On the morning of Aug. 4, the Melissa Public Library had some special guests for the children of Melissa and their families. The Heart of Texas brought in two dogs to introduce to the children and allow them to interact with the dogs.
The Heart of Texas is the local Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs; a national volunteer organization of therapy dogs and handlers both on a mission to share joy. The group has more than 150 volunteers, and hundreds of canines are registered with the Alliance. The Heart of Texas group visits the Dallas Veterans Association Hospital and other medical care places; along with nursing homes, assisted living centers and other places.
Big Lou, a beautiful yellow dog, and his mom Kristi Rooks came to the Melissa Library to teach the children the proper ways to act around dogs. Rooks taught the children ways to tell if a dog was nervous or upset. She also talked to the youth there about dog etiquette — the dos and don’ts when it comes to handling and approaching a dog. Rooks asked the children to name something one should never do to a dog, to which a few of them replied enthusiastically, “Pull their tail!”
Some residents were wondering the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog. AKC.com defines a service dog as any dog that provides assistance to an individual with a disability. Therapy dogs are defined as a dog that provides emotional support and improves the life of another person.
Rooks, who has been a therapy dog volunteer for a year, said she is mom to four dogs. However, Big Lou is her only therapy dog. Rooks said when she adopted Big Lou from the Collin County Animal shelter, he had a dislocated hip. After surgery and physical therapy, he was able to use his leg again. Rooks said many people would gauge their pain by how Big Lou handled his.
“They would say, if Big Lou can handle a dislocated hip and not complain, I can handle what I’m going through,” Rooks said.
“I knew Big Lou was a good candidate to become a therapy dog due to his love of people,” Rooks said. “He loves attention and seems to know who needs doggy love.”
After taking a few obedience classes, Rooks registered Big Lou to take a test through the Alliance. The Alliance watches how the handler and dog interact during basic obedience skills.
Teresa King was another volunteer at the presentation. She explained how her dog Batman came into her life.
“He rolled out from under a truck,” King said. “He wasn’t hurt — didn’t have a scratch on him.”
King explained to the children the different colors that therapy and service dogs might be wearing. She also told them the importance of not approaching a service dog while the dog is wearing a working collar. She said if you see a dog with a service dog collar, it is important to not approach the dog and try to pet it.
After the presentation, the children were able to meet Big Lou and Batman and give both dogs attention. Rooks and King also had trading cards with Big Lou and Batman’s information on them, and toys for the children.