Abilene Regional Medical Center graduates a new class of pet therapy dogs

ABILENE, Texas - Pets make wonderful companions especially when you are going through a tough time.

Saturday morning, Abilene Regional's Women's Center served as a testing site for people who want their dogs to get certified as therapy animals. The testing process takes about 30 minutes.

After months of preparing, several dogs underwent testing to become therapy dogs.

Bebe, a golden lab, was ready to go.

"My dad had heart surgery here at Abilene Regional and when I was in the waiting room, Sue came around with her two dogs and was greeting all the people in the waiting room and I thought that it is such a great idea," Bebe's owner, Brenda Balsano, said.

The drills were a team effort. To pass, the dogs had to sit on command, not accept food from a stranger, pass a door test and a few other tasks. Both the owner and the dog had to pass.

"If the handler is nervous and uptight the dog's nervous and uptight," Therapy Dog International Evaluator Lisa Peterson said. "Dogs that are nervous and uptight aren't listening. They're not obeying. They don't pass the test. Dogs that are relaxed and comfortable, what we're asking them to do is stuff they've learned to do. They've been through obedience classes. They know how to do it and they do a good job of it."

Peterson said many people believe their dogs are cut out for this line of work, but they could be wrong.

"It may have the right personality, but it has to have the obedience," Peterson said.

Balsano said the pet therapy job opens up a whole new world for both her and Bebe.

"I'd be a little too shy to just go around and visit people's hospital rooms myself, but the dog gives me an avenue to maybe make people happier," Balsano said.

Bebe did pass all her tests and Balsano said she is ready for their new adventure.

"She loves it," Balsano said. "She's an attention hound."

The pet therapy dogs are also used in places people might not think of. Some examples have been: with first responders during 9/11; during the devastating tornadoes this year in Moore, Oklahoma; following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school and after the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West.

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