Doggone It: Dog Therapy! - BlueStone Press
July 1, 2022

Doggone It: Dog Therapy!


Months have passed since the last column, which coincided with the world’s deep dive into the COVID-19 pandemic. As the days of isolation and social distancing march on by, I have a greater appreciation for my savior-of-sanity rescue animals.

The latest addition to the pack (dogs) or kindle (sibling cats), depending on your point of view, is Zephyr. When I adopted her last October from Accord-based Animals for Adoption (AFA), the owner and director, Jane Kopelman, said Zephyr might be a candidate for becoming a therapy animal. I liked the sound of having a therapy dog, but I was responding from a self-serving point of view. I could use some therapy. Since that time, I’ve learned more about how a human-animal partnership can be of service not just to me but to my community.

There is a distinction between a therapy animal and a service animal, with the latter being trained to perform tasks that are specific to people with disabilities, such as a guide dog who serves a person who is blind. Service dogs are fully committed to the people they serve, living and assisting them with managing their lives. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, live with their owners, and they work as a team to brighten the lives of the people they visit, whether they are in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or in need of a crisis response team.

There are hundreds of registering organizations nationwide that serve to educate, train and screen therapy animals and their owners/handlers. They often provide liability insurance for teams volunteering in therapeutic settings. Also, therapy animals are not restricted to dogs, as some organizations work with well-behaved and friendly cats, horses, birds, pigs, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, rats and guinea pigs. For now, I’ll stick with dogs.

Here is the good news. If you’re interested in enhancing your life, the life of your dog, and the life of your community members, the Rondout Valley is the home of a therapy dog trainer and certified therapy dog team evaluator who volunteers with Pet Partners, a nonprofit based in Bellevue, Washington. Kopelman of Animals for Adoption, a trainer and evaluator, has been a Pet Partners volunteer since the late ’90s and is aligned with their mission to improve human health and well-being through the power of the human-animal bond.

Pet Partners who provides safe and effective visits to over three million recipients explain their philosophy of therapy animals on their website:

Volunteers receive comprehensive coursework taken in person or online that highlights skills and strategies necessary for therapy animal work. In particular, handlers focus on two important philosophies for success: YAYABA™ and PETS™.

YAYABA™, or You Are Your Animal’s Best Advocate, is a cornerstone of our program. By putting their animal’s welfare first, our volunteers ensure that visits are enjoyable and safe for everyone. PETS™ stands for Presence, Eye Contact, Touch, and Speech. This acronym represents the basic tools handlers use both on duty and off to effectively communicate with and actively support their therapy animals.”

In general, once the animal passes an exam, the handler/animal that make up the therapy team are evaluated for skills and the animal’s sociability and aptitude for visiting people in different settings.

Kopelman’s approach might be considered holistic as she is not only a Pet Partners volunteer, she also runs the AFA shelter and Wag Inn Boarding, both located at Kopelman’s Accord property. A select group of AFA shelter dogs (100+ to date and growing) spend six weeks at Green Chimneys, a residential school for special needs children in Brewster, where they are paired with students who learn how to teach basic canine skills. It’s a mutual win. The students and dogs both gain self-esteem by learning new skills and by working in partnership. Upon completion of the program, the trained dogs become available for adoption and have a leg up on the skills required to become registered therapy dogs.

Currently the pipeline for transporting dogs is shut down due to COVID-19, but Kopelman remains steadfast in promoting rescue adoptions and seeking out opportunities to identify, train and certify therapy dog teams. Her guiding principle is summed up by the AFA theme: Dogs and People Working Together. This includes rescue dogs. “Any dog with the right personality has the potential to be a therapy dog, even rescues,” she says. She recalls the triumph of seeing a rescue dog who had suffered severe abuse becoming a stellar example of a therapy dog. “You could not have met a more outgoing, social and trusting dog.”

Shelter dogs often make excellent therapy dogs. Most importantly, canine candidates must be friendly and offer companionship to those they serve. They must like people! Essentially, they demonstrate that they are capable of extending the human-animal bond beyond their owners to those that would benefit from a visit from dog that is well-behaved, able to ignore distracting stimuli, friendly, likes to be touched (maybe even tolerate a pull of the tail or a tight squeeze), is gentle, and that does what dogs do best: love unconditionally.

Kopelman’s interest in therapy work was ignited when she was advocating for rescue animals at the ASPCA as a behavior staff member. As a dog trainer and evaluator her experience and expertise include a City of New York appointment to serve on the board of Animal Care and Control and she served on the board of directors of Angel on a Leash. She is the owner of All About Dogs, a dog training business in New York City, and does private training and behavior counseling both in NYC and upstate.  

She is a certified therapy dog team evaluator for Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) and an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator.  She also serves as a consultant for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s therapy dog program. She has evaluated and trained hundreds of therapy dog teams and has been doing pet therapy with her own dogs for more than 20 years.

Kopelman’s honed expertise provides the backdrop for her ability to train and evaluate great therapy dogs. “I’m a believer that you can train a dog, work with a dog to teach the skills they need, but it’s important to look at behavior and say, ‘This dog would REALLY enjoy being a therapy dog.’ You have to be open to looking at the dog as an individual. Make it fun for the dog. I’m all about the teamwork and the dog loving it.”

To avail yourself of Kopelman’s extensive dog therapy expertise and to see if you and your dog might make a great team, attend a free, virtual informational session at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23. Zephyr and I are sure to be there! Contact Jane at for more information.

One last bit of exciting news is that my Zephyr attended a five-day Sleepaway Training Camp at Wag Inn Boarding housed on the same Accord property as AFA and also under Kopelman’s ownership. Wag Inn is offers one-day training camps and five-day sleepaway training camps with the focus on basic training, new skills and confidence building. If your dog needs a summer break, the all-play, no-work sleepaway vacation camps might be an option that includes days of agility, swimming, frisbee, social hours and other seasonal activities. Kopelman and Wag Inn manager, Lena Fyfe, do the training, so they already have a leg up on evaluating Z as a likely therapy dog candidate. It would be my thrill and honor to share his magical creature with those in need. I am over-the-moon excited! Sit, Z, sit!

Be well. Stay safe. And watch out for the animals as they watch out for you.


Animals for Adoption
4628 Route 209, Accord, NY 12404


Wag Inn Country Boarding
(same address)


Pet Partners
345 118th Ave SE #200, Bellevue, WA 98005



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