Furry Friends Therapy Dogs, Inc. is a Coos County organization of around 35 certified therapy dogs that are trained to help provide comfort to those in need. The organization started around 12 years ago and was founded as an inspiration from therapy dog programs in California. The Furry Friends program visits 13 care facilities and two hospitals every month.
According to Ruthe Garagnon, president of Furry Friends, the benefit of visiting these facilities is to provide the ability for the patients to connect with a dog even if the patient cannot own one.
“Going to the hospitals and care facilities where people are no longer able to have their own pets, our dogs bring smiles and the ability to pet and have the interaction with dogs even though they can’t have their own pets right now,” Garagnon said.
Furry Friends has started a book club at the Coos Bay Public Library where young children can help improve their reading skills by reading to the dogs. Selena Jagroop, a third grader at Blossom Gulch, whose favorite dog is a Chihuahua, said she really enjoys reading to the dogs.
“It’s just really fun and I really like animals,” Jagroop said.
In addition to visiting these facilities, Furry Friends led nine Coos County schools through the K-9 Ambassador Program, a course to showcase pet responsibility and how to approach other dogs they may not know.
“We go to the schools in Coos County and see Pre-K through 2nd grade and teach them pet responsibility such as owning a dog, how to take care of a dog, some of the basic needs of cats or dogs with food or water,” Garagnon said. “We even show them how to pick up dog poop.”
According to Amelia Edd, a first grade teacher at Blossom Gulch, having the program is wonderful to diversify the students’ perspectives.
“It’s a really positive experience for kids and it’s nice to have community members come in and talk and experience something different,” Edd said. “The kids really enjoy coming and seeing the dogs and it’s really great for kids who don’t have a pet or are scared of dogs.”
In order to become a therapy dog, the dogs are put through the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen Test, a two-step process. The first step involves dogs partaking in a test to display skills a therapy dog must have (greeting a friendly stranger, heeling, sitting, etc.). In the second step, the dogs must go through three training visits at care facilities with three different evaluators to ensure that they have the right kind of temperament to be a therapy dog and are comfortable around wheelchairs and hospital beds. They are clearly marked with a vest displaying a Furry Friend patch. The owners of the dogs are also trained to help communicate with the patients for whatever experiences they may have gone through.
According to Garagnon, their mission is simple.
“Our dogs are just trained to bring smiles.” Garagnon said.