By Abby Wargo
Student Life Editor
Everyone’s favorite therapy dog is back for another year at Washington College. Puck, a 6-year-old English springer spaniel, will be in the lower level of Hodson Hall on every second and fourth Tuesday from noon until 1 p.m.
Puck and his owner, Laurie Walters, moved to Rock Hall from Westminster, Md. in early 2016. In Westminster, he visited McDaniel College, had a weekly appointment at Carroll Hospital Center, went to Carroll Lutheran Village, and was on call for the Maryland State’s Attorney’s office.
“When there are children testifying in court, the Maryland State Attorney’s office will bring in therapy dogs while [the children] wait so that they can break the stress,” Walters said.
Puck kept very busy in Westminster, so the move to Rock Hall meant that Puck needed to find a new place to visit.
“WC seemed like a good fit for us, and last fall was his first visit,” Walters said.
After she retired, Walters decided to volunteer her previous dog as a therapy dog. Her family is involved with dog agility competitions, and while she enjoys being around people with her dog, she is not competitive.
“I was drawn towards volunteering…it’s a great thing for [dogs] to do to make their days more interesting and exciting, it’s great for people who don’t have access to dogs, and I get to share my pet with them,” she said.
Therapy dogs must be friendly and enjoy people, per Walters’ personal requirements. She found that springers are a good size for therapy work and that they love people. That led her to Puck, where he was the only male in his litter.
“They were all named after characters in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ and he was the only boy, so he was obviously called Puck. The name stuck,” she said.
Walters said that Puck “thoroughly enjoys soaking up all the love” that comes with therapy work.
Therapy dogs must go through extensive training before they can become certified by a non-profit organization that will allow them to go on visits. The non-profits look for well-mannered dogs that listen, can walk on a leash, and do not jump up on humans. This can be taught by the owners, or through an obedience class.
“Once you feel that your dog has those skills, then you find that organization where you want him to volunteer,” Walters said.
Puck is a member of the KPets organization in Westminster, and he still belongs to the group despite his move to the Eastern Shore. He had to go through the evaluation process with KPets, which included having a stranger approach and greet him, being touched all over with many people, being patted aggressively, and being approached by another dog. He also had to demonstrate that he could listen attentively and walk properly on a leash. KPets also exposed him to wheelchairs, walkers, and loud noises to make sure that he could stay calm in such situations.
Walters, too, had to learn how to work in different sorts of environments and attended a handler orientation.
After Puck passed his inspection, he and Walters went out on two visits with an evaluator accompanying them. After that, he had to pass a health screening and background checks.
In addition to therapy work with KPets, Puck is a certified crisis response dog, which means that he can provide comfort in areas where there is a lot of stress. He belongs to HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response.
Their website, www.hopeaacr.org, said, “it is a national all-volunteer, non-profit, crisis response organization with specially trained handlers (psychological first aid, incident command, etc) and canines trained and tested for crisis response work. Agencies call upon HOPE AACR teams to provide comfort and support to people affected by disasters.”
FEMA called HOPE AACR to Texas to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief.
“Puck will not be going, however; it’s a four-hour plane ride and he is too big. We mostly respond to home crises,” Walters said.
Puck’s new little brother, Auggie, may also enter therapy work and be a more mobile crisis response dog.
“He’s a little guy, a mixed breed, mostly Shih Tzu with lots of terrier in him. I got him to potentially do volunteer work with him as well, and Puck was lonely all by himself,” Walters said.
Perhaps someday soon WC will have two therapy dogs to enjoy, but for now, students can give and receive love from Puck in Hodson twice a month.