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You May Now Pet the Therapist

Shelties: small, furry, arguably adorable and possessing recuperative powers? Rebecca Jarit and her daughter Shaina Goldberg brought two of their therapy dogs to the Westport Senior Center today to let some of the patrons determine those last two parts for themselves.

The concept behind therapy dogs is to introduce docile and well-trained canines to patients with the hope that the interaction will help nudge along both comfort and recovery. "They say it supposedly hastens recovery time and lowers blood pressure," said Jarit.

The two Shelties she brought with her, Opal and Sultry, are "staff members" at Bridgeport Hospital. Jarit said just showing up with the dogs brightens everyone's day, including the staff. And she knows the dogs find all of the attention flattering.

Jarit breeds Shelties in Trumbull, where she resides. Many of her dogs compete in shows. When they get older, the training and constant contact with humans makes them ideal candidates for therapy dog training. Opal, the blue merle Sheltie, is herself a champion.

The certification process requires the dog to pass a number of behavioral tests. Loud noises must do no more than momentarily startle. Only the most cursory of interest can be shown in another passing animal. The therapy dog must also be able to handle some hair-pulling without snapping.

Goldberg said she can see the reactions in people when the dogs come in and start soaking up the attention. "It makes them feel like the dog loves them," she said.

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