said. "It's the nonthreatening aspect with dogs. It helps kids open up."

Solomon hand-picked Lily as a therapy dog from a litter of puppies.

"If you put her up on your neck, she hugged," Solomon said. "The other puppies let you hold them but they didn't let you snuggle as much as Lily."

Lily's training began as soon as Solomon took her home at 4 months old. Lily went everywhere — car trips, grocery stores and laundries — so she wouldn't be skittish around different people and environments.

Certified therapy dogs must be at least a year old, well-mannered, obedient and comfortable around people and other dogs. Lily, who was certified soon after her first birthday, began her work by visiting patients at a rehabilitation hospital in West Virginia, where she and Solomon lived.

To cement their bond and learn how to work together, Solomon and Lily attended Dog Scout Camp. For one week every summer over seven years, Lily worked at learning new skills with her owner. She earned more than a dozen badges in agility, rally obedience, painting, playing instruments, pulling carts and other activities.

"She learned a bunch of her different skills, not therapy dog skills but companion skills," Solomon said. "The companion dog skills are what you do with your dog to build the animal-human bond."

When Solomon retired from work in December 2007, she and Lily moved to Corvallis. They immediately joined the Welcome Waggers and went on their first assignment only weeks later.

Lily still plays the ukulele, keyboard and tambourine to entertain children and hospital patients, but in her old age, she's not as eager to dance and twirl, Solomon said. She has become fonder of cuddling with hospice patients or going door-to-door during hospital visits to meet new people.

Solomon finds the work rewarding as well.

"When you walk into the hospital with a dog, everyone smiles because they're all happy to see a dog," she said. "Not just the patients — the nurses, the lab people, the cleaning people, all the volunteers — they're all happy to see a dog."

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Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press