Westminster Dogs Giving Back to Community
Club’s partnership with Angel On A Leash raises awareness of therapy dogs
By Sandy Robins
updated 10:25 p.m. PT, Tues., Feb. 5, 2008
Every Tuesday evening, come rain or snow, David Frei, the communications director for the Westminster Kennel Club, takes his two Brittany Spaniels, Teigh and Belle, to visit children at the Ronald McDonald House in New York City.
The kids are always waiting with anticipation and greet the dogs by name, smothering them with hugs and kisses. The dogs respond with equal enthusiasm, thoroughly enjoying all this love and attention, totally unaware of the wonderful work they are actually doing by brightening the lives of seriously ill children.
Teigh and Belle are members of a prestigious group of therapy dogs called Angel on A Leash(Angelonaleash.org). Although they do great work year-round, the spotlight is on their doggie healing powers during Westminster week because past Best in Show winners come to town to highlight the great work that therapy dogs do all the time. James, the Springer Spaniel who is the reigning Best in Show champion, is the organization’s spokesdog.
“Four years ago the Westminster Kennel Club wanted to get involved with charitable work within the New York community,” Frei said. “We had four teams of trained therapy dogs and started visiting children at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.
“Every year during the Westminster Dog Show telecast, we would talk about these dogs and the wonderful work they were doing, and the phone would start ringing off the hook with people from all over the country wanting their dogs to join Angel On A Leash too. It was quite overwhelming. We never envisioned that it would go nationwide.
“Because we didn’t have anything in place to take the program national, we partnered with existing therapy dog organizations around the country, making it easy for people to sign their dogs up and become certified to offer some tail wagging pet therapy.”
Because so many of the country’s leading show dogs are Angels on Leashes, their celebrity is helping to spread the word so that more organizations are now opening their doors to therapy pets and their partners.
“The best part is that your dog doesn’t have to be a show dog or even have a pedigree to apply,” Frei said. “That’s the beauty of pet therapy work; any dog can be certified and become an Angel.
Frei said James has worked mostly with Alzheimer’s patients in the past year.
“And the dogs love it,” Frei said. “They are being petted and hugged and being fed a cookies. That’s what dogs live for.”
For people who have been looking for a way to volunteer and serve their community, working with a dog is a wonderful way to contribute. Frei says that although his dogs do all the work, volunteering at the other end of the leash has changed him, too.
“It makes me more aware of other people and their needs. In fact, it’s ministry that takes place on the street every day. When the weather is nice and I am working to work with my dogs, someone will always stop and pet them. Our route takes us past a church where homeless people are sleeping on cardboard. The dogs immediately dive in amongst them to be petted. They don’t differentiate with whom they are interacting. …
“And it goes further because even when I am walking past the church without my dogs, I will stop and talk to the guys there. My dogs made the first move and consequently I am comfortable interacting with them, too. I could possibly be making someone’s day.”
Before handing over his top dog crown, English Springer Spaniel James will be guest of honor at various Angel On A Leash charity events being held in the city to coincide with the dog show. He will also be making a special appearance on the green carpet on Monday, along with other Angel On A Leash therapy teams, as well as children and their families from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York as well as families currently residing in the city’s Ronald McDonald House.
“It’s wonderful that the Westminster Dog Show is recognized as more than the world’s greatest dog show,” Frei said. “It’s become an international celebration of the dog in family life.”
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications
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