It has been said that the best therapist has fur and four legs.  Well, if fur is what you’re after, I’m the fella for you.  I am a St. Bernard who lives in Indiana with my human family.  I was put on this earth to make people happy – and I am very good at my job, if I do say so myself.  

My name is S’Morris, and I am a therapy dog.

From the time I came home, weighing just over five pounds, people have been drawn to me.  As I continued to grow, so did my personality.  It became more and more apparent that I had a special gift.  I could make people of all ages smile and my presence brought out the best in those I was around.  Thus, my mission began.  

I worked hard at becoming my best for about nine months.  I would go to class once a week and practice the skills I was learning anywhere I could.  I spent quite a bit of time going out in public with my humans.  We would visit dog-friendly restaurants, home improvement stores, large outdoor events, and local parks and trails.  Turns out, everyone has a story about a dog.  After months of practice and mastering my skills, I was ready to test.  

The therapy dog test consists of 13 areas, all of which I have to pass to be certified as a therapy dog:  

1: ENTRY TABLE (Simulated as a Hospital Reception Desk)

Here is where we are greeted. At this time they check my collar, nails, ears and grooming.  All four of my paws are lifted and my tail is touched. I cannot have a negative reaction to ANY of these things. 

2: CHECK-IN AND OUT OF SIGHT

Once check-in has been completed, my human takes me in the room and hands me off to the evaluator.  My human tells me to stay and leaves the room for one minute.  During this time, I am not allowed to bark or show anxiety about being separated from my person. 

 3: GETTING AROUND PEOPLE

Several people will try visiting with me. I must demonstrate that I can withstand the approach and touching by several people from all sides at the same time and is willing to visit and walk around a group of people. (Between you and me, this is one of my favorite parts!)

4: GROUP SIT/STAY

I am lined up with some other dogs.  My mom tells me to sit and then to stay.  She walks about six feet away from me.  When given the command, she returns to me.  I have to stay in the sit position the entire time. 

5: GROUP DOWN/STAY

Same as test # 4, except I will now be in a down/stay position. 

6: RECALL ON A 20 FT. LEASH

I am put on a 20-foot leash and told to sit/stay.  My mom walks 20 feet away from me and the evaluator tells her to call me.  I have to come to her and sit at her feet.  

7: VISITING WITH A PATIENT

I must show willingness to visit a person and demonstrate that I like to be petted. 

8: TESTING OF REACTIONS TO UNUSUAL SITUATIONS

I have to walk with my human and take directions, turning right and left, and sitting on command.  During this time there will also be people in wheelchairs, using crutches, being loud, coughing, and running up behind me, etc… I cannot get distracted or react poorly to any situation they throw my way. 

9: “LEAVE-IT;” PART ONE

My mom and I meet a person in a wheelchair. I get to visit with them.  When they offer me a treat, I have to leave it and not try to take it from them.  My mom can tell me to leave it.  I am not allowed to have the treat at all. 

10: “LEAVE-IT;” PART TWO

My momma and I walk in a straight line, with me right next to her. There are bowls lined up with chicken and some with water.  I have to walk over the bowls and not lick or eat the food.  I cannot drink the water either. 

11: MEETING ANOTHER DOG

I show that I am well-behaved when meeting other dogs. 

12: ENTERING THROUGH A DOOR TO VISIT AT THE FACILITY

I have to show that I will let humans enter through doorways before I go through.  I cannot try to push my way past them.

13: REACTION TO CHILDREN

Children will be running and yelling, playing ball, dropping objects, etc…  I cannot try to chase after or jump on the children.  I must also show that I can lay down and let a child read to me or cuddle with me. 

Not to brag, but I passed my test on the first try!  Now I get to go on visits and cheer people up.  My momma works for KidsPeace in Indianapolis, and I love going to events and visiting with the KidsPeace staff and foster families.  I also enjoy visiting veterans, college students in medical school, and nursing homes.  I hope to start volunteering at a local hospital soon.  

Besides sharing my abundance of dog hair and bits of slobber with the world, I also share some great benefits with the people I meet.  Some of those include:

For mental health 

  • Decreases isolation and depression
  • Causes many to feel calm
  • Bridges communication gaps
  • Provides comfort
  • Reduces boredom
  • Lowers anxiety and decreases agitation
  • Reduces loneliness

For physical health 

  • The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response
  • Stabilizes blood pressure
  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Breathing slows in those who are anxious
  • Releases many hormones such as phenyl ethylamine which has the same mood-lifting effect as chocolate

Anyone can benefit

  • Increases socialization /encourages communication
  • Helps a person focus
  • Maintain & increase motor skills
  • Provides motivation to move more, stretch farther, and exercise longer
  • Inner contentment may not be verbally expressed but can be seen in eating better, sleeping better, greater cooperation

When I am not out doing visits, I enjoy laying around my house, playing with my dog and human sister, having play dates with my dog friends, getting belly rubs, and seeing how many treats I can get in a day. 

I have been a therapy dog for about a year and a half now and I absolutely love every minute of it. I’m even helping to train my little sister, Clover (a golden retriever), how to be a therapy dog. 

Gotta run now!  But you can follow my adventures on Instagram @smorrisandclover!

Denise Bain

Denise Bain

S’Morris’s mom, Denise Bain, is a family consultant in the KidsPeace Foster Care office in Indianapolis.