Many years ago while still living in an apartment, Alison Thresher leash-trained her rescue cat McGregor and regularly took him to her office and along on trips to see her grandmother at a nursing home.
By Caroline Walker
Many years ago while still living in an apartment, Alison Thresher leash-trained her rescue cat McGregor and regularly took him to her office and along on trips to see her grandmother at a nursing home. During those visits, Alison saw firsthand how the presence of an animal could bring comfort and happiness to those suffering from illness or stress.
In 2004 Alison adopted Amstel when she was eight weeks old from North Shore Animal League. She was designated as “special needs” because she had kennel cough and an infection. Like all good rescue organizations, North Shore offered to pay for Amstel’s vet needs, but Alison didn’t want to shuttle her back and forth to Long Island, so she covered Amstel’s expenses herself. It was no big deal, she said, and Amstel quickly blossomed into a happy, and very healthy dog.
Amstel exhibited herding instincts early on, and clearly had some Border Collie genes, but she was a mix. DNA testing revealed that she was a fabulous cocktail of about five different breeds, but all that mattered to Alison was that Amstel had a great temperament and was both smart and obedient. Alison thought she might be a good candidate to be a therapy dog and had read about The Good Dog Foundation in New York, so decided to pursue it.
First Amstel had to pass an evaluation at The Good Dog Foundation, and she passed with flying colors. Following a training course, Amstel was put to work.
Her workdays are Mondays and Wednesdays and she and Alison work at both New York Presbyterian in the city and here in Rye at The Osborn. Their visits last for an hour and can involve all different kinds of interactions.
At The Osborn, Amstel and Alison work with both short- and long-term patients. Typically, the visits are one-on-one and can involve snuggling, petting, and other forms of canine connection. Amstel remembers the patients and will give a lick or a nudge to those she sees frequently.
One of Amstel’s favorite people to visit at The Osborn is Alison’s father, James Thresher, who lives in the independent living area.
Amstel knows which days are workdays, and she knows when her shift is over. Alison says she is a typical dog at home and plays and barks at the mailman, but she takes on a different, calmer character when she is working.
One funny thing happened early in Amstel’s therapy career: as a great retriever, it took some time to wrap her furry head around the fact that the tennis balls on the bottom of walkers were not for her to fetch even when they were in motion!
The Good Dog Foundation provides amazing therapy dog services to people in health care, social service, educational, and community facilities, as well as at disaster sites. The organization works with over 1,100 therapy-dog teams; all dogs and their handlers must undergo annual assessments to ensure that they are still fit for service. (If you think your dog is suited to this type of work, we encourage you to check out The Good Dog Foundation at thegooddogfoundation.org.)
Alison and Amstel have made more than 400 visits in the eight years that Amstel has been a therapy dog, and she’s reached a high level of accomplishment – in American Kennel Club parlance, she’s a THDD, a distinguished therapy dog. It was only recently that the AKC even recognized mixed breeds as therapy dogs. This is a high honor indeed for a dog that started out life in a Southern kill shelter. Way to go Amstel!
If you have a pet rescue story to share, email Rye Rescues@ gmail.com. Adopt Don’t Shop and save a life. When you adopt you actually save two lives, not just one. You save your dog’s life and open up space in the rescue lifeline to pull another dog from a shelter.