| Winners at the Metro NY North Volunteer Recognition Awards Ceremony include |
Susan Henson and Douglas, winners of the Pet Therapy Award
| Judy Audevard, President of Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause, presented the |
Pet Therapy Award to Susan Henson and Douglas
Therapy dogs provide affection and comfort to people but are not limited to people with disabilities. Unlike Service dogs which are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners who have a disability such as blindness or paralysis, Therapy dogs go with their owners to volunteer at hospitals, assisted-living or retirement homes, nursing homes, VA facilities, schools, etc.
The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. Therapy dogs are friendly, gentle, patient and enjoy human contact. They provide unconditional love to anyone in need and they have a reputation for decreasing anxiety from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), help decrease depression and lonliness, and typically generate a comforting sense of well-being.
Susan Henson was known in Rockland County and the Hudson Valley as a therapy dog handler when she was contacted by Judy Audevard in 2011. Judy, the President of Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause, had been invited by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to visit their Warrior Transition Unit which served soldiers returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Judy was looking for volunteers to visit the soldiers at West Point who were being treated for a variety of physical and mental disabilities, including PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Susan immediately accepted the invitation.
After being certified as an official Red Cross Volunteer, Susan began visiting the Warrior Transition Unit. Susan’s first visit to the Unit took place on a large open terrace where a half dozen soldiers were invited to meet her and Darla, one of her two Labs. Initially, the soldiers were reluctant to meet the dog. Susan thought the visit was going to be a failure. Finally, one soldier agreed to say “hello” and the rest is history. Darla approached the soldier and began wagging her tail and lifted her head to be petted. Immediately, the soldier flashed a smile and a friendship was born. Soon other soldiers joined in and began asking Susan questions about Darla and opening up about themselves. Some admitted how much they missed their own dogs.
Said Susan, “What’s amazing to me is the change a therapy dog can bring about in the face of loss or tragedy. Simply by being there and showing affection by nudging someone’s hand, a dog can have a dramatic impact on a person’s life”.
Soon Susan and a team of six or seven dogs and their handlers were making weekly visits to West Point. The news spread and the soldiers began looking forward to their visits and even brought treats and toys for the dog. Subsequently, Susan and her team also participated in other programs at West Point including the Paws for Kids Program and the West Point Elementary School “READ” Program which Judy Audevard initiated.
Meanwhile, Susan became a registered Tester/Observer for the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national therapy dog registry, where she helps train and register therapy dogs and their handlers throughout Rockland County and the Hudson Valley. Susan is also an active advocate for recruiting therapy dogs and their handlers to make visits where requested throughout the region.
Asked why she volunteers, Susan said: “As a Red Cross Volunteer and a therapy dog handler, I've seen a lot of ‘firsts’. I've seen a therapy dog bring a smile to the face of a soldier for the first time in years; I've seen an autistic child speak for the first time in months; I've seen a 96 year-old woman in a nursing home cross a room to say ‘hello’ to a dog with a wagging tail; I've seen the joy a therapy dog can bring to loney people in desparate need of affection. That's why I do what I do”.
Thank you, Susan and Douglas for the work you do and the joy you bring to those in need!
To become a Red Cross Volunteer, visit www.RedCross.org/volunteer