Compassion for Patients and Passion for Pets

For patients recovering from injury, in long term care or hospice– breaks from tubes, treatments and therapies are few and far between. Mary Kettle and her certified therapy Golden Retriever, “Maggie” give these moments to people every week.

The physical therapy assistant (PTA) and animal lover lives in Ransom Township with her husband Ralph and their five dogs, five cats, two horses and chickens. She volunteers at Griffin Pond Animal Shelter, Autumn Valley Golden Retriever Rescue and Spirit’s Promise Equine Rescue. Professionally, Mary joined Allied Services in 1989, received certified nursing assistance training and completed her physical therapy assistant training at Keystone College. Mary worked in inpatient, outpatient and skilled nursing, and is certified in brain injury and works in the ventilator unit at Allied in Scranton. Mary is energized by her busy life. Her limitless care and compassion for people and animals greatly contributes to her finding fulfillment and success in her role at the Skilled Nursing and Rehab Center.

Nurturing patients through pet therapy has the dual outcome of bringing joy to all involved.
Over a decade ago, Mary and her husband adopted Copper. He was deaf and living in bad conditions. To get more knowledge about handling a deaf dog, Kettle reached out to a dog trainer and was placed in an AKC certified Good Citizen and Therapy Dog International class that teaches handling skills and focuses on temperament. The trainer recommended Copper take the test to become a therapy dog. When he passed, Kettle began bringing him to see patients on Sundays. “Working in a skilled nursing setting, I never realized how much patients enjoyed the pets until I bought Copper in,” she explains. Most patients want to interact with the dogs and some share memories of their own animals. There is a sparkle in the patients when they ask, ‘are you coming in this Sunday?’ They share the stories of their own pets and get to step away from dealing with their ailments,” explains Mary.

Pet therapy didn’t just give patients a chance to tap into their memories, but also the opportunity to nurture and think about something other than their situation. Pet therapy is less about therapy and more the human bond.” She relays a story of a quadriplegic patient who couldn’t move to interact with her dog. She put the dog (then a Beagle) in bed with the patient, who said, “I feel like I’m petting your dog” and shared stories of his own Pit Bull who was being cared for by a friend.

Kettle encourages anyone interested in pet therapy to reach out to a dog trainer. “When you give dogs a job, they are more content,” she explains. In her volunteer experience at shelters, she sees a lot of dogs surrendered for behavioral issues when all they needed was a job. When Kettle and Maggie visit their patients, the focus is not on making them walk ten more steps or stretch further, but to reinforce that necessary human bond with unconditional love and affection that is free of judgement. –Kieran O’Brien Kern

Got the Chops to Become a Therapy Dog?
Becoming a therapy dog takes more than soulful eyes and a cheerful disposition. It requires a mixture of temperament, training and testing. Chris Jeske of All American Dog Trainers says, “The best therapy dogs love to be touched by people and are good with other dogs.” Dogs that are at least 1-year-old can be tested. Prior to attending the therapy dog class, dogs need an understanding of basic obedience commands. The seven-week class takes place at the Clarks Summit Fire Company Sundays at 3 p.m. All American Dog Trainers expand on basic obedience commands to simulate situations encountered in a therapy visit.

Therapy Dogs Must
Walk nicely on a leash
Walk around and approach service
equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers
Allow for distractions
Approach other dogs
Walk through a crowd
Leave something on command
Separate from their owner without getting upset