Northwest NEWS

March 18, 2002

Features

*

Animals calm, heal, activate, says local expert

by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   "I see how dogs calm people and lessen stress," says Woodinville resident Becky Bishop. "They're nonjudgmental creatures who offer unconditional love and affection. Research has proven how effective animals can be in providing a soothing environment for people. It has been well documented that petting a dog lowers a person's blood pressure, and those who own dogs recover more rapidly from heart attacks than those who don't have them. There are all sorts of data out there that confirms that this type of therapy really works."
   Bishop is well known in the community for her work with dogs. She has been featured in local newspapers and by local television stations for her involvement with dogs and her animal rescue efforts, as well as for her numerous community service contributions over the years. "I've been involved in animal assisted therapy for the past 10 years," she explains.
   According to Bishop, most breeds of dogs can become therapy dogs, but they must first possess the right temperament for this type of work. They need to be reliable, calm, enjoy contact with people and not behave in an aggressive manner.
   Through her classes, Bishop has trained countless dogs of all breeds to become wonderful family members, and she takes pride in her "graduates."
   Animal assisted therapy work is another of her passions and she offers instruction to owners and their dogs in this specialized field, preparing them for Delta Society certification as Pet Partners.
   She is also a pet therapy evaluator for the organization and administers the tests for certification.
   Owners and their dogs go through specific training together and it's necessary that the owners have good verbal control of their pets in all situations.
   Bishop shares her own dogs, Magic and Boomer, with the community, visiting hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and participating in the Bothell Library's weekly Reading with Rover program. According to her, the dogs have always been warmly and eagerly received and have provided countless positive experiences for both adults and children.
   "People immediately smile when they see the dogs and they want to pet them and be next to them," comments Bishop. "The atmosphere in the room changes when the dogs come in and everyone can feel it."
   In addition to Magic and Boomer, Bishop has added a third dog to her menagerie, Moose, an 18-month-old chocolate lab, who she plans to train for animal-assisted therapy work.
   Her latest acquisition however, is not a dog. It's Mazie, a cute silver-gray miniature horse, standing 29 inches tall, with a disposition to melt even the coldest hearts.
   "I got Mazie last year at a horse farm in Redmond," explains Bishop. "I was there trying to redesign the Delta test for use with horses and I saw this baby horse there who was just darling. I bonded with her instantly and I told the stable manager that I thought she'd be great for animal assisted therapy work. The next day I got a call from the horse farm asking if I would like to have Mazie.
   "The owner of the farm had heard about my comments and offered to give me Mazie because she was really more of a pet quality animal, than a show animal. I immediately agreed and now Mazie is a part of my family."
   Bishop has since trained Mazie to be a therapy animal and last October she received her certification. She is the only certified therapy animal mini horse in the state and there are only nine of such creatures in the nation.
   "She has the best temperament," says Bishop. "She's sweet and affectionate to both people and other animals. She loves to hang out with my dogs, particularly Moose. She's also very smart and learns things quickly."
   Bishop has taught Mazie, via clicker training (a science-based system for teaching behavior with positive reinforcement using the sound of a toy clicker) to count by stomping her hoof on the ground, do the boogie-woogie by shaking her head all around and to answer her with an affirmative nod when asked, "Do you love me?"
   Mazie is rewarded with her favorite treat, Honey Nut Cheerios.
   Getting Mazie used to groups of people has been Bishop's primary goal, as Mazie is still new to therapy. She recently took her to the Bothell Library for an animal therapy party event.
   "She was an instant success," comments Bishop. "The kids loved petting her and handling her and she did really well with them. My ultimate goal is to get her to work with stroke and rehab patients. The therapeutic benefits are all there with miniature horses. They can have the same therapeutic value as dogs because they're also nonjudgmental creatures who are affectionate and loving, and respond well to touch."
   According to Bishop, animal assisted therapy has gotten extremely popular since the 9/11 tragedy. Therapy dogs have been used in grief centers, on the respite ships for policemen and firefighters working at Ground Zero and at Ground Zero itself. There've been dogs stationed at Ground Zero seven days a week over the past six months, helping ease the pain and stress of those working in the area.
   "People recognize how valuable and special the animals are," says Bishop. "They are low-tech living miracles that can really make a difference."
   For more information on Bishop's obedience and animal assisted therapy classes, contact her at (425) 482-1057, or check out her Web site at www.puppymanners.com.