This month I am featuring a wonderful woman who has always been devoted to Community Service and her name is Susan Harris. While this story is about Susan, it’s more about her dogs and their contributions. In 1997 Susan was introduced to a woman who was a breeder of Golden Retrievers. This outstanding breeder donated dogs to several service dog organizations and from this breeder Susan got her first golden who she named Jasmine. As Susan was raising this cute golden puppy she read up on Animal Assisted Therapy and when Jasmine was old enough they went to Therapy Dog school which is a 6 week program followed by a test, in this case it was with Pet Partners, Jasmine passed with flying colors. In 2002, Susan and Jasmine went to Create-A-Smile Animal Assisted Crisis Response training which was held at the Los Angeles Police Department
Shortly thereafter Susan and Jasmine started the reading program at both Carlsbad City Libraries. On Friday evenings the children come to the library in their PJ’s to read bedtime stories to the dogs. They also established a reading program for Autistic and special needs children at Hope Elementary school. As word about the reading program spread, Susan and Jasmine were invited to start a reading program with the first and second grade children at Mission Estancia Elementary School. These programs are fabulous as the children are highly motivated to read to the awesome dogs who participate and who hang on their every word. They also visited patients in the hospital, worked with children and adults during their physical and occupational therapy sessions, visited individuals in nursing homes, retirement and residential facilities.
In 2001 Susan came to love another Golden Retriever puppy who she named Denali. Those of you with dogs know all about socialization, well, Susan went way farther with Denali by taking him to Police Stations, police on motorcycles, Fire Stations, pet stores, outdoor malls etc. This was to train him to tune out all other distractions and focus on Susan. When she felt he was ready, at the age of 1 -1/2, they tested with Pet Partners, and he too passed with flying colors, no surprise there! In 2005, Denali went to HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response Training, which was held at the UCI Medical Center Campus, and they became a certified team with this national organization.
Susan would alternate jobs with each dog so as not to wear them out. What is HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response?
HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response is a national all-volunteer, non-profit, crisis response organization with specially trained handlers (psychological first aid, incident command, etc) and canines trained and tested for crisis response work. Agencies call upon HOPE AACR teams to provide comfort and support to people affected by disasters. Scientific evidence has shown animals are a positive factor in helping people cope with traumatic events. HOPE AACR teams are educated to be effective and professional while working in stressful, unpredictable environments.
Jasmine passed away in 2008 and Izzy came into their lives in 2009. Izzy another golden was a CCI or Canine Companion for Independence dog. Well she was in training anyway, but she preferred to play, and therefore was released from the program. Susan adopted her at 18 months old. She had to be her Mommy for 6 months before she could test to be an Animal Assisted Therapy Dog.
As an Animal Assisted Therapy Dog Izzy has been working for 6 months with a 4 yr old child helping him with balance, mobility, muscle strength and speech. How did Izzy do this. Interacating with Izzy by throwing the ball or brushing her, dressing and undressing Izzy in her vest, collar and leash or just plain ol walking her helps with all of the skills mentioned. He learned to give Izzy basic commands which helped his speech.
In 2010 Izzy went through the HOPE program and she passed wonderfully just like her Jasmine and Denali had. Susan didn’t tell me this but I know the reason her dogs are so wonderful and perform so well is the love, training and dedication that Susan has given to them.
Strangley enough the weekend that Izzy passed with HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response Susan got what’s called a “Call Out”. There had been a shooting at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad California. Several days later Susan had Izzy and Denali alternating to work that crisis. This crisis went on for many weeks as the children were so traumatized. The dogs were there to help them get over their fear of the playground as they were reintroduced to it, going into classrooms and going through depositions, the dogs were their for all of it. The reason she alternates the dogs is to keep the stress level down. Dogs feel everything we do if they are near us.
There are so many shootings these days that there are many call outs for just those situations not to mention visiting Fire Camp. Fire Camp is set up at large fires. It is set up like a city, with huge trailers, where the firefighters go to take a shower, rest, eat, debrief, and come together for meetings. They miss their families and their dogs so visiting dogs bring them comfort and give them a taste of home. Sometimes the HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response teams up with the Red Cross and other crisis response agencies where they will work with displaced families, such as the Oso, Washington mudslides, where the teams worked along side Green Cross.
Impressive isn’t it? Now you see why I have featured Susan and her dogs. Denali passed away Jan of 2015. She is currently working with Izzy,who carries on the legacy of Jasmine and Denali. She hopes that one day she will bring another golden boy into the fold to help Izzy carry on the family tradition.
DENALI AND IZZY
IZZY AND SUSAN HARRIS