On a Monday afternoon at Harbor Tower Village in Oak Harbor, the joy in the air was palpable.
A group of therapy dogs were making a routine visit to the retirement community and several residents were clearly happy to see them. Many cuddles, smiles and stories of old pets were shared.
The visit was made possible by Dogs On Call, an Anacortes-based organization. Those who own trained therapy dogs can register their pups with Dogs on Call and volunteers for the visits to schools, retirement homes, memory care centers, hospices and hospitals.
North Whidbey resident Pat Lamont is responsible for dispatching pooches on Whidbey Island. Currently, dogs from the organization have only made visits in Coupeville and Oak Harbor, but Lamont said they would be able to send therapy dogs to the South End of the island on request. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lamont explained that the dogs’ job during these visits is to simply spend time with people and, of course, receive lots of pets.
Dogs On Call makes visits to an Oak Harbor High School life skills class. Some of the students are nonverbal.
“The students that are in there can sit down on the floor and carry on a conversation with the dogs they wouldn’t do with people,” Lamont said.
In retirement communities, she said, people often have had to give up their own dogs to go into assisted living. She said they love to talk about their old pets and the therapy dogs bring back pleasant memories.
“The dogs do a wonderful job of being there and being petted and not judging the people in any way,” Lamont said.
Dogs On Call charges no fees for their services and it is completely run by volunteers. Lamont said they have recently registered five new dogs in the Oak Harbor area. She said all of the dog owners, except for one, are seniors who want to use their extra time to give back to the community.
Lamont owns two therapy dogs, both rescue dogs from shelters. Rose is an 8-year old Australian Shepherd who has been a therapy dog for four years. Jack is a 6-year-old Welsh corgi and a newly registered therapy dog. Because of his size, he’s good for sitting on laps, Lamont said.
Pups that are part of Dogs On Call are registered through organizations such as Love on a Leash, Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Pet Partners. Lamont said therapy dogs must have the right temperament and have to be comfortable in strange scenarios and can’t bark, jump on or lick people. Any breed can become a therapy dog, it just depends on the temperament of the individual.
A siant schnauzer, an English retriever, a black lab, a collie and a couple of Shetland sheepdogs are among the Dogs On Call ranks.
Lamont said she volunteers so much time to the organization because she loves seeing people interact with the dogs.
“At the high school, you see some of the kind of tough kids that will sit down on the floor,” she said. “And the dog comes in and curls up in their lap and they totally forget that we’re even there.”